My boys won’t know just how much they’ve helped me get through the last few months and to stay positive. Whether that be me thinking about their future and an overwhelming desire to do all I can to be there to share it with them, or the constant barrage of questions and trail of destruction they leave in their wake, keeping in check the time I have to dwell on things.
Whilst I wanted to be open with the boys from the outset, I felt the need to balance it with the need to protect and reassure them. My eldest was increasingly wise to the conversations going on so I had to constantly be on alert about how I was communicating with others. I somehow managed to shield the boys from the tears. They’d not seen me in tears previously so I was determined that cancer wasn’t going to be the thing that broke me. I know the anxiety and stress of the diagnosis manifested itself in a shorter temper and at times I just walked away from the boys to stop myself from taking things out on them. You pick your battles as all parents do, I just had to be more selective - the upshot being they probably got away with more than they should during the second half of 2014.
Aged 4 and 6 years at the time I was diagnosed, I wasn’t sure how much the boys could take on board. My Macmillan nurse was helpful in guiding me on how to communicate with them. They knew I had been admitted to hospital in the first instance because I had a poorly tummy. Their immediate concerns were ones I only wish I knew the answer to - “when are you coming home” and “is the doctor going to make you better?” Once the diagnosis was confirmed we explained to them that I had cancer and read them a book that explains cancer in a way that children can understand. Unsure of whether my eldest was familiar with the word “cancer” he immediately piped up, “yes, grandma died of cancer, are you going to die?” Not an unpredictable question but a tricky one to head off.
The boys seemed to ‘get’ the surgery aspect, in their eyes I was in hospital to have the bad stuff removed and I had a good battlescar to show for it. Explaining the need for chemo was trickier. I perhaps foolishly described chemo as “a nasty medicine that will make my hair fall out whilst trying to make me better”. Wish me luck the next time they are prescribed with a nasty tasting medicine! To them there was no visible outward sign of the chemo affects. They knew my chemo days would mean that Nana would pick them up from school and come for a sleepover. They didn’t get that the chemo would make me feel groggy for the week that followed. Why would medicine make you feel worse than you did before? That’s chemo for you!
The timing of my diagnosis couldn’t have been worse with it falling two days before the holidays were due to start (although as I write that I can’t think there is ever a ‘good’ time for a diagnosis of cancer). Whilst my treatment plan was being agreed I felt we could give them no certainty about what we would and wouldn’t be doing over the long summer holidays. The fortnight we had booked in France was downscaled to a two night break in Bruges that fortunately we were able to squeeze in between my surgery and a confirmed start date for my chemo.
Wherever possible I tried to preserve normality for the boys. Friends were quick to offer to have the boys for a play date at the drop of a hat when I shared my news. Whilst all those offers were hugely appreciated and I soon realised I needed to start taking people up on them, I ensured the boys were left with their closest friends where possible. When the new school year started I was quick to fill the teachers in on my illness and treatment plan in the event it cropped up in the boys’ conversation at school.
So as hard as it has been to juggle being mum to two loud, active boys these past few months I know I owe a lot to them and feel the need to make it up to them for things they’ve lost out on during this time – even though they probably haven’t even realised what they’ve missed. Having my two lovely boys made news of an impending hysterectomy bearable. We had completed our family. I can’t begin to think what someone in a similar situation would go through on learning of the need for a hysterectomy whilst they had desires for starting or expanding their family.