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Can there be a conversation more difficult for a mother than the one where you have to tell your children you have cancer?

It’s a scenario you wouldn’t wish on anyone and yet, every year, thousands of women find themselves in this situation. This is Joanna’s story.

“When I was told I had cancer I couldn’t believe it. Yes, I had a lump but had convinced myself that it was not cancer so I went to the appointment on my own. When I was given the news I was scared. I kept thinking, “What is going to happen? How are my children going to grow up without mum?” Then I thought that everything happens for a reason so what could I learn from this?

When I got home, I remember the children rushed to tell me what they had been doing at school that day and were excited that daddy and not I had picked them up from school. I didn’t have to say anything to my husband, he could tell there was something wrong.

As a parent I wanted to protect my children from any upsetting news but as I am with them all the time, I knew they would notice and be sensitive to changes in me, both emotional and physical. I felt that if I didn’t tell them the truth, they may imagine something worse than what was really happening.

My specialist nurse gave me a book, “Mummy’s Lump”, to help when my husband and I told the children. The book featured two children, a boy and a girl of similar age to my children and we decided to tell the story by altering the names in the book to their names. We then read through the story with them. The good thing about the book is that it showed the different stages you go through with cancer over a number of seasons and finishing with when the bad lump is gone and mummy is feeling better so the whole family go on holiday to the seaside.

The children seem to be very aware when I am not feeling well by playing quietly and bringing me their cuddly toys to keep me company whilst they are at school. They do ask questions about whether the bad lump has gone yet and my daughter asks if she can put on my wig.

I still have a long way to go in my journey and remain very optimistic. I know the children will continue to ask questions which I hope I can always answer.”

Joanna, two years on…

“Once my treatment had finished, my husband and I booked a holiday at the seaside, like the book. We told our children that the story had finished, mummy’s illness had finished and now we’ve got the holiday, everything is back to normal.

When everything was over, I found life was very quiet and after I dropped the kids at school, I realised I was sitting at home alone and dwelling on things. Did I have a new pain? How was I feeling? I didn’t like that. I want to live and enjoy every moment with my family. I want to give as much as I can, not just for my kids but also back to The Nightingale, so I asked Joan what I could do to volunteer for them.

I began volunteering in October 2016. The shops manager and I opened The Nightingale eBay shop. We put a few listings on to start with to see how it would go and every week there was more and more success. We realised it was a very good fundraiser so we carried on and now, with my help, it contributes lots of money to the charity.

Currently I am preparing for an operation as I had the BRCA test done and found out I am carrying the gene. With the support of my wonderful family and those at The Nightingale, I am confident that the future looks bright.”