I’m A Mum. I Don’t Have Time For Cancer

When a small mass was discovered in my sigmoid colon I found myself staring into an abyss of uncertainty. Biopsies were taken. A CT scan was scheduled to see if it had spread. I was left with an interminable 10-day wait until my fate was to be sealed in a colorectal surgeon’s office at 11:40am the following Wednesday.

If cancer is cruel then waiting for those results was pure malevolence. But I’m a mum so life went on. I clicked into autopilot – dropping the kids off at school, running errands, supervising homework. I never once let on to my children that my life was hanging in the balance.

I didn’t allow myself time to wallow until after 7pm. That’s when the wheels fell off. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. Stage 1 and I was in with a fighting chance. Stage 4 meant slashed odds and a long, arduous battle ahead of us. My mind started playing tricks on me. I convinced myself of the worst possible scenario. I composed eloquent, emotional letters to my girls, a new one every year until they turned eighteen. I chose Don Henley and Ryan Adams songs to play at my funeral.

I was so scared, yet when I thought of my daughters I wanted to ‘rage against the dying of the light’ with two clenched fists and a kung-fu kick. No child deserves to lose a parent, certainly not my sweet, sensitive girls. And not at the ages of six and four. I’m a strong woman. I tend to absorb bad news and turn it to my advantage but the thought of my children growing up motherless made me fall apart in my husband’s arms. I wasn’t crying for me, for my lost opportunities. I was crying for theirs.

When I gave birth to Emily in 2011 I found myself metamorphosing into some selfless, altruistic being. I certainly hadn’t been that way nine months before, with a cocktail in one hand and a diary full of social occasions in the other. But just how much motherhood has changed me was only apparent in the split-second that followed my cancer discovery, when I had one thought and one thought only:

Thank god it’s me. Thank god it’s not them.

I can’t imagine the pain of having a child diagnosed with cancer. Perhaps that’s why the news has hit my parents so hard? It’s also exposed a number of base emotions in me that I thought I’d left behind in my twenties – envy, self-pity… I see obese families in the supermarkets loading their trolleys with junk food and elderly men chain-smoking, and I find myself thinking, ‘why me?’ Why are my girls facing an uncertain future? They’re innocents in all this, as I am. I eat well, I hardly drink and I exercise three times a week. But that’s the problem with cancer. It’s such an indiscriminate bastard of a disease.

Last week I found myself shaking hands with a colorectal surgeon on the threshold of his office. The 10-day wait was over. I was so nervous I could hardly stand. I didn’t even register the two oncology nurses behind him.

‘I have good news and bad news. We believe its cancer but we think we’ve caught it early.’

I fist-pumped the air. I think I may have whooped as well. I couldn’t help myself… I’d just been ‘officially’ diagnosed with cancer yet my face was beaming. The surgeon looked stunned but I could only think in currencies of time. My diagnosis bought me major surgery but a 70% shot at seeing my girls go to University.

I’ve had so many wonderful comments from friends and family since I shared my news. A few have remarked on how positive and brave I’m being. I don’t see myself as particularly brave. I’m just a mum fighting with everything I have to see my little girls grow up. To be there when their hearts get broken, to console or congratulate them on GCSE Results Day, to offer advice when their babies won’t sleep through the night… To be there for them, no matter what.

That’s not being brave. That’s just being a mum.


*This article has also appeared as a Huffington Post UK Featured Blog Post


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  1. Jo Allan
    June 6, 2017 / 7:54 pm

    So sorry to hear of your diagnosis Catherine, but kudos to you for demanding to see a specialist when one wasn’t offered to you. Brave or not, your daughters have one badass mother.

  2. June 6, 2017 / 8:17 pm

    Great post. You are certainly a fighter even if you don’t feel like it. It is so cruel how cancer strikes but your positive attitude is great to see. Hope all goes well with your treatment and the future.

  3. June 6, 2017 / 9:02 pm

    Sorry to hear your news. Hope the treatment goes well and that you’ll soon be better. (I always wish i could do something practical like help with babysitting or the odd meal when I read something like this). Good luck!

  4. June 6, 2017 / 9:40 pm

    My heart was in my mouth reading this. I can’t even begin to imagine all of the emotions you must be feeling right now, but the way you speak about it is so eloquent and matter-of-fact – I have no doubt you will give recovery all you’ve got! I wish you all the best of luck and I’ll be following as and when you feel you can share with us. #dreamteam

    • June 7, 2017 / 1:04 pm

      Thanks lovely. I feel like i’m on a rollercoaster at the moment but hopefully once I’ve had my operation things will calm down. Thanks so much for reading xx

  5. June 6, 2017 / 10:52 pm

    I’m so sorry to read of your diagnosis. What an incredible mumma your little ladies have. You can and will beat this. Good luck lovely. Thanks for linking up with #TwinklyTuesday

  6. June 7, 2017 / 3:08 pm

    I really am so sorry to hear of your diagnosis, and you may not think that you are brave but I think that you are incredible. It’s excellent news that they have caught it early and I have no doubt that your fighting attitude and positivity will see you through this. Your girls have a mum to be proud of. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us at #DreamTeam and I will be following your updates with love and very best wishes for you and your family. Stay strong lovely xx

  7. June 7, 2017 / 3:48 pm

    Such an honest post. I’m so sorry to hear you are having to deal with but your fighting spirit is inspiring. Whenever I think of being ill, my concern is always about my daughter – leaving her is my biggest fear. So I can completely empathise with how you feel. Wishing you all the strength, luck and good fortune for your treatment and recovery. xxx #BestAndWorst

    • June 9, 2017 / 12:13 pm

      It’s the worst part, for sure. Thanks for your kind words xxx

  8. June 8, 2017 / 9:29 pm

    I felt your relief…..dare I say it? I know where you are coming from. I hope you make a full recovery, your children will give you strength. Sending you so much love and thanks for linking up to the #bestandworst

    • June 9, 2017 / 12:14 pm

      Thanks Helen. Yes, I do feel some relief bizarrely enough! In my head it was so much worse xx

  9. June 9, 2017 / 11:56 am

    What a trooper and good for you on having such a positive and strong outlook! All the very best with your treatment. #thatfridaylinky

  10. June 9, 2017 / 9:57 pm

    Sorry to hear your diagnosis but what an inspiration to have taken it the way you have! #ThatFridayLinky

  11. June 10, 2017 / 5:21 pm

    good luck on your journey. Glad you caught it early. #thatfridaylinky

  12. sriches
    June 12, 2017 / 11:13 am

    Oh my darling, I cannot imagine what that wait was like for you but I am so glad they have caught it early and I do not blame you for fist pumping – that’s the fighting spirit you need. Sending you love of love and hugs xxx Sim xx #bestandworst

  13. Leanne
    January 2, 2018 / 12:12 am

    This post was just how I felt after seeing a tumour on 17th Nov this year during a colonoscopy. Convinced I had stage 4 and all of the scenarios running through my head about how it would affect my then 10 month old and 2.5 year old. I cried with happiness to be told it was cancer, but hadn’t spread and was facing stage 3. I’ve now had the tumour removed and awaiting to see the oncologist as to whether or not I need chemo. The biopsy result showed no evidence in the lymph nodes or blood vessels. I’m 34 and love reading your blog xx

    • January 4, 2018 / 11:30 am

      Hi Leanne – thanks so much for your message. So glad to hear the cancer hadn’t spread. Do you still have to have chemo? If so, I can imagine it will only be for a few months. I did that and it is doable – shite – but doable! How are you recovering from the op? I bounced back pretty quick, much to my amazement. Lots of love xxx

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