Thursday, 1 October 2015

Breast cancer awareness month: Single parent breast cancer diagnosis

Author: Debbie M
Three months after stopping breastfeeding my son, I found a lump in my right breast. With no family history of breast cancer and only being 38 years old at the time, I put it down to changes in breast tissue. Three months later I was at the GP surgery with a much bigger lump. The GP thought it wasn't anything too sinister and referred me on to the non-urgent appointment system at the breast care clinic.

Six weeks later I was sitting in the breast clinic full of optimism that is was nothing to worry about. Qualifying as a nurse just before my son was born, all of the machinery and tests interested me. I felt quite at ease and not nervous at all. If anything, i was grateful for the thorough examinations given to me. Two days later I was invited back for the results.

Sitting in the examination room with my consultant and breast care nurse I was told I had a Ductal Carcinoma In Situ and due to its very large size, the only treatment advisable would be a mastectomy. My only questions were When? How long will I need to be in hospital away from my son? How long is the recovery period? Will I be able to care for my son? My son was 2 years 4 months at the time of diagnosis.

It was pre-cancer cells they said, and I wouldn't need any other treatment. I went away thinking I will need help with my son for 2 weeks post surgery and then all will be ok and back to normal. Family who lived away could take it in turns to help us. It would be exciting for my son. He would be spoilt rotten!

I couldn't have been more wrong. The cancer cells were found to be invasive. This changed everything. My whole world came crashing down and I have never been more terrified in all of my life.

I'd told everyone that I was going to be ok. 2 weeks was all the help I was going to need for my son's care. Now I was facing another surgery, months of chemotherapy, radiotherapy, Herceptin and tamoxifen. Who was going to look after my son?????? I was a single parent where my son relied on everything from me especially being fit and healthy. What was i going to do???

Surely there would be organisations and charities that could assist a single parent family during their absolute time of need???? For weeks I was frantic with worry as to who was going to care for my son. I needed to start my chemotherapy regime knowing that he was happy having the childhood that he most definitely deserved, playing and being able to be a happy toddler. I worked tirelessly with agencies and children's services to have a plan of care but due to our geographic location there was nothing available. I cannot describe into words how helpless I felt.

There was nothing left for me to do apart from volunteer my precious little boy to Social Services where they would label him "A Child in Need". My son was "A Child in Need". I had made my son "A Child in Need". Even my cancer diagnosis was not as devastating as this. The guilt and the pain of having to do this will haunt me forever.

Fortunately I was able to find an outstanding private nursery setting for my son which was funded by Social services throughout my treatment and my son thrived and was happy.

Being a single parent with a cancer diagnosis opened up all those horrendous questions such as "who will care for my son if I die". I want to see my son go to school. I want to see my son play his first footie match. I need to see my son grow up into the most remarkable young man I know he will be. These are the things I harbour alone. Far too often wishing I had the other parent to provide reassurance for my son's future should anything happen to me.

As for my son, well he is AMAZING! We have embraced every situation together. He has caused absolute chaos in inappropriate medical environments! But i would not be here and as strong without him. He loved my bald head. Understood that I had to stay in bed for long periods of time due to being so poorly. He would come and snuggle up into bed with me for cuddles and picnics! He was able to have adventures with visiting family and so many treats! He loves my magic boobie and magic hair. During my good few days inbetween chemotherapy, we would say goodbye to everyone and reconnect as mother and son and spend quality time together.

My son is now three and a half. We have an incredible bond. As I reflect back on our cancer journey, we got through it! He knows I love him to the moon and back! I just hope one day I can be at peace with decisions I had to make for my son during a horrendous time in our lives.

Debbie and Rory xxx

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Write for the blog! This blog is one of a series being shared on the Young Women's Breast Cancer Blog UK during October, breast cancer awareness month, but the blog is here year round. If you are a young woman in the UK who has/had a breast cancer diagnosis and you would like to be a part of this blog, please have a read of the additional information here.

Check your breasts
Breast cancer can happen to any of us - regardless of age. Information about how to check your breasts can be found on the Coppafeel and Breast Cancer Now websites.

Further information and support:
Younger Breast Cancer Network UK - an online chat and support group for women under the age of 45 in the UK who have had a breast cancer diagnosis.
Baldly Beautiful - a YouTube channel with make up demonstrations, created by Mac makeup artist Andrea Pellegrini who went through chemo herself in 2014.
Take A Moment - This is a group for women (all ages) who have/had breast cancer who want to explore, reflect on and express their feelings and experiences through photography. This is a link to the public page - to join the group, send them a message.
The Osborne Trust - Providing children of parents with cancer the opportunity to access time out recreational activities whilst their parents undergo operations and treatments
Jen's Friends - Free heart-shaped pillows for women (and men) with Breast Cancer. Designed to provide comfort and protection after a Mastectomy operation.

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