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"The more I learned and the more people I met in similar situations, the easier it got. "

Kelly was diagnosed with incurable cancer after giving birth to her youngest child. At first the prospect terrified her, but she has learned to live with her diagnosis and make every day count.
This is her story...

When I was 37 weeks pregnant I was encouraged to express colostrum into a syringe for when my baby was born. While doing this, I noticed my right breast was quite hard and sometimes bled a little when expressing. I mentioned this to my midwife when I gave birth and she referred me to the breast care team before I left the hospital. At home, when breast feeding, I noticed that my right breast didn’t swell up like my left one did.

I thought it was just a blocked milk duct but two weeks later, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.


Having seen my mum go through breast cancer and survive I felt quite confident despite the diagnosis. What upset me most was the fact that I would miss my maternity leave, and all the plans we had made for it, due to chemo and surgery. That probably sounds silly, but I had specifically worked right up to my due date so I would have a whole year with my baby boy. I had signed up to groups, including swimming lessons, and was so excited for our year together.


What broke me was when they asked “Are you breastfeeding?” I answered proudly that yes, I was, and they immediately said “Stop”. I had struggled breastfeeding my first and wanted so badly to have that experience with my new little boy. Being told to stop was awful; I was devastated.


Then, two weeks later I was told my cancer was incurable, as it had spread to my sternum and liver. That was a whole new level of grief.

I plummeted into a depression and, looking back, I’m not sure how I got through the days. I see now that my overwhelming panic was due to my lack of understanding about my condition. I thought I was about to die, straight away, and didn’t understand what ‘incurable but treatable’ meant. It just felt like my whole world had been ripped from beneath me. I saw no point in anything and used to look at my baby in my arms, this innocent beautiful little child, and tell him how sorry I was for bringing him into all this. 


During chemo I struggled with being restricted in what I could do. I’m quite independent but I couldn’t take my baby swimming, do all the night feeds, or go to baby groups. That was really tough! I would look at all the other mums at groups and feel so envious. I would drive home from activities crying and feeling so guilty and sad.


Thankfully, the more I learned and the more people I met in similar situations, the easier it got. Finding other people in similar positions to me was the biggest support.

We’ve made a local community of women with secondary breast cancer and with younger children in my area. It helps so much to chat to others who understand what you’re going through. It also helps to get the kids together and build them a support network, so they know they aren’t alone.


I am still frightened that I will die while my children are still children. Selfishly, I’m also scared that my baby won’t remember me. My other children are older, they will remember my sayings, my favourite colour, my favourite song, my bad habits, my silly dances but he might never have those memories. I’m terrified he will grow up without a mum. 


I also worry that if I do die, and my husband remarries, that the new woman might be unkind or not share my beliefs and values. And I worry that if I die when my children are younger, that it will have a detrimental impact on their choices and could potentially have a long term negative affect on their lives. 


Despite the fears though, I’m currently doing really good. I never thought I would be ok. I used to think that living with incurable cancer, how can you possibly be ok knowing there is only one way out of it? But as my counsellor reminded me, when I told her I was worried about celebrating New Year’s Eve as it’s one closer to ‘the end’, that’s just the same for everyone! I absolutely do get my down moments and my panics, it’s not nice, but they do pass. 


Cancer has changed my life. I used to worry about everything and what everyone thought about me and that’s all just disappeared now! We make every day count as a family and I don’t care for materialistic things. I was obsessed with saving money before, but now we just live in the moment. I’ve lived more in the last year than I have in my whole life! I intend to carry on that way too! 


I want other mums and parents like me to know that there are so many supportive groups online and in person. Find yours and create your little tribe. I believe this happened to me for a reason and I know how lucky I am that my cancer is treatable. There’s not a day I’m not grateful for that. I intend to pay that back by appreciating everything. I’ve certainly learned the important things in life are the small things, the smiles, the chats at the table, and the hand holding. 

Kelly x


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