Emma worried whether her son Josh would cope with her diagnosis. She shares how her six-year-old’s resilience surprised her, and gives tips to other young mothers with breast cancer.
I needed to know what would happen next, for my son
I was having a massage when I found my lump. The massage had been a present for my 30th birthday. I turned onto my front and felt a lump on the side of my chest.
I knew straight away I needed to do something about it. Luckily, I was quickly referred from my GP to the breast clinic, where I had an ultrasound and a biopsy. I didn’t want to think about the possibility of it being breast cancer.
When I was told, I immediately had thousands of questions. A lot of them were about my son, Josh. I wanted to know what my next steps were, for his sake.
I found out I had the altered BRCA1 gene
I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer. I had a lumpectomy to remove the tumour and then went through chemotherapy. I also had genetic testing and found out that I had the altered BRCA1 gene.
A lot of people think that once you’ve finished chemotherapy, that’s it – but they don’t know about the risk-reducing treatment I still have to go through.
I didn’t realise how resilient Josh was
I struggled with telling Josh about my diagnosis. I’m a single mum and felt terrified that I wouldn’t be around to see him grow up.
I spoke to my breast care nurse about the best way to tell him. There’s not a lot of advice on how best to talk to your child. It’s a personal choice whether you involve them or not. As it was just me and Josh, I knew I had to tell him. He was six when I was diagnosed, and already sensed something was up.
I was given a copy of Breast Cancer Care’s book Mummy’s Lump. I had a look through and thought, this is how I’m going to explain it to him.
We sat down together with my mum and stepdad, and I told him that I had a book for us to read. As we went through, I saw that Josh was getting redder and redder, and fighting back tears.
At the end, we hugged and cried together. The first thing he said was, ‘Why didn’t you tell me first?’
I was so relieved that he wanted to know and to be there to support me. I didn’t realise how resilient he was. After that, we had a conversation about my breast cancer. He could ask any questions, and any that I didn’t know the answer to, I would find out.
Josh’s school provide invaluable support
Josh got a lot of confidence from reading Mummy’s Lump. He went into school with a copy to explain what was happening to his class and his teacher.
I thought that was brilliant – even if the children didn’t have the same experience that he did, at least they could understand what he was going through.
Josh’s school has been incredible. Letting them know about my breast cancer was one of the best things I could have done. They've organised for him to see a counsellor on a weekly basis, which has been amazing. We keep in touch about how he’s doing and what he’s feeling.
Josh would never want to burden me with anything. The counselling means that I can still be there as his mum without putting any pressure on him.
Breast cancer was a wakeup call
I’d always been naive about my health. I thought I was invincible.
When I was diagnosed, I realised I hadn’t put anything in order for Josh if I wasn’t around. Sorting this out after my diagnosis was difficult, as I couldn’t get a life insurance policy anymore. It’s frustrating.
I’ve also been hit financially, as I’m unable to go to work in between my surgery. I’m on half-pay and I’m claiming benefits. It’s not great, and I wish I had some knowledge beforehand.
Josh has grown from the experience
It’s been amazing to see the changes in Josh. He’s developed his empathy and compassion and has really grown from the experience.
He’s never once complained about how my breast cancer has affected him. My chemotherapy sessions took place during the summer holidays. I’m a teacher, so it’s usually my and Josh’s special time together. Although we had to cancel our plans, he was nothing but patient and understanding. He knows mum’s unwell.
It’s been tough, but it’s brought us closer.
I can see the light at the end of the tunnel
I’m proud of where I am now. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I’m looking at attending the Moving Forward courses and Younger Women Together events in the future to help me with the next stage of my journey.
You can experience a lot of guilt as a mother after a breast cancer diagnosis. But it’s important to remember that your time with your child will come.
You need to rest and recuperate for their sake, so you can be there to make memories in the future.
If you're concerned about talking to loved ones about breast cancer, our information pages might help.