We talk to Francesca and Fiona, Kally and Amanda about their stories of motherhood and breast cancer.
Fiona and Francesca: We’ve always been close – now we work together
Fiona: It was the most difficult time of my life
I don’t know how I got through my primary breast cancer diagnosis. I was a single mum with two teenage children and was due to start a new job.
I had to start work as soon as I’d had my mastectomy and after just beginning my chemotherapy. I thought I would be supported financially, but as it was a new job, I had no option but to work to support my family. It was one of the most difficult times of my life.
Nobody can prepare you for a secondary diagnosis
My daughter Francesca and I have always been close, as it was just the three of us – me, her and her brother. The diagnosis made spending time together even more important. She’s always been there to support me.
A secondary breast cancer diagnosis is a whole different ball game. Nothing can prepare you for it. Both my children now live in Cambridge to be closer to me, and we all go on holiday and socialise together. We try not to dwell on things, but I know my children find it hard to deal with, even though they are strong for me.
Francesca works with me on Something to Look Forward To, a charity offering free experiences and gifts to people with cancer. We work well together and have a similar way of approaching things. Our passion for our charity and what we want to achieve is equally matched.
Francesca: Cancer didn’t happen to people like my mum
I was at university when my mum and stepdad came to tell me about her diagnosis. I was knocked sideways. Cancer didn’t happen to people like my mum.
They were positive about the treatment and surgery when telling me, which gave me the strength to think positively too.
There’s never an elephant in the room
I was angry when mum received her secondary diagnosis. I immediately wanted to blame someone, but the more I learnt about metastatic breast cancer, the more I realised how common it was. I do think it was something that should have been mentioned more during my mum’s primary diagnosis.
My mum and I have always had a strong relationship. We talk about our fears and the future as much as possible so that there is no elephant in the room.
It makes me sad that mum’s cancer will never go away – but she’s been living with her diagnosis for over five years. Now, our lives are about spending as much time together as possible.
Tell your mum how much you love her
Working with Mum on Something to Look Forward To means I get to spend a lot of time with her now. We’re so proud to have touched the lives of over 5,300 people (not bad for a family-run charity!)
I’d tell any daughter supporting their mum through breast cancer to be as honest and open as possible about your feelings. Show her you care and tell her you love her.
Kally: My mum is my guardian angel
When I was 40 I found a lump, which turned out to be a cyst. Because of my mum being diagnosed at a young age, the doctor recommended I had yearly mammograms.
It was in one of the routine scans that the doctor spotted a shadow. I didn't have any symptoms and hadn't even realised that there could be signs other than a lump.
I struggled to tell my sons
I couldn't tell the boys. I'd brought them up on my own since they were aged five and one. I felt so protective of them. Indi, my eldest, was 25 by that point. But I couldn't tell Kyran, my youngest. He had his driving test in the same week as my appointment and I didn't want to distract him.
Indi came along with me to the doctor. During the ultrasound the nurses were being so nice, but I couldn't speak – I froze. I had no voice. I knew they had found something.
A few days later we went back to get the results. My son was with me when the doctor said those words, 'You have cancer.' The world stopped.
We’re open with our emotions
I really struggled to get my head round it. I thought, 'Why me? Hadn't I had enough bad luck?' My son was so supportive the whole way through. He said, 'It's because you're the strongest soldier,' and we managed to laugh about it.
I've always been independent, but I do feel weaker than before. The boys and I have to laugh about it. It allows us to talk about it, and not fear the 'C word'. They're so open with their emotions, it's so different to how I grew up.
My mum saved my life
I have one photo of my mum, but she's always in my heart. I have always wondered if we are alike. I needed a mum, and I needed to talk about my breast cancer. Through my sons I have been able to.
She's been my guardian angel – without her, I would never have gone for yearly mammograms. She saved my life.
Amanda: My daughter and I were diagnosed in the same year
I was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1995. It was a huge shock but maybe my naivety helped as I wasn’t aware of what was going on. I was 35 at the time and had seven kids aged four to 25, including Leanne.
I had a mastectomy and chemotherapy, but I wasn’t very ill, so it didn’t have much impact on the family, and as kids do they took it in their stride.
I never thought my daughter would have breast cancer
21 years later I went for a routine screening and they saw something in my other breast. I didn’t have a lump, or any signs or symptoms. I never expected it to happen again.
By this point my kids were all older and it shocked them a lot more. It was different this time, they were a bit scared I think, and more aware of what was going on.
That same year Leanne found a lump. I thought she was being paranoid because of my own diagnosis, I never thought she would have breast cancer. I couldn’t believe it when she was diagnosed in the same year as me. I tried to reassure her she’d be OK, but sometimes you just don’t want to hear that.
It’s good to talk about breast cancer
Breast cancer is something that’s happened to me, and if it can help educate people that’s good – the more awareness the better.
Leanne has built a project, Black Women Rising, which has allowed me to share my experiences with other people of colour. I’m so proud of her.
It’s good to talk about it and show that there’s a life after cancer so that people feel comfortable having a conversation about it.
For mums who are still mothering and mums who have been lost, Mother's Day is a chance to celebrate them all.