PUBLISHED ON: 23 December 2017

Emily, 40, lives in South Yorkshire with her husband and two sons. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer last Christmas, she had to find a way to tell her children. 

Emily found a way to tell her kids about her diagnosis

I felt like I'd been hit by a train 

I had just started my Masters in Sociology when I felt some thick, denser tissue in my breast. Because I was young and didn't have any other symptoms, the doctors weren't too concerned, but sent me for further tests. 

On the day of my last lecture before Christmas the results came back from the biopsy, confirming that it was breast cancer. 

I was shocked. I thought I'd been feeling so well, wouldn't I have felt some kind of symptom? With looking after my kids and starting university, life had been running away with me until that point. 

Preparing my kids for my diagnosis 

My two sons, Billy and Jamie, were eight and six at the time. Billy is very perceptive, a bit of an over-thinker, whereas Jamie is the total opposite, and very laid-back.  

About a week before telling them, we had a chat with Billy about his friend, whose mum had died of a brain tumour. I was worried he might think cancer was all the same disease, and that this might happen to me too. We talked about the different types, and that some are curable, helping him understand. 

I spoke to Breast Cancer Care and got the book 'Mummy's Lump' in case. It was difficult, because the best advice was that it was down to me. I knew my children best. I felt sick thinking about it – that awful feeling you get in your stomach when you dread something. 

Telling my kids around the Christmas tree 

Normally we get a fake tree, but that year we all went to pick out a real one together. My husband didn’t want to be there and see their reaction, so I sat with them as they put the decorations up. 

Billy asked, 'Are you going to die?'. 

I said no, that's not on the cards for me. We talked about the conversation we'd had about different cancers the week before. He cried, and we had a cuddle. I explained that he was going to need to help mummy now, as the treatment was going to make me poorly.  

Jamie hadn't said anything the whole time. Then suddenly he got the vacuum cleaner out, and started hoovering. 'What are you doing?' I asked. He said, 'Well it isn't going to clean itself!' It was his way of showing he cared.  

I wanted to make sure they could be open with their feelings 

I said I wouldn’t hide anything if I got poorly or had any news, and told them you that they should ask absolutely anything whenever they wanted to, and that I would answer them as honestly as possible. 

As time went on they started to ask me things, and my diagnosis became the new 'normal'. It had to fit into our lives somehow. Because my husband couldn't talk about his own mother's experience, I was adamant that Billy and Jamie would be able to. 

I focus on keeping everyone upbeat 

Putting up the tree was a good distraction, and also gave them something to do while they thought about what I'd said. It gave them a bit of time to process, so they could think about any questions.  

I'd given them something negative, but then we could turn to Christmas and do something positive together as a family.  

I've tried to keep things positive the whole way through. I didn’t want them to feel they were the children of a 'cancer patient', and making sure they could talk about it was essential for this. 

One year on

I didn't want the boys to associate decorating the tree with a bad event, so this year, we had a big party while putting it up! The whole family came around, we had a roast dinner and watched movies – they loved it.  

Read more personal stories about people's experience of breast cancer in our blog.

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