30 Mar ‘Out of the Blue’ my families journey by Lianne Howse
Finding out I had cancer was one of the most difficult and distressing times imaginable. I never thought it would happen to me, I don’t think anyone does. The uncertainty you face is crippling and your whole life, and that of your loved ones, seems to stop, nobody knows for certain what lies ahead.
While you try to process the diagnosis, and what may or may not happen, you begin fighting not just a physical battle but an emotional and mental battle too. I struggled massively with my diagnosis; I was in disbelief for months. As I had no symptoms of my cancer and I was generally fit and healthy, I found it extremely difficult to accept my illness. How could I be diagnosed with such a serious disease and feel no symptoms of it? My family also struggled to come to terms with my diagnosis. Our children spent the most part of my early cancer journey in disbelief too.
The cancer was discovered so ‘out of the blue’ that they couldn’t process the fact that their Mum was ill. How could they begin to deal with the information given to them? How will they cope during the treatment? How will they cope if I don’t survive? As a parent, you would like to imagine that your children would come out of the other side of this experience as stronger human beings, more resilient to whatever life throws at them. However, is this a realistic wish? Does experiencing cancer weaken mental and emotional strength in reality? Experiencing cancer as an adult is tough, it must be terrifying for our children.
Luckily, through the continuous, tremendous support of the doctors and nurses taking care of me, I managed to come to terms with my diagnosis and ploughed ahead with the treatment plan devised by the wonderful consultants. You can’t ask for any more commitment and dedication than a team of truly amazing people coming together to try to save your life. As a cancer patient, the aggressive treatment and medical intervention takes its toll on your body and mind and you constantly worry that all the fight will be for nothing. That’s the dreadful fact that a cancer diagnosis brings, no life is safe, which your medical staff are all too aware of. Will I be one of the unlucky people who loses their life to this terrible disease? Will my children have to face the loss of a parent? Amongst all of these unimaginable thoughts, which you can’t escape from, as a parent you try with every ounce of strength you can muster to support your children throughout the journey. Some days, you can’t even lift your head off the pillow, you feel so ill, yet you somehow manage to find some way to smile and reassure your children as best you can.
I am extremely lucky that I have an amazing and wonderful husband who, despite his own struggles, managed to hold our family and household together during the periods I was hospitalised. I can’t imagine life without him and for his devotion I am truly blessed. I am equally blessed in the fact that I have a fantastic and caring family network who have supported our children and myself through our journey. Not everyone experiencing cancer is blessed in this way.
What if my children could also speak to someone who understands what they are going through but who isn’t a relative or family friend? Someone who knows how to speak to children and adolescents in these kind of situations would have a real positive impact on the emotional wellbeing of my children and many other families and their younger members. Our children found it very difficult to express how they felt; they often couldn’t find the words to describe their experiences. My youngest clammed up whenever a moment took us to try to reach out to him. He said that talking about the cancer made him feel so sad that he tries to forget about it and pretend it isn’t happening. The grief and the fear of a parent suffering with cancer must make them feel helpless and scared. As a cancer patient I know I feel these feelings, among many others, so wouldn’t my children be feeling the same?
While I was hospitalised, my eldest expressed that he felt so overwhelmed with everything that he was becoming quite numb and unable to identify how he was feeling. I feel that support from a professional at this time may have helped our children to identify and understand the feelings they were experiencing. Our children were also clearly worried that reaching out to us, as their parents, would cause too much upset as we already had enough ‘going on’. Therefore, among my many fears, I now worry that our children have bottled these feelings and that they haven’t really come to terms with what we have been through as a family during this cancer journey. Will this terrifying experience come back to haunt them in the future? Have they struggled so much to deal with all of this that it will have a detrimental effect on their own mental health as they grow and develop?
Unfortunately, throughout your journey, you are witness to the horrendous, emotional turmoil that cancer causes for your family and closest friends. For me, and for many others I imagine, seeing how cancer affects your children, in particular, is by far the most traumatic part of the whole journey. Seeing your children faced with fear, uncertainty and worry is crippling as a parent and as much as you want to ‘make it all better’, you can’t. However, any support for the children of parents suffering with cancer would make such a positive impact on not just the children but their families and cancer patients too, making life a little more bearable.