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Rachel, 22, lives in Derbyshire with her family and works in marketing. Three years ago, whilst she was at university, her mum was diagnosed with breast cancer. Here she writes a letter to other daughters about what she learnt through her mum's journey.
Dear fellow daughters,
They say that a mother and daughter have a special bond. You're connected by the umbilical cord before you've even taken your first breath and if you're lucky, like me, that bond and friendship will only flourish as you get older.
Believe me when I say I know the fear you are feeling right now. It was a dull day in April when my mum came home from the hospital with my grandparents to tell me the news about her breast cancer.
I'm definitely not writing this to tell you how you should feel or what to do. Cancer treats everyone differently, but one thing I do know is that watching your mum, the beating heart of the family, battle cancer is heartbreaking. I want to share a few things I learnt, in the hope it may help someone struggling with a loved one's diagnosis. It may or may not be relevant to your story, but back on that dull day in April I would have taken comfort from a letter like this before we were thrown in at the deep end.
Cancer is everywhere. The world of cancer never really existed for me before that moment - it wasn't real, just something on the news that happened to other people. Cancer followed me around everywhere in the first few weeks of mum's diagnosis; social media, TV adverts, and once she began to share her news, friends would mention their nan/uncle/next door neighbour/friend who had been through something similar, with their own tale to tell. It is embarrassing just how totally ignorant I was to this whole other world, so I began to pay more attention to amazing charities like Macmillan and the stories they told. One thing I did learn is that there are so many people who work within this new world, including all the healthcare professionals who helped my mum, and I found their work and dedication entirely heartwarming and life affirming.
You will feel guilty. As a 19 year old, seeing your strong and dependable mum so vulnerable is hard. It makes you question everything you thought you knew about life; your choices, regrets, family, friends, and the things you love. Other than feeling totally useless, there was also an overwhelming feeling of guilt. I felt guilty watching my mum so drained and in pain; guilty for going to work; guilty for wondering if it might one day be me in this situation. Even writing this post makes me feel guilty; there is still a part of me that feels selfish talking about cancer. After all, it didn't happen to me, it isn't my story to tell. It was tough but in the breaks between her treatments we clung to normality and tried to keep laughing. In particular, we found wig shopping with my Nana quite the experience!
Kindness is key. There were other patients my mum met during treatment at hospital that were the most smiley, helpful, and caring people, despite the uphill struggles they were facing. I remember visiting her in hospital when she had an infection, and the camaraderie and solidarity between patients really put everything into perspective. For me, the rest of my life will always be divided into the way I used to see the world, and the way it is now. Seeing cancer up close and personal has made me a kinder person, it has given me the compassion to wonder what someone else might be going through.
My mum is so strong. To say my mum endured a rough ride with cancer would be an understatement. She has been left with permanent changes to her body; I can only imagine how difficult and frustrating it must be to accept the fact that you don't work the way you used to. On the other hand, it brought us closer as a family, and we know how lucky she has been. Warmth and laughter still pour from her demeanour, which inspires me every day. Nobody ever knows what's around the corner, but I know that if she can beat cancer, I can handle anything life wishes to throw at me.
And you can too.
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