14/08/2014 12:47 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 06:12 BST

Coping With Serious Illness And Still Being A Hands-On Parent

Coping with serious illness and still being a mum

In July 2012 I was diagnosed with breast cancer and a few weeks later in August, I had an operation to remove the tumours. I was in hospital for a day.

Since then I've undergone a course of chemotherapy lasting four months, I'm currently receiving herceptin every three weeks until mid-May and at the moment I have to go to hospital five days a week for four weeks for radiotherapy.

On top of all that I have a PICC (Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter) line in my arm for the intravenous delivery of my treatment, which requires a weekly hospital visit for cleaning.

Hospital appointments rule my life.

When I'm not in hospital or recovering from the physical and mental fatigue this regime brings I'm a wife and mother.

My son is 13 and apart from one tearful episode when he admitted he was really worried about me, he's taken the whole cancer thing in his stride. He's helped me to cook and clean the house and been to hospital appointments with me.

My husband has also been great, cooking and cleaning, taking time off work to drive me to endless appointments and being there for me as the tears of frustration at my current crumby situation flow.

My parents have been fantastic too, travelling from South Wales to Lancashire regularly just to be around for me.

Sharon, mum to Thomas aged three, suffers with pallindromic rheumatoid arthritis and clinical depression and says her biggest coping mechanism is "I forgive myself". She tackles housework "a little and often".

Sharon takes Thomas to doctors' appointments with her because she thinks "it's important he knows I'm being taken care of, and that he has a positive view of doctors and what they do, and how wonderful it is that they help me not to feel crap all the time."

Suzanne's children were both in their teens when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006. She says: "We were very honest with them and they understood that things were going to have to change for a while."

She also makes a great point about letting your children's school know that you're not well, "so we could be sure that they would pick up on any changes in behaviour or concerns our two expressed out of the home."

My own son's school have been great about keeping a watchful eye on him to make sure he's supported if he needs it.

Hannah, who has two sons aged two and four has anxiety and depression. She says: "I have learnt that in order to manage with work and family and depression I have to be disciplined, if I let anything slip I pay the price, so I have to stay on top of things, which I obviously don't because I'm human."

She goes on to make a hugely important point: "Now I feel I can ask people for help. Family and close friends know what I've been through and I don't feel like I have to do it all. If I need a break or some help, I ask for it, and try really hard not to feel guilty."


And that's one of the hardest things: we think we have to be Supermum, juggling family, home and career, and the admission that we're feeling overwhelmed or exhausted feels so much like we're letting ourselves and our families down.


In the end though, you come to realise that the help that's so painful to ask for is actually helping you cope now and helping you get stronger in the long run.

As Sharon says, "I have a great group of mummy friends who know exactly what's wrong with me, and how I may need help sometimes... If one knows that my knee is playing up, instead of suggesting we all go for a walk, they'll suggest the kids all play in their lounge that afternoon, so I don't have to say no to the walk."

Suzanne also relied on the help of friends, but balances that with "When I was well I made sure I did as much as I could. I went ice-skating with my daughter (desperately trying to keep my wig from falling off!) and generally made sure life was the same as always."

And for the times when it all gets too much? Hannah says: "I've depended a little too often on Charlie and Lola CDs and chocolate biscuits."

Hannah, Suzanne, Sharon and I are all incredibly lucky to have great and supportive partners who we can rely on and we all took the decision to tell close friends and family about our illnesses so that we have other support for when times get tough.

Hannah tries to make an hour for herself every day and has also taken up yoga and a lunchtime walk with her boss. Sharon and Thomas have 'quiet time', "an hour when we just slob out on the sofa with Cbeebies iPlayer on."


There's no doubt that parenting is tough at any time, but when you're coping with your own health issues and hang-ups about what great parenting is (and how you're not doing it), it's doubly hard.


Suzanne says: "I think we must have done the 'right things'. Talking to my daughter now, she says that after the initial shock, she never thought I would die. My son was more worried but he too was certain we would come out the other side."

The final word goes to Sharon. "My best tonic (even better that chocolate) is my son. I think life without him would be more difficult than life with him. And that thought, feeling, smile, pride helps!"

Our top tips for dealing with your own illness while parenting:

• Be honest with your children about what's going on.

• Let your child's childminder/nursery/school know you're having some on-going health problems so that they can keep an eye on behaviour/your child's concerns.

• Ask for help from your medical team, friends and family.

• Do what you can do, but don't push yourself too hard.

• Look after yourself so you can heal.

• Forgive yourself! You can't (and shouldn't), do it all!

More on Parentdish: 10 ways to help a mother with breast cancer