By CJ Lampard
I was pretty proactive with screening because my maternal aunt had breast cancer, but when I asked my radiographer “what do you think” and his sharp intake of breath confirmed the worst, I was totally unprepared for the complete shock I felt. Our adopted sons were then 8 and 11 and my first thought was that I didn’t want to die and abandon the boys – they had already had the upheaval of adoption in their young lives – I couldn’t do it to them again.
We adopted the boys as babies from Thailand. They had each been abandoned by their respective birth mothers, then lived in an institution for the year/year and a half till we adopted them. That caused early trauma and left them with attachment and some other adoption ‘issues’. As a result, they are both very vulnerable to change and, having already ‘lost’ one mother, are very sensitive to the possibility of losing me.
Following the initial shock and fear I became strangely calm. I didn’t want the boys to suspect that anything was at all wrong. They needed stability in their lives so until we knew what we were dealing with, I wanted to keep things as normal as possible for them. I got on with telling my close friends and waiting for my treatment. I had a lumpectomy, six cycles of chemotherapy, and radiotherapy. The cumulative effect of all this made me feel awful. Chemo leaves you very vulnerable to any infections and although I looked after myself and stayed away from lots of people, I just could not miss my sons’ Christmas concerts, so I took the risk and sure enough I caught a cold which put me in hospital for five days.
I had consulted an adoption psychotherapist about how to manage these additional needs/challenges on a regular basis since we adopted the boys, so when I was diagnosed the first thing I did was contact her. She talked me through how and when to tell the children. We ended up waiting a couple of weeks till the diagnosis was confirmed and the operation scheduled. We were away on holiday the week before the operation and I told each of the boys then, using the wording we had agreed.
The boys received the news as well as could be expected. It was the treatment which made things difficult. I had underestimated the effects of the chemotherapy, so when I firstly lost my hair and then ended up getting progressively weaker and more unwell, they were extremely scared. Indeed, the younger one, just 8 at the time, said “I’m scared you’re going to die and leave me Mummy”.
I picked up a leaflet about The Haven – a free breast cancer support centre – at hospital when I was first diagnosed. I was keen to try anything that might help, so I came in and met the specialist nurse who discussed what support might be most beneficial for me. I spoke to the nutritional therapist who analysed my diet and suggested practical ways that I could improve it; maintain a good weight and even out the peaks and dips in my energy levels. I also had acupuncture which helped to increase my white blood cell count so that I could stay on schedule with my chemotherapy appointments. Keeping to schedule was really important to us as a family because changes to the plan were very unsettling for the boys. I also knew that I needed some help in managing stress on a long term basis and this is where mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) really helped. I went to a class and could see how it would be really useful so I signed up for the Haven course to learn more and I can now practice it at home and it has become a part of my life.
Coming to The Haven has been very good for me. Even just coming in for lunch, to read some books and have a chat with some of the other women going through the same thing is very restorative. You don’t have to explain your situation to everyone – they all just understand.
My children were a driving influence for me throughout my treatment. I was determined to do everything I could to optimise the treatment and remain as well as possible through it, so they would not have to suffer the loss of a second mother. It is still present in my mind as I make choices about my diet etc. now, two years on. The advice and support I received from the Haven, both during and after the treatment, continue to reassure me that I am doing everything possible to remain healthy for as long as possible to be a mum to my boys.
For more information visit www.thehaven.org.uk