Guest post: "My son's life didn't stop just because I had cancer"
As a single parent, Christine Hamill worried about caring for her son when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, but she wanted to make sure he never felt guilty for getting on with his life
Posted on: Wed 29-Jun-16 16:31:18
(21 comments )
There were three people in the room: the consultant, a nurse and a registrar, and I remember thinking, it does not take three people to tell you you are ﬁne. I was right. It was cancer.
I am a single parent and have been since my son was a baby. My first thoughts were about him. What would he do without me? Where would he go? Where would he live? Some of the anger I felt at my diagnosis was directed at my son's absent father, who had refused to have anything to do with us after I left him. In those first hours my thoughts were clear: he should have cancer, not me. My friends said it was 'the cancer talking'. They were right – because I would not wish cancer on anyone.
Oddly though, being a single parent gave me strength. I couldn't take to my bed with a box of Kleenex; I couldn't lie about feeling sorry for myself (boy did I want to do that). I decided on 'business as usual': I got up and did the school run, made the dinner, checked the homework, I kept on gently nagging about tooth brushing and music practice.
Getting a diagnosis of breast cancer was the only time I really worried about being a lone parent. For the first time ever I thought I'd been irresponsible in bringing up this child on my own. But then I wised up. You cannot stay with someone just in case you get sick some time down the line. Then I thought, maybe I was irresponsible for not trying harder to ﬁnd a new mate and replacement dad. Too late now though. What would I put on my internet proﬁle? Single white female, good sense of humour, one boob… I decided to look for the small mercies: at least I didn't have to worry about my husband worrying. I wouldn't end up looking after him, making sure he didn't get too stressed, trying not to wake him when I cried at night, keeping his spirits up.
Some people might think you shouldn't laugh where serious illness is concerned, but life goes on for the children. They can feel guilty for getting on with their lives and having fun at a time like that. But of course they shouldn't.
Telling my son I had cancer was hard. Accepting help from others was hard. I was used to coping on my own and didn't want things to be different. But in this position, things were different. I had to accept all the help I could get, join support groups, let people into my life. I had to let them help me. I had to let my child see that I was not alone, that he was not alone.
During my cancer treatment I wrote my first book, B is for Breast Cancer - a sometimes funny A-Z of the emotional and physical impact of cancer. Despite good friends, I felt very, very lonely in my cancer and the book was a daily pep talk to myself. It gave me help and hope and because it was humorous, it let me laugh through the cancer. I was delighted when, after it was published, so many people contacted me to say it gave them help and hope too, and that it let them laugh.
The following year I wrote The Best Medicine - a comic novel about a 12-year-old boy coping with his mother's embarrassing diagnosis of cancer. The boy (Philip) is mortified that people will be going around talking about his mother's boobs all the time. In the book the fictional boy writes letters to the comedian Harry Hill for advice on coping with everything from his mother to the school bully to the girl he is crazy about.
Philip is an only child and his mother is a single parent – just like me and my son. However, the book is not about me, and it is not about my son, but it is for him. My life stood still the day I was diagnosed with cancer, but my son's didn't. He had to keep on going to school, coping with everything that life threw at him, from eccentric English teachers to beautiful girls. Some people might think you shouldn't laugh where serious illness is concerned, but life goes on for the children. They can feel guilty for getting on with their lives and having fun at a time like that. But of course they shouldn't. My book is my way of saying so. I wrote this book as permission to my son, and others, to keep on living and keep on laughing.
By Christine Hamill
Thank you mumsnet for this. Christine
I hope you are well Christine. I think it's a great idea to write a book. It must have been really hard being ill and a single mum, for both of you. I think people underestimate the impact it has on children. All the best x
Thank you Owllady, the books helped us both, but yes, being on your own makes it all the more acute.
Thank you for this, I think the fears for your children actually outweigh fears for yourself when you're in that room. I've ordered your book for my 12 year old (he's a bit old for Mummy's Lump which has been great for my younger ones).
I shall read it first
I have been reading various active topics on mumsnet for a very long time. However, after reading your post, I decided to register so I could comment! (I will adopt a better name when I have worked out how)! Very challenging moments for you, a rollercoater of emotions. Humour can certainly help people when faced with difficult situations in some circumstances. Thank you, best wishes x
Oh Pepperrabbit, I remember Mummy's Lump well - my son was too old too and my parents were too old as well. Yes, you read my book first - it will make you laugh, but it also has real heart - the boy loves his mum and it shows! The thing that struck me was how much a child that age has to contend with - never mind having a sick mum. I hope will let me know how you and your children are.
user.... first thank you for your lovely comments. I am very humbled and flattered.
second, I changed my username today - I thought it would be a hassle but it wasn't... log in go to 'my account' - scroll down to username (change it) and save changes. I think that is it.
And thank you, again. It really means a lot.
Hi Christine, lovely blog. I had breast cancer a few years back when my daughter was a baby. She's now 8 and I'm a single parent, and i do think about "what if" it recurs - but at the same time, having the cancer made me make the decision to leave because I wanted us both to live the best possible life we could, because that's what it's all about isn't it. In a way I think being around someone with cancer does give you the permission to live life to the full as it strikes home how much you mustn't waste life - in fact I would be more offended if I was ill and people were moping around me - grab life by the horns and get on with it!
Hi piperchapman - thank you. I agree with you and I think somehow being on your own can sometimes help you find strength you never knew you had. I left my relationship for the same reasons as you - I wanted the best for my son and myself. I think maybe we had cancer around the same time. Yes, we'll always worry about the cancer but I'm glad you posted here and showed the mums who might be going through this that there can be a happy ending.
hey, your post is very emotive for me. I really want to wish you and your son the very best. you both sound very brave, and I pray that your treatment is a success and life will slowly go back to "normality"- sending you the very best and ongoing remission
This brings me back. My mum and dad split up when my mum was in hospital having a mastectomy. He changed the locks and threw my sister, aged 3 and I (13) out.
From that moment on my mum was fighting cancer whilst going through a messy divorce and bringing us up single handed.
My mum was the most amazing, positive and strong person. I am incredibly proud of her and the way she did things.
We became a little unit - very close and stubbornly protective of each other.
Thank you so much. I am well now.
That previous message above is for Stopfuckingshoutinga
Annaffaquine123 - I felt really emotional reading your post. It is staggering, the things people will do to someone who is sick. I say in my first book - I thought people would be all nice to me because I had cancer. But bullies don't stop being bullies just because you are unwell. And I know what you mean. Somehow, despite all the horrible stuff, it can make you close. I hope you are well.
Thank you for your post. I'm not a lone parent but my children were 5, 3 and 8 weeks old when I was diagnosed. Life has to go on when you have small children and school runs to deal with! I hope you and your son are doing well.
Thank you weebarra - I am well. I hope you are well now too. Diagnosed with three small children - and a tiny baby! You are amazing. It is really humbling to hear people's experiences.
Christine - does your best medicine book include chemo in the storyline? I would like a book like this for my (just 13) son, he found my chemo (plus complications) and year of herceptin the worst out of all the treatments and is finding it hard to process it all atm. Glad you are well
Hi notquite... Yes, the mum has chemo in the book. The boy has to cope with that - a lot of the story line turns around that. I think you will like the outcome. The boy in the book is just turning 13. I hope you are recovering.
Brilliant Christine - very inspirational. You really found the gift in your illness and no doubt your message will help so many others. Well done
Hi Christine, I thought I'd let you know how much I enjoyed the book and reading the perspective of the child.
DS1 (12) has now read it and said it was very good - he took it with him to read on a trip to see his cousins which is a ringing endorsement. As I said it's a significant step up from Mummy's Lump and kind of filled that gap for him as well (and he loves the jokes). Thank you.
Hi Pepperrabbit - Thank you for this wonderful message! A 12 year old boy saying my book is very good is high praise indeed. I am so glad it gave him a laugh. Thank you.