‘I felt so much guilt’ One mum explains what it’s like having cancer treatment while caring for a toddler

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  • Louise is a mum to two-year-old Filly, but when she felt a lump in her armpit in November last year she was hesitant to go to the doctor because of a bad experience following a late miscarriage in 2015. She blogs about her experience at The last meal before chemo and spoke to GoodtoKnow to explain what it’s like being diagnosed with stage two-breast cancer and under-going treatment while still trying to be a mum.

    ‘I first felt a lump in summer last year. I had a tiny, tiny little something but I had just finished breastfeeding about six months before and didn’t really think anything of it. I ignored it.

    By the time late November came around, I had noticed a few other symptoms like a lump and pain in my armpit and that is when I thought right “I’m going to have to tell my husband Ally about this”.

    We booked an appointment at Nuffield Health Cheltenham Hospital for the very next day and Ally came with me. I’m horribly needle phobic and suffered a late miscarriage in 2015 where I lost eight pints of blood and nearly died following lots of different surgeries.

    Because of this I have become quite afraid of hospitals and doctors and I think that is why I didn’t want to admit that there might have been something wrong.

    Louise with her brother Neil in the middle and husband Ally on the right

    I saw a lovely consultant and had a mammogram and an ultrasound. The consultant said very plainly that it was cancer and that there was a high chance it had spread to my lymph nodes. This would have explained the pain I was experiencing in my arm.

    The consultant took a biopsy there and then and then Ally and I just went home, completely in shock.

    It sounds like a cliché, but the world seemed to stop. My only thought was for my daughter Ophelia (Filly) who was born in April 2016.

    I had thought about how I might feel if I was told it was cancer when we booked the appointment at Nuffield. I thought “Oh God if he tells me it is cancer I’m going to be sick or burst in to tears” but I didn’t.

    I just thought “Oh God what am I going to do? I can’t have Filly grow up without a mum, Ally is in the military and works away from Monday to Friday so who is going to take care of her.”

    It was less emotional than I imagined and I didn’t have much of a reaction. I was just thinking practically about what the diagnosis meant for everyone around me.

    When we came home from the hospital, my mother-in-law Allison was there because she had been looking after Filly. I told Allison about the diagnosis because she could tell something was wrong and she was completely shocked. She left quite soon after because I don’t think she knew what to say or do.

    Ally and I carried on as normal until we put Filly to bed but we couldn’t eat dinner.

    I’m incredibly close to my parents and even when they lived in France for ten years, my brother and I spoke to them almost everyday. They moved back to the UK when Filly was born and I knew they would be upset by the news that their daughter was possibly very sick.

    Louise with her dad

    Sitting down to call them was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do and they agreed to come over the next day to see me.

    Eventually, Ally and I sat in front of the television and that is when it really sank in. We just looked at each other and started crying. Ally cried and cried which is something he has never done. He has never been hugely emotional but he just completely broke down that night and was sobbing. It broke my heart and I felt so much guilt. I had hurt my mother-in-law, I had hurt my parents and Ally and Filly didn’t know it, but I had completely affected her future.

    After my diagnosis, I had a PET scan to see if the cancer had spread. The consultant came over to me in the waiting room to tell me the results. He was smiling and before I even got out of the chair, he whispered in my ear: “It hasn’t spread”.

    Just thinking about that moment makes me feel a bit wobbly now but at the time my first thoughts were “primary cancer is treatable”. I just had to wait to be told what treatments and operations were needed.

    I had six rounds of chemotherapy in total, which started in January 2018. I also had a mastectomy in May and ran the Race for Life a few months later.

    I always thought chemo would be completely debilitating but the first three rounds weren’t too bad. The side affects were like the worst flu and the worst sickness bug you’ve ever had but they went away.

    Obviously I was tired but for the majority of my treatment I was still able to be a mum to Filly, cooking her dinner and playing with her.

    I rode my horse Blue all throughout my treatment and was able to prevent losing the hair on my head by using cold capping which uses a gel to freeze the scalp and hair follicles.

    Louise having her cold capping treatment 

    I still lost all my eyebrows and eyelashes but I never had to explain losing my hair to Filly, which was a relief.

    I drew on my eyebrows, which was a bit tricky when she was yelling at seven in the morning and you have to remember to draw on your brows before you go and attend to her, but Filly barely even knew I was poorly!

    I’m glad I was able to keep some normality throughout my treatment because it meant that Ally still had the wife he married and Filly still had the mum she always knew.

    I pushed myself quite a lot but looking back I’m happy that I did because I don’t look back on chemotherapy as a particularly horrific moment in my life.

    My body has had what they call a pathological complete response to the chemotherapy and treatment. This means that although the doctors can see that I had cancer, there are no signs of it still in my body.

    Because the cancer I had was very aggressive, I still have radiotherapy to reduce the likelihood of it returning.

    There is a chance I may also have to have a hysterectomy in the next year or so as the hormone oestrogen fed my cancer.

    Ally and I are fine with the thought of a hysterectomy. We have our one miracle daughter so that is fine and if a hysterectomy happens down the line I’m not too worried.’

    Louise is supporting Stand Up To Cancer, a joint national fundraising campaign from Cancer Research UK and Channel 4 to accelerate ground breaking cancer research and save lives.

    As told to Jessica Ransom