Friday, October 7, 2011

My Amazing Survivors

This week I've looked at why Breast Cancer Awareness Month should inspire us and how really getting to grips with your boobs can be a life saver. Today I'd like to share with you the stories of breast cancer in my family to explain why communication is a vital tool in the fight against breast cancer. 

Breast cancer has a long history in my family and I remember my Mum explaining the disease to me when I was a child. In my world at the time the worst things that could happen were Chicken Pox and breaking a limb. I remember being confused that my Auntie was sick with something that her doctor couldn't cure with a cherry flavoured medicine or at worst an injection that was followed by a lemon lollipop.

As I got older my understanding grew because my family were very open about what was involved in the treatments and how they had all felt during the times when breast cancer turned up uninvited. My Nana (my Mum's Mum) has watched her Mum and daughter fight breast cancer. She explained to me that cancer was a taboo subject during the 1940s when my Great Grandmother (GG) was first diagnosed. "No one talked about cancer. My Mum was just very ill, that's all we were told at first. I lost my father to cancer when I was 11 and didn't know what had killed him until my late teens."

Nana explained to me how the silence around cancer was the most terrifying thing. "I remember thinking that if I didn't step on the cracks in the street then the ambulance wouldn't come to our house." The turning point came because my GG was very pragmatic and elected to have a radical treatment that involved radiotherapy and a mastectomy, treatments that many people feared did more harm than good. Nana started asking questions about the treatment and learned more about her Mum's illness. In the oncology ward there were five women with breast cancer, GG was the only one who elected to have the new treatment and she was the only one who survived.

GG went on to survive a second bout of breast cancer where she had to have a partial breast removal and cancer of the womb survived with a hysterectomy. I was 20 when GG passed away from heart failure aged 89 having shared stories and giggles with me (as well as being unforgiving in any game involving cards and betting!)

When my Aunt was diagnosed in the late 1980s, Nana was not shy in asking questions. She and my Papa armed my Aunt with a mobile phone (revolutionary technology at the time) so that they could be in touch with her as she caught the train to London every few days for her chemotherapy. "Knowing that she could get in touch with us so that she wasn't by herself was very important. It also meant that when her tumour was measured on a Friday she could call us straight away to tell us if we were winning." Nana said that on Friday mornings she and my Papa rarely spoke after breakfast "That's when we were silent, during the waiting but talking with your Aunt was how we could support her, through being there to share her life."

I remember my Aunt being thin beyond anything I had seen before. I didn't associate it with the disease but knew that something was very wrong. I couldn't have fully comprehended the fear felt by my family during this time, I was too young, but I know that the love and support they shared amongst each other was communicated even to us kids. My Aunt has been in remission for over a decade and kept both her breasts, I call that a victory.
My Aunt, Me, Nana, Mum and My Sister - Pretty Formidable Bunch!
The battles of the women in my family have taught me to be very grateful for and protective of my health. I know that I am very fortunate to be the descendent of survivors, not everyone gets that ending. When I read the inspiring Georgina at Fuller Figure Fuller Bust talk about losing her Mum I was reminded that I am very lucky. Georgina talks about how she learned to keep the spirit of her Mum alive in her life and never to forget the importance of breast exams.

If you are the daughter or son of survivors, battlers or angels you know that what it all boils down to is love. Donating to breast cancer research is a donation to the love of mothers for their daughters, aunts to their nieces, husbands to their wives and every other woman and man affected by breast cancer. xx


  1. What a beautifully written piece...a salutory reminder that we all need to be aware and to communicate. So proud of our family.

  2. Thank you for sharing your story and your family's great love for each other. This is so lovely.