Being positive has helped me smile through life because if you can’t laugh even when things get tough, what can you do?
Things got very tough when I was told in July last year that I had breast cancer. I’d somehow known the leaky boob was more than just embarrassing. But hearing that word, in the consultant’s room with my husband Mark squeezing my hand, was a shock.
The news came on the first day back from our summer holiday with our daughters, Neve, 13, and eleven-year-old Emily. I’d had tests just before we left for Spain, and it was hard not to worry while we were there. But watching the girls laughing in the pool and playing cards against the sunset on the hotel balcony made me appreciate my family’s closeness more than ever. Mark and I agreed we’d share whatever results I had with them.
But the night we told Neve and Emily during dinner broke my heart. I explained the news gently, with lots of reassurance that my cancer had been caught early and was very much treatable. But it was the hardest moment of my 44 years.
The thing is, when you look for brighter things even in the darkest times you’ll always find some. And seeing how well Neve and Emily coped with everything made me really see what selfless, strong girls we’d raised. The encouragement they gave me while I went through four lumpectomies and a full mastectomy bolstered me.
I saw it as my job to keep everything as normal as possible, so I just got on with things as wallowing was never going to help. So the girls went to school on op and appointment days, attended karate and never missed gymnastics training.
My friends rallied, turning up to offer lifts to hospital for treatment. Having people who ‘get’ my sense of humour was a tonic. Few could believe me and a friend sang “Bye Bye Boobie” to the tune of the Bay City Rollers’ song “Bye Bye Baby” on the way to hospital one day. But we did - and I laughed my head off.
I opted against reconstruction, just so I could recover quicker. That meant I had my mastectomy one Monday and the following Saturday was in a gym hall watching Emily win first place at a big gymnastics competition. I’d lost a boob, but gained a gold. At the gymnastic club's annual awards, she won the bravest gymnast prize for training so hard even when I was ill. It was such a proud moment for me - isn't it funny how your kids' achievements mean so much more than your own?
By the time our next holiday came around, my girls hoped I’d join them in the swimming pool. And I wanted to show them that family life was pretty much the same. It’s a strange feeling, having to get to know your body again after surgery. But it was important to them so I wore a post-surgery swimsuit and loved being in the pool again.
I don’t love wearing big, ugly post-surgery bras every day though. The thought of having a pretty one in a delicate print or fabric, or a matching set, seems like the last step in returning to normality. It’s funny how happy such a small things make you feel.
And that’s the thing about surviving cancer. It changes your life. It gives you new realisation that you, and your family, are stronger than you ever knew. It makes you appreciate good things even when the news seems bad.
I’ve always felt, and now I know for sure, there are beautiful and positive things to be found absolutely everywhere.