Guest blog: cancer & pregnancy – Mummy’s Star
In this guest blog, Pete Wallroth, founder and CEO of Mummy’s Star talks about why he set up the charity. He also talks about how it can support parents of babies up to the age of 12 months, and those going through pregnancy whilst diagnosed with cancer.
Cancer was an alien world to me nine years ago. Something I knew happened but which had never touched my immediate family very directly.
That was until my wife Mair was diagnosed with breast bancer when midway through her second pregnancy in June 2012. She underwent chemotherapy, gave birth to our healthy baby boy and the tumour was responding well to the treatment. Sadly though, it spread to the lining of her brain and she passed away very quickly shortly before Christmas that same year. Merlin was only 10 weeks old and my daughter Martha just 3 years old.
Setting up Mummy’s Star
The circumstances of her diagnosis in pregnancy and the lack of support tailored to this situation led to the charity Mummy’s Star being established in her memory in 2013. It was set up by my family, Mair’s friends and also members of the medical teams that had looked after her. Our aim is to provide Cancer Support In & Around: Pregnancy, Birth, Loss and Beyond.
Since launching we have grown quickly, supporting over 1,000 families around the UK and Ireland who are diagnosed with cancer either during pregnancy or within 12 months of a new birth and raising awareness of the fact that this does happen to women. We also receive regular referrals from existing large, long established cancer charities and hospitals nationwide one of which is The Christie, where Mair was treated.
Referrals from a range of different organisations and more importantly people who have direct experience of cancer tell us something important as a charity. It shows us the importance that is being placed on our service by other professionals who have been working in the cancer sector for many years, a recognition that we have created something that was not there previously for those women who are diagnosed at a time when they should be celebrating a pregnancy or new birth, but which is cruelly interrupted by a cancer diagnosis.
Cancer can be a scary time for anyone whether it is your first, second, third or fourth child or whether you have lost or had to end a pregnancy as a result. A cancer diagnosis only seeks to heighten that feeling of fear 100-fold.
How we can help
At Mummy’s Star we have a unique opportunity when women first get in contact with us and that is to bring the focus back onto their pregnancy or enjoyment of their post natal period, rather than everything being dominated by their diagnosis. When we greet or introduce ourselves to new mums contacting us, it is quite shocking to hear from mums that we are sometimes the first people to have said “congratulations” to them about their pregnancy/baby, or the first to recognise and acknowledge their loss if they have experienced one. Cancer should not be the domineering factor in a maternity setting positive or negative.
In another aspect, there is no hiding from the interruption that cancer does bring in this setting. It does create changes, make adjustments in how women birth and where, but one of the biggest factors can be the interruption of the sought after bonding time for mum and baby, and indeed her partner. We routinely hear from women of their guilt, or that they aren’t being a good mother in the way they’d hoped. No one should feel like this, no matter what the pressure, but least of all when that fatigue, that worry, that anxiety is caused by something such as cancer and the fear it can bring as to whether they will see their children grow up or not, depending on their treatment outcomes. Far from not being good mothers, these women are extraordinary mothers and would be mothers.
Telling other children in the family
That is only half of the story though as many already have a family at the point of diagnosis. It can be very distressing and difficult to tell existing/older children if you have them about a cancer diagnosis. However, it is each individual families choice if they tell their children about the diagnosis and treatment or not. What we have learned as a team over the last 8 years, and what we continue to learn about is that when and where you tell children can be as important as what you tell them.
When families do ask us, we always advise, in ley terms, to be sure that you have time to tell them, allow for questions and then make sure they have understood what you have said. It is important they know who they can talk to about anything you tell them e.g., you/grandparents/ teachers/friends.
It may also be helpful to inform their nursery or school if appropriate in case they notice any behavioural or mood changes and thus know what this may be related to so they can adjust the support they offer your child.
Our focus is the whole family
In our situations, the focus is understandably on the woman primarily, but we must never lose sight of the fact that cancer has a whole family impact. Therefore, between us all, we should work together to provide whole family support.
For more information visit www.mummysstar.org
Please note that I, as Ticking Off Breast Cancer, do not accept responsibility for the content of the guest blogs. The information and content provided in all guest blogs is intended for information and educational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice. Please seek professional advice or speak to your medical team if you have any questions about the issues raised in this guest blog.