How I dealt with my mum’s breast cancer diagnosis

How I dealt with my mum’s breast cancer diagnosis

Everyone has to die from something and 1 in 3 women get breast cancer, those are just the facts of life. That is until it happens to you or somebody close to you.

As a child, my Nanny Mary had breast cancer, treatment and a mastectomy later she was all clear, I was none the wiser. As a slightly older child my Nana got breast cancer, treatment and a mastectomy later she was in the all clear, I was relatively none the wiser.

Saying good bye, last chats and humor as a coping mechanism

But in 2017 my Nana got metastases (secondaries) in her bone, liver and spleen. I was 17 by then and I was wiser. It was a normal day, I was a busy school kid, but my perspective had changed. My Nana and Papa only lived a 15-minute drive away and so I visited much more often, and my parents took them on holiday. I moved up to University, now a 6-hour drive away but I sent postcards, little treats I knew she would like and wrote notes on her fridge when I came back to visit.

It’s funny now, I got on that 6-hour train ride so many times for an ‘emergency goodbye’ to walk in her house and her get up and hug me, it was almost like she was thinking ‘what’s all the fuss about?’. I must have had our ‘last chat’ and our last ‘I love you’s’ 10 times. Humor was the coping mechanism.

Finding a new way to support my mum after her diagnosis

But in 2019, my Mum was diagnosed with Grade 3 hormone led breast cancer and it couldn’t be made funny. It was a week after her 53rd birthday and I was home for University summer holidays. My Mum had a pre-booked holiday to see her best friend in Italy and at this stage the diagnosis and was treatment to come was still unclear. Of course, my mum went and had all the emotional chats she needed at that time with her bestie.

But my brother was working at a summer camp in Canada and I was at home with my Dad. Our personalities are very similar, (a rare admission but blindingly obvious), we are unemotional, ask either of us for a hug and you’ll think you’re a stranger the way we look at you in response. So, the subject of mum’s diagnosis did not come up. It was only while I was working in my summer job that it hit me. Wow the poor staff, I had worked there only a couple of weeks, I was still at the small talk stage but suddenly I was in floods of tears.

I realised then that I couldn’t bottle it up! I wanted to be a daughter that hugged and kissed her mum to the point she asked for an inch more personal space, but I just wasn’t. This never meant that I wasn’t close to my mum or that I didn’t ‘care’. I am so incredibly close to my Mum, but I needed to find a different way to support her. What am I good at I thought?  Rowing. The idea was born.

Rowing a marathon every day for a week to raise funds and to feel useful

In September 2019 I rowed a marathon every day for a week (to note, a 7-day week!). A total of 301.8 km to be precise. 32 hours and 32 minutes. I raised £4000+ for Breast Cancer Care charity. I felt that if even a small bit of the pain I went through could be taken away from the pain my Mum was about to go through with her mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy then it was worth it. My Nana was so proud of me. I felt useful. At the end of the week, my Mum described it like a holiday- Bruce (my brother) was home and the four of us were spending ‘quality’ time together- 32 hours and 32 minutes!!!! I must say, not quite what I was thinking but the humor was back!

Covid-19 hit and well I don’t need to tell you how rubbish that was. My Nana, the incredibly strong lady she was, probably spent a record amount of time in the hospice and was taken back home so we could all be around her. My Nana sadly passed away in April 2020, I will never forget the memories we made in those last couple of weeks and years.

Mum gets the all clear but we say good bye to nana

On the positive side, my mum finished treatment and got the all clear in March 2020, so my Nana got to hear the great news. I not only never want to stop making my Nana and my Mum proud of me, but I want to help other breast cancer ladies and families. Again, I asked myself how?

Art and creativity become a source of self compassion and love

Lockdown 2.0 came and brought with it Sophie Tea art and a big burst of creativity. I participated in a ‘Sophie Tea live paint with me’ and from there I was off. I am a big preacher of self-love and that it’s a journey everyone should be on, including myself. Painting abstract nudes helps me represent this and celebrate women. My Mum and her mastectomy scar were always on my mind, but I wanted to hone my skills before I felt I could do her justice. I took the leap and went for it and dammmm it is beautiful (a little bit biased maybe). Scars and not something to hide but represent everything you went through and how strong you have become.

I would love nothing more than to celebrate more ladies and their scars through my paintings, and of course also donate to breast cancer charities to help breast cancer research and support those diagnosed with breast cancer and their families along the way.

Tilly Abbott

Instagram: @tilly_the_creator

My Nana: Doreen Howson

My Mum: Kate Abbott

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