Rhiannon Bradley is a 2x cancer survivor, teacher, reiki healer and an educational advisor for the breast cancer charity Coppafeel! After a breast cancer diagnosis at the age of 32, Rhiannon began to blog about her experiences on Instagram as @thebigcandme to offer support to others and raise awareness of cancer among young people. During her treatment she was chosen to work on campaigns for Macmillan Cancer Support and Breast Cancer Now which has enabled her to raise awareness through live television, newspaper interviews and social media campaigns. This is an insight into her story as a young mum living with cancer.
It’s a pleasure to host Rhiannon here….
Parenthood. It is full of ups and downs. Whatever your circumstances, becoming a parent takes you down one of life’s most unpredictable paths. We spend our lives trying to hold it all together: juggling children, relationships, work and social lives. My mum always used to say to me ‘If the mum goes down, the ship would sink!’ What happens when the unthinkable happens? What happens if the mum goes down?
In April 2017, I found out I had cancer. As a teacher and a busy working mum, I was enjoying the school holidays. It was two weeks after my daughter’s second birthday and I had managed to finally flop on the sofa while my daughter had a nap. As I lay there, my hand casually brushed passed my left boob when I felt a round, marble sized, hard lump. I had never felt a breast lump before, I am ashamed to say I had never checked for one. It seemed a bit big so I rang the GP and scheduled an appointment with a nurse that day. Within two weeks I had been referred to a breast clinic and found myself sitting in a room with a doctor who was gently telling me, ‘Rhiannon, I am terribly sorry but it is cancer’.
This was not my first battle with cancer. At the age of 24 I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer which I was successfully treated for. My treatment left me with fertility issues and I was lucky enough to have a successful round of IVF which resulted in my miracle baby girl, Seren. My breast cancer was seemingly unrelated to my thyroid cancer, however. In an ironic twist, it appeared to have been triggered by my IVF and very much longed-for pregnancy. Now at the age of 32, I was being diagnosed with an invasive ductal carcinoma which was highly responsive to oestrogen. It was an aggressive grade three cancer which luckily was contained to a milk duct. It hadn’t spread and my prognosis was good but I would need invasive treatment that would inevitably make me feel very unwel. It seemed this ship was going down, but not without a fight!
I immediately went into ‘practical mum mode’ once they told me. I knew from my previous experiences that I was going to be majorly out of the game once my treatment started. So there I was, organising child care, food parcels, finding out what help I was entitled to, I even wrote all my school reports and cleaned my house from top to bottom! I began to tell my family, friends and colleagues what was happening too. It is not easy telling people you love, bad news. There were plenty of tears, lots of cuddles and offers of help and support. I am so fortunate to have a wonderful support network around me in all areas of my life and for that I am forever grateful.
The ‘mum guilt’ was overwhelming however. After my diagnosis, I put my daughter to bed and sat there holding her hand crying silently. I whispered to her, ‘I’ve only just met you, I’m not ready to leave you.’ It was from that moment on, I decided I needed to do it for her. Throughout my treatment I promised myself I would do my best for Seren. She became my motivation to carry on. I wanted to be there for her first day at nursery, that was my goal. I was going to be there for her in whatever capacity I could manage.
The fact that Seren was so young was a blessing in some ways as she didn’t ask questions about my treatment and wasn’t anxious. When my hair began to fall out she simply patted my head and said, ‘You feel like a dog mummy!’. When I would come home from the hospital with hospital ID badges round my wrist she asked if I had had fun at the farm and she would laugh and point at my ‘Messy Booby’. All these things are normal to her now and I can look back, laugh and a little of the mummy guilt washes away.
My treatment started and I had 7 gruelling rounds of chemotherapy, a lumpectomy, radiotherapy, hormone therapy, countless scans and biopsies. I have had more needles poked in me than you can shake a stick at! Throughout it all, I was trying to still be ‘mummy’. As we all know the world doesn’t stop when you are ill and children still need you physically and emotionally, especially younger children. When you are going through a big life changing event like that, it is hard to explain what is happening to you, and why things are changing. There were days I was suffering so much with the side effects of my treatment that I felt I couldn’t get out of bed. Even giving Seren a cuddle was painful, I was exhausted, sore and trying to juggle being a parent with endless hospital visits.
Despite that, I did try to keep some kind of routine for her. I would make sure we had play dates, that we went for walks and I would force myself to play games and be the mum she deserved, to the best of my ability. Even though I felt depleted in so many ways, I could still love her. Love would keep my ship afloat, and it did.
As a family we have got through this time together with the help of our family and friends. Luckily, the outlook is good for me and I will continue to be monitored closely by the hospital with tests, consultations and yearly mammograms. Seren is a happy, normal and bubbly little girl with an enormous amount of empathy and kindness. Who knows how this experience will affect her down the line but for now everything has settled down and life has returned to a new normal. Seren starts Nursery School in September. I made it! I am looking forward to what the future holds for us as a family and a fresh new start for us.
To find out more about self examination and easy to follow guidance on how to get to know your breasts visit https://coppafeel.org/ for information and top tips. It may just save your life.
For information on cancer and the support available for those affected visit Macmillan Cancer Support https://www.macmillan.org.uk/ or call their support line on 0808 808 0000 Mon – Fri 9am-8pm.