A few months ago, Happy Confident Company Creative and Strategy Director, Jo Chadwick, joined 100 people on a 100km trek across the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path for the charity Coppafeel. On her return, Jo shared that the walk itself provided a fraction of the life lessons she gleaned from her time. And aside from the training, the blisters, the challenge, it was the people she met, and the stories she heard that affected her the most.
When preparing for the walk, and spending a few days manning our social media, Jo stumbled on a post from Fiona Donnison, a busy mum in her early 40s, undergoing breast cancer treatment. Fi had bought her kids our Daily Journal to try and help them through the difficult times of having a mum undergoing chemo and had tagged us on her review post!
And when Jo then discovered that Fi had done the Coppafeel Trek the year before, it seemed like the universe was trying to tell us that the company, and Coppafeel needed to somehow do something to work together in the future. And now, with Breast Cancer Awareness Month underway, we wanted to share Fi’s story with you.
I received my breast cancer diagnosis aged 43 late in 2020, my eldest boy was eight at the time and the youngest was only six. I sat in a hospital room on my own and received this news thanks to it being the height of the Covid19 pandemic.
What do you do when you receive this news? Your entire life crumbles around you, you hear the word ”cancer” you believe you are handed a death sentence.
My first advice would be to breathe, just keep breathing. Inhale the good and exhale all the negative thoughts and feelings. I often sit with my boys (now 10 and 8) practicing breathing techniques, life can be overwhelming for us all, and taking a few minutes to detach, and be present in the moment can really help to clear your mind, no matter what age you are.
I have a unique cancer story as my entire diagnosis and treatment plan was engulfed by the Covid19 rules, roadmap, lockdowns and no guests. I was stuck in my county area – it really did suck at times!
My treatment path was not set in stone. I and my partner, Mark, decided to not tell the boys anything until we knew more, about what stage the cancer was, whether I was to have chemotherapy, and if I would lose my hair. I needed to first process all of this myself. Putting yourself first is hard to do when you have little ones but you have to prioritise yourself sometimes.
We had to be super mindful. It was just the four of us for long periods at home, no one allowed in the house, home schooling mixed with cancer hospital appointments. Top of our list – the kid’s mental health, supporting their emotions. Already so much going on due to covid we made a mindful decision to keep the TV news off, replace the radio with playlists in a bid to protect the boys, both like sponges, from absorbing so much negative news without even realising.
Surgeries began quickly, starting with two lumpectomies. I was completely open and transparent with the kids – although without using the C-Bomb (cancer). I explained I was having an operation in hospital on my right boobie, that I would be in a little pain unable to drive, or run around after them for a few weeks (yes, they did ask to see my stitches!). Moving forward all appointments, radiotherapy, check ups, I always informed the boys of my movements.
I find honesty really helps with kids, as conversations can be heard from other rooms, cards, flowers in the post, they pick up on so much!
Fast forward to 2021, Covid19 rules lifted, life returned to some sort of normality. Charity work, raising vital research funds became my main priority, my cancer diagnosis had put some seroius wind in my sails. I was eager for a challenge. Lady luck was shining on me as I gained a place to trek the Highlands alongside Gemma Atkinson for Coppafeel!
The boys could see all my training, fundraising…. questions cropped up. It was then we informed the boys of my diagnosis, it was around 6 months post my initial hospital appointment of doom.
My eldest only knew of cancer from Black Panther, Chadwick Boseman who had sadly passed away in 2020. Aware I had to tread carefully, we explained my health situation with a positive spin with every obstacle in life comes opportunity.
Over 2021 I raised nearly 30k for Breast Cancer Now and Coppafeel! I trekked 100 km, leaving my boys, showing them that anything is possible no matter how scared or lost you feel. They learnt such tremendous life lessons over that time. Skills such as optimism, self-expression, mindset, perseverance, and resilience. And of course compassion too.
Cancer affects so many families nowadays. And my advice would be to keep your kids within your bubble, no one wants to screw up their kids at a young age but equally life is not straightforward, we will all experience bumps in the road, sometimes mummy will cry or be in pain. If you can explain as the weeks pass, say sorry mummy is feeling really tired today, I am having a difficult day. This emotional transparency, and sharing helps them feel safe to express their own feelings, and teaches them how to do so. It gives them a platform, and the freedom to speak up, and out.
Build your tribe, family, friends, school, and teachers. Keep everyone in the loop of where you are within your treatment, if the kids are struggling drop the school an email – no one can help or understand the kids if they don’t know what is going on behind closed doors.
Books, mindfulness, meditation, crystals, lavender, essential oils, journals of any type (but we did love the Happy Confident Me ones!), teddies, walking, hitting the park inhaling all that fresh air helps!
Kids are so resilient; it is a blessing to have them with you on this mighty crazy journey. Kids give you so much uplifting energy, hugs, smiles and daily love. They also really help with recovery, pushing you to get well, reminding you to enjoy life and be silly!.
It is hard and sometimes you do just need to hide in the loo for a cry – but that is ok! It is ok to feel all the feelings of a cancer diagnosis.
I could write so much more, if you are struggling, need someone to chat to post-diagnosis please feel free to drop me a DM anytime @team_firaisingcancerawareness
PS. Remember to check your boobies monthly!