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Voices: Like Kate, I’ve just been diagnosed with cancer – telling my kids was the hardest thing I’ve ever done

 (AP)
(AP)

I’ve just heard the news that Kate has cancer. I really do feel for her. Right now, I can imagine exactly how she’s feeling – and I’d be willing to bet she’ll be experiencing a lot of conflicting emotions. I felt it was a bit like grief, as well as anger, denial, upset and constant questioning.

I’m 48 and I was diagnosed with breast cancer the day before we heard that King Charles had cancer, last month. It suddenly felt like cancer was everywhere. I thought I knew quite a lot about it, but it turns out that I didn’t – and if Kate is anything like me, she’ll be moving between denial (feeling like it’s some kind of awful soap opera) to wanting to read enough to be able to ask the right questions.

The biggest drive for me to learn about my diagnosis – and prognosis – was my children. They’re slightly older than Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis, who are 10, eight and five – my daughters are 11 and 13 – but they’re still at school. I didn’t say anything until I was absolutely sure that I had cancer. It’s such a loaded word for adults, but actually when I did tell them, their reaction was, “Oh. Is that it?”

They knew that I’d had some tests and so I told them that I hadn’t been entirely honest with them and that the tests had found that I had a lump in my armpit which had breast cancer in it and I would need some more tests. And the girls were just like “meh”.

It was a bit of a shock for me, but then I realised that they hadn’t encountered anyone in their lives who’d been through chemotherapy, so they weren’t scared. So it went from being the hardest thing I’d ever done, to gratitude that they were able to take it in their stride.

Some people who I’ve told have said that they’re sorry and their reactions have clearly been impacted by the weight of having lost friends, parents or colleagues to cancer. The thing is that medicine has improved so dramatically that survival rates for many cancers are really fantastic now. The survival rate for stage 2 breast cancer is 93 per cent, and that gives me comfort.

Since I first told them the news, my children have reacted in very different ways. My eldest is quite confident that the NHS knows what they’re doing and I’ll get through it (she’s read a lot!) My youngest has taken it much harder. But still, I’ve been lucky – both schools have been really supportive and I’ve had an outpouring from friends to take them places and have them for sleepovers.

Other people’s reactions have been very different. At first, I only told people who had asked how I was doing. Friends and family were visibly shocked. The weirdest thing was that everyone asked how my mum was!

Then, when I’d had a more definite diagnosis, I made a big announcement on Facebook. I’ve now got a support group on WhatsApp of 45 people who’ve offered to help in one way or another. I’ll be having two three-month sessions of chemotherapy, followed by surgery, followed by radiotherapy, then balancing surgery on my other breast. I’ll need that help and support.

It really scares me that I might not be there to see all those big days in my kids’ lives – university graduation, weddings, babies etc. I need to get through this and I imagine Kate will have the same drive for the same reasons. I wish her all the luck in the world.

Support for teenagers with parents who have cancer is available here and via Childline here