A boy's perspective on his mum's breast cancer journey
What's it like for a child to hear that the most important person in your world has life-threatening cancer and to watch them go through treatment? Twelve-year-old Lisburn boy Jack Myles shares his experience of his mum Jo getting and surviving breast cancer, writes Jenny Lee
LISBURN voice-over artist Jo Myles was diagnosed at age 41 with Stage 3 breast cancer. Since December 2013 she has undergone six operations, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, chemical menopause and ongoing hormone therapy, with one more reconstructive operation to go.
Single-mum Jo, both of whose parents have passed away, was grateful to friends and neighbours who supported her through her cancer journey, and to the strength of her son Jack, who's now 12.
Jo is extremely proud of Jack, who was just eight when she was diagnosed. She was surprised when he recently talked openly about his experience of being the son of someone who has gone through cancer treatment.
"He said 'Mummy didn’t cry'. I did cry. But I did that privately in the bathroom when big clumps of hair were coming out in my hand. He didn’t see those bits," says Jo, who had to tell Jack shortly after her diagnosis as she was to go into hospital for exploratory surgery to check if the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes.
"We tend to have all our big conversations in the car. It works well because it’s private and he’s not having to directly look at me in the face," recalls Jo.
Just over two years ago, Jo was introduced to the sport of 'dragon boat racing', joining the Lagan Dragons, Northern Ireland’s first ever breast cancer survivor Dragon Boat team.
The Lagan Dragons train once a week, from April to October, at Bryson LaganSports and currently have more than 50 members, aged from their early 30s to late 60s.
Jo says the Lagan Dragons have helped her regain the confidence she lost while going through treatment, as well as introducing her to an amazing bunch of diverse people who each week come together to laugh and train and celebrate being alive.
"Doctors across the world recommend paddling as being excellent for preventing lymphoedema in your arm, as well as the emotional wellbeing of being in a boat with women who know exactly what you have been through," she says.
Jack has also got involved in the sport, becoming involved in the Belfast Buoys dragon team made up of partners, husbands, sons and friends of Lagan Dragons.
"Jack sits at the front of the boat on a very high, precarious seat and will be drumming his wee heart out in the dragon boat regatta, as the paddlers will follow his beat in the Belfast Dragon Boat Regatta."
Jo and Jack also enjoy other active water sports as well as microlight gliding.
"We try to keep busy and enjoy life," adds Jo.
CHILD'S-EYE VIEW OF MUM'S CANCER
JACK Myles (12) gives a childs-eye perspective of coping with his mum's cancer journey:
What age were you when you found out about your mum having cancer and how were you told?
My mum first told me she had cancer when I was eight years old. She told me in the car after she picked me up from school.
How did you feel when you found out about mum having cancer?
I felt very sad and I started to cry. I also felt very worried and didn’t really know what was going to happen.
Was her cancer treatment as bad as you thought it would be?
Yes, it was a lot worse than I thought. I did not expect my mum to go so bald. I came home one day and she had a wig on and I thought her hair had grown back and I was happy. But then she took the wig off and said “It’s just a wig” and then I started to laugh. All those funny moments helped me get through my mum’s journey of cancer.
What treatment did your mum have?
My mum had six operations and chemotherapy which made her hair fall off and it made her not able to walk and she was very tired all the time. She also had radiotherapy which is like a laser gun they shot into her to kill any cancer bits. Now she takes a bunch of tablets, called hormone therapy to help keep away the cancer.
Were you scared?
Yes I was very scared. I was worried that my mum might die because at the time I had only heard bad things about cancer.
Was there anything surprising about your mum's treatment?
Yes I was surprised at how brave she was while going through her treatment – she didn't cry. Now she has three tattoos... well, three dots which were to show the doctors where she needed zapping with the radiotherapy treatment.
What did you do at home to help your mum?
I helped her with cooking, I did my homework, folded clothes, did the washing, went to the shop and helped her go up the stairs by holding her hand as she couldn't walk properly.
What parts did you struggle with the most?
I didn’t really struggle. I just helped my mum and that’s what I do now – I help her now even without cancer.
Did your friends talk to you about your mum’s cancer at school?
I didn't want everyone to know my mum had cancer. I only told individual friends about my mum having cancer and the ones I did tell I told them to keep it a secret. I told my best friend Zac at the time and he helped me through it and he helped me catch up with work at school if I missed it because I was helping my mum.
Who else did you talk to about how you felt and did it help?
I also spoke to Mr McDowell my P6 teacher at Harmony Hill Primary. At the same time his mum was going through cancer and I talked to Mr McDowell a lot about what our mums were going through, about what therapies and treatments they were having. He even showed me a picture of his mum after she lost her hair. It made me feel like I wasn’t the only one going through it and it helped me a lot.
What advice would you give another child who has just found out that their parent has cancer?
Don't worry too much about it and just support your mum or dad if they need help. Spend lots of time with them because you never know what's going to happen. Live in the moment with them.
What is the best part about having a Lagan Dragon for a mummy?
The best part is knowing that she's getting out and getting healthy and she's in a group of other women who have survived breast cancer just like her. I’m proud of her.
So I believe you are in a Dragon Boat team too?
Yes I am the drummer for the Belfast Buoys and we are going to beat the Lagan Dragons in the Belfast Dragon Boat Regatta.
Belfast Dragon Boat Regatta 2017 takes place on June 3 from 10am-3pm at Lanyon Place, Belfast. For further information on joining or supporting the Lagan Dragons visit lagandragons.com