We were society’s traditional family unit: two parents and two children. Childhood cancer was never meant to be a part of it.
Our first Christmas as a family of four was far from traditional. We spent it huddled in the hospital room our three-year-old daughter was confined to, watching more chemo being pumped into her body and listening to her cry out in pain from several of its side effects.
Three weeks prior to this, Matilda had been diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, and from that moment family life completely changed.
The family unit quickly had to split into two to survive. Daddy stayed overnight with Matilda at the hospital whilst I spent my nights nursing her four month old brother, Marley, at home.
Kissing Matilda goodnight and leaving her on that hospital bed every night for weeks on end was horrendous. Motherly instinct is screaming at you to stay… to be there with her.
But in the weeks immediately following Matilda’s diagnosis we had to do whatever was best for both our children. Quite simply, we did whatever it took to cope and get through it.
For us, that meant our family unexpectedly becoming stronger as two temporary parent and child teams. With each team trusting the other instinctively to take on unspoken, yet clearly defined new roles whilst both ultimately working for the same purpose.
We have two children, which means childhood cancer hasn’t just affected Matilda’s childhood, but Marley’s too.
Battling continuously to meet the needs of two extremely reliant children, in two very contrasting ways, has mounted huge pressure and strain on us. Matilda’s diagnosis has wiped any necessary consistency and routine from our life.
Hospital has often had to be Marley’s second home, he has woken many mornings to only half a family at home, he has missed out on groups and activities with his own peers, he has been affected in so many ways.
There have been many additional challenges on this journey due to the fact he is so young, and we can only hope that his youth will prevent any long lasting impact, and that he can finally know a life that doesn’t revolve around childhood cancer.
Marriage has helped form and structure our family unit and Matilda’s cancer diagnosis has proved one of its toughest tests.
To go from being husband and wife to mummy and daddy changes you as people and takes time, commitment and compromise to work. However, when the traditional family roles suddenly get shaken up and you must become not only a partner and a parent, but also a full time carer, the family’s sudden sole breadwinner, an unqualified at home nurse or a newly assigned appointment coordinator, your marriage is inevitably pushed to its limits.
We’ve learnt to grow into these new family roles and, with a lot of trust and support, we have come together and become a stronger team because of it.
It couldn’t be more true that childhood cancer doesn’t just affect the child themselves but the whole family.
It’s the grandparents who become hands on parents again through their devotion, it’s the extended family who become closer through their understanding and it’s the friends who become part of your family through their support.
When childhood cancer crashes in on your family, you realise that the family unit you thought you had is actually so much fuller than you ever knew.
Gabby and her family are supporting the Cancer Research UK Kids & Teens Star Awards, in partnership with TK Maxx, which celebrate the strength and courage of children and young people facing cancer. For more information, please visit cruk.org. and read more about Gabby’s experience at facebook.com/adulting.abnormally