The reality of life after Mum

She taught me how to tie my shoes and ride a horse, she picked me up when I fell and I like to think, if only briefly, Mum played an important part in shaping the strong, fiercely independent, (some may say stubborn) woman I am today.

Her death imparted some different but just as meaningful lessons on my 8-year-old, bereaved self. It taught me the importance of friendship; those who helped hold me up at my most fragile I would still call friends today. Her death also forged a fairly unbreakable bond with my sister, my comrade. It taught me the importance of self-preservation; of being my own expert when it comes to my health.

As I grew older and began thinking about longer relationships and starting a family there was a gradual but distinct shift in my attitude. I began to consider what it would mean to lose my life at 39, what I would miss out on and who I would be leaving behind. I couldn't bear the thought of what I wouldn't achieve or what might have been if only I'd protected myself.

It was this shift in mentality that lead me to genetic testing. Breast cancer has sadly taken many of the women in my family so although my genetic make-up can't be compared to a living relative who has endured the disease, a specialist could look for the most prevalent faults.

The decision to take this course of action didn't come lightly. I worried what a positive result may do to my (already somewhat fragile) mental health and my family; how they would react if a fault was found. In the end it was simple … I felt like a grenade. At least by knowing, I could arm myself.

The results came back negative, but for me nothing really changed. I didn't feel reassured by the news; I felt numb. My risk still couldn't be fully assessed and cancer had still taken my mum.

I've always had a slightly turbulent relationship with my breasts but I wasn't prepared for the impact having my own children would have. On the one hand they have provided food and nourishment; comfort in times of distress and an excellent foundation for a lifetime of immunity. But on the other hand, my breasts are the source of my anxiety. In a funny way I think if they were removed I would feel a sense of freedom, quite literally less weight on my shoulders.

Perhaps I would have felt differently if my first child had been a boy. In almost every way my daughter is my tiny replica. She has my mannerisms, my dodgy eyesight and my inability to censor myself. She's also a reminder of the relationship with my mum I no longer remember, and that a full healthy life isn't a guarantee.

I make a habit of checking my breasts regularly and I now have a yearly MRI … not because I was due regular check-ups; I just pestered the right people.

I need to believe that in taking preventative measures I am being proactive. Twenty years ago I wouldn't have been as informed as I am now so I'm trying to look on this as an opportunity; a means of maintaining control and protecting my future … I'm the mum now after all.



Caroline is a mum, writer and mental health practitioner from Hampshire with a particular interest in health and wellbeing and all things parenting.