My mum’s cancer diagnosis completely changed our relationship

Emma Rossiter taking a selfie with her mum at a party.

Mum was in the middle of treatment for breast cancer (Picture: Emma Rossiter)

‘He’s nice enough, but I don’t think he’s emotionally mature enough for you Em,’ Mum said softly.

I’d been divulging the details of my on-again-off-again relationship with my ex, and it was nice to have Mum’s thoughts.

I’d confessed all.

How we never seemed to be able to communicate.

How a friend had called us out for talking to one another like dirt on multiple occasions.

How I was scared that, if either of us shut the door for good, then I’d never be enough for anyone else.

It was a very deep conversation to be having on a random Tuesday morning, but it was the first time I’d ever confided in my mum about my love life like this.

Despite my hesitancy to speak about it all at first, it was so nice to finally chat to her about it.

And I think she was thankful for the distraction too.

You see, the only reason we had time to dish about my love life now was because Mum was in the middle of treatment for breast cancer.

Emma Rossiter's mum on her birthday. She's sitting on a leather armchair, holding a plate of doughnuts with a cupcake in the middle that reads 'Happy Birthday', with more cakes in a box on the right arm of the chair.

Mum discovered a lump in her left breast (Picture: Emma Rossiter)

The last time Mum and Dad called my brother and I into the living room for a family meeting, it was to tell us that Nan’s cancer was back.

That, this time, it was likely terminal.

So, when they called us in again inSeptember 2021, I didn’t think there was anything they could say that would be worse.

I was wrong.

‘I found a lump,’ Mum said. Four small words, but they changed everything.

In any situation, I’m normally full of questions – but in that moment, I was silent.

I listened numbly as Mum explained that when she went for her routine mammogram in July 2021, it flagged something in her right breast but while doctors did ultrasounds and a biopsy, Mum discovered a lump in her left breast.

Emma Rossiter taking a selfie with her mum.

I was worried about not just Mum’s health, but mine too (Picture: Emma Rossiter)

Eventually, she was diagnosed with grade 1 breast cancer.

‘What happens now?’ my brother asked.

Mum said her doctors were fairly certain she’d need an operation to remove the lump, then a course of radiotherapy.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t that simple.

Two weeks after her lumpectomy in October, doctors told her they hadn’t managed to remove all the cancer. She needed another op.

But before that could happen, my nan passed away. Emotions were already heightened and the loss hit hard – especially for my dad.

‘I can’t lose my mum and my wife in the same year,’ he admitted one night.

In a way, we could make up for lost time (Picture: Emma Rossiter)
I was checking my breasts once every other day (Picture: CoppaFeel)

Dad was more the strong and silent type. You’d never really know when things were getting to him, or at least he never showed it to my brother and I. But this time, it was like he couldn’t hold it in, the grief and worry plain to see.

By now, I was worried about not just Mum’s health, but mine too. As a bigger-breasted woman – despite knowing that size has no effect on your chances of developing breast cancer – it was something I’d always been wary of. And Mum’s diagnosis had pushed that wariness into very real worries.

I was checking my breasts once every other day, and was even researching if I’d qualify for a preventative mastectomy. It was a total overreaction on my part - but I couldn’t bear for our family to go through this again.

Mumherself though remained strong and was admitted for her second lumpectomy in November, a week after my nan’s funeral.

And though I was working, I was always at home, so I could ferry her to appointments and to radiotherapy when that began in January 2022.

Emma Rossiter and her mum taking a selfie at a theatre, with the auditorium seats visible behind them.

Soon, we were talking about all sorts of things (Picture: Emma Rossiter)

‘You need to relax and let your body recover,’ I told her firmly.

Mum is a regular workaholic. It’s actually a sore spot for both of us that she missed so much of my childhood growing up due to her work as an intranet manager for a corporate law firm.

But now, in a way, we could make up for lost time.

We’d put on her favourite films, Some Like It Hot and Grease, or binge watch old series of Love Island – she lives for the drama.

And as we sat together on the sofa, we started chatting – mostly about my messy love life.

I know that sounds like normal mother-daughter stuff, but we’d never really talked about things like that before in any depth.

My love life was my business and I’d never really felt like I could open up. I’d tell her if I broke up with someone or had a new partner of course, but I’d never really share the ins and outs, fights or good times.

Emma Rossiter taking a selfie with her family (left to right: her grandad, brother, mum and dad) at Christmas. Emma's wearing a Santa hat and Emma, her grandad, her mum and her dad are all wearing Christmas jumpers. They're inside at home, with Christmas lights/decorations above them on the ceiling.

As a family, we’re so much more open about what is happening in our lives (Picture: Emma Rossiter)

Butnow I wanted to.

Soon, we were talking about all sorts of things. My plans to live and work abroad one day, maybe in Australia or New York. My friend’s upcoming wedding, we’d bounce ideas off one another about the hen do.

We even talked about her plans to retire and how she wanted to get the kitchen done. Every topic, no matter how frivolous, was up for discussion.

Mum admitted how much she regrets not being there for my brother and I when we were younger. And I in turn apologised for not always understanding why, sometimes, work came before us. Small steps but they really helped us both to heal.

In fact, I’d never felt closer to her.

Emma Rossiter's mum at Puttshack, pointing with both hands to a sign on the wall that reads, 'for Putts sake'.

Our relationship has continued to go from strength to strength (Picture: Emma Rossiter)

However, as a family, we were dealt another blow in April 2022, when Mum discovered another lump in her left breast. She’d also been feeling lumps in her thyroid and had further biopsies to determine if the cancer had spread.

Thankfully it hadn’t but she had to endure a third lumpectomy and had the left side of her thyroid removed as a precaution.

She was put on medication to stop the production of oestrogen, the driving force behind mum’s cancer, and, this February, it was decided she’d have her ovaries removed. We’re just waiting on a date.

At the moment, she seems to be in remission and has since returned to work.

Mum’s diagnosis changed everything (Picture: Emma Rossiter)

She’s been working late nights again, which worries me, but I do my best to make sure she’s looked after. I cook for her all the time and, when she has a minute between meetings, I make a point of having a water-cooler style gossip with her about something that’s happened at work or, most recently, about what’s been going on in my dating life.

She’s loved hearing about the dates I’ve gone on, helping to decipher which of the two boys I was seeing would make the cut. (I told you she lives for the drama.)

Honestly, our relationship has continued to go from strength to strength. We regularly go on mother-daughter dates, sometimes just a quick shopping spree to the local B&M or Dunelm or, when we’re feeling particularly fancy, a theatre trip.

Of course, life isn’t quite what it was before. I still can’t hug her tight on her left and there are days when her pain is worse than others. But she’s managing.

I never really understood what it meant to be best friends with your mum (Picture: Emma Rossiter)

We eventually got confirmation that the type of cancer Mum has isn’t genetic and it’s not linked to the BRCA gene. But I haven’t let up on checking myself, and I probably never will.

Mum’s diagnosis changed everything.

As a family, we’re so much more open about what is happening in our lives – health and otherwise.

But the biggest change has been between Mum and I.

I never really understood what it meant to be best friends with your mum. Yes, I’ve always been proud of her and loved her and of course, I still refuse to accept that mother knows best.

But, through the way she has dealt with her diagnosis and following treatment, she has shown me how to be strong.

She is now my first port of call for everything – be it boy drama, work woes or friendship fallouts. Even if I just need a good gossip and retail therapy, she’s my go-to.

Of course, I wish she’d never been diagnosed, but in a weird way, I’m almost glad that we’ve been through this together. It’s made us stronger in every single way.

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