Walking the line – being a mum with cancer that cannot be cured

By Nicolette Peel MBE, Registered Midwife, Mummy's Star Ambassador and former Chair on 24 June 2021 Maternity Services Pregnancy Cancer Midwifery

As a mum with a baby or young child/ren receiving a diagnosis of cancer that cannot be cured is earth shattering. There are no words to adequately convey the way that cold fear and dread grab hold of your heart and squeeze. The exquisite pain of imagining your child or children lost on this earth without your own special motherly love, your intimate understanding of them and their needs, is devastating.

In the vast majority of cases, cancer that cannot be cured is not so much a surprise as the realisation of your worst fear. The very thing that you have been most terrified of, that has haunted every scan result and sleepless night since your primary cancer diagnosis, has become a reality. So from that moment on, you begin the careful, balancing walk along the narrow line: the line between fear and hope.

Learning to walk it is difficult but for the most part, as the initial shock of diagnosis subsides, it gradually becomes possible to live life again. Perhaps not the life you thought you were going to lead but instead a new journey. On that journey there is such joy to be found, such humour, love and even peace. Also, the uplifting experience of meeting other people who understand what you are experiencing, who have felt first-hand the trauma of an incurable diagnosis.

Mummy’s Star is the only charity in the UK and Ireland dedicated to women and their families diagnosed with cancer during pregnancy or within 12 months of giving birth.

Two women a day are diagnosed with cancer during pregnancy or postnatally. This figure is likely to increase due to delayed diagnoses through COVID and lockdowns. Cancer and Pregnancy Awareness Week 2021, running from Monday 21 June to Sunday 27 June, will focus on living with cancer that cannot be cured while pregnant or with a newborn baby.

This is a difficult subject, but so important. One of the key themes that will be examined during the week is that of the use of language around cancer. Mummy’s Star will be taking a closer look at the meanings of words such as terminal, secondary and incurable in relation to cancer and considering how mums with cancer feel about 'battle language'. Also tackled will be the huge changes and adjustments to life plans that are often necessary, in addition to how that balancing of difficult emotions might be achieved. There will be a sensitive look at the challenging area of how relationships can be nurtured when cancer cannot be cured, especially those with children.

Finally, a topic that really resonates with me personally: how we do not need to be defined by an incurable cancer diagnosis. We are still the same people as we were and what we do every day matters so much. I am a mum, a midwife, a daughter, a sister, an auntie, a colleague and a friend - I am so much more than my cancer! I choose to get busy living….


Cancer and Pregnancy Awareness Week 2021 takes place Monday 21 June to Sunday 27 to help raise awareness about incurable cancer in and around pregnancy and how it impacts new mums. Often the early signs of cancer in pregnant women are put down to pregnancy related symptoms. Mummy’s Star wants to profile body awareness and ensure women have the confidence to speak out if they have concerns.

Mummy’s Star is only charity in UK and Ireland supporting women with cancer through pregnancy, birth, loss and beyond.

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