Personal stories

How I dealt with “mum guilt” while going through breast cancer treatment

Posted by Guest Author on 10 March 2021

mother and daughter walking holding hands

This article explores how a cancer diagnosis can increase feelings of guilt as a parent.

By Carly

Mum guilt and breast cancer

People talk about mum guilt a lot. It would seem that you have children and then the sense of responsibility leads to an enormous amount of guilt about everything. Am I doing enough with them? Am I over stimulating them? Are they eating enough fruit and veg? Are they eating too much fruit and veg? Are they getting enough sleep? Are they having too many naps? All the guilt, all the time. 

As soon as I’d been diagnosed with breast cancer, that pesky mum guilt seeped in immediately… even if my logical mind knew it was nonsense. I’ve ruined their innocent childhood. I’ve brought cancer into their lives. They understand too much too soon about concepts I want to protect them from. 

Our minds are tricky and sometimes not particularly kind to us. In the face of a diagnosis that would take all my strength and resilience to face with courage and grace, my mind was trying to tell me I had failed my children somehow. 

Throw a lockdown into the equation too and suddenly these young, energetic, creative and curious minds are stuck at home with a fatigued, foggy, weary, run down Mum. I was the ‘do it all’ Mum and yet now I’d become the opposite. I was the ‘hundreds of plans in a weekend’ Mum and the ‘stretch myself too thin so everyone could be happy’ Mum. This new version of Mum they were seeing was everything I wanted to shield my kids from. Instead, ironically, I was having to now shield inside, with them off school, seeing all the chemo side effects in all their glory. Having them at school would have meant I could ride the worst of the chemo out without them around. My battery was flat with them at home constantly and my guilt went off the scale. 

With my husband stepping up to every role that I could not be at this time, I had to adjust to being the ‘hugging Mum’, the ‘always in her bed Mum’, the ‘one with all the kisses Mum’, the ‘read a story Mum’ and the ‘rarely playing Mum’. It was the hardest adjustment I have ever had to make. Knowing that I could no longer do everything I wanted to for them. Seeing in their faces the bewildered looks the days I simply could not get out of bed as even my face muscles felt fatigued.

And then the windows of energy would come and the appreciation of being able to do more for my children would kick in. Throw anything at me, I will cope. These pockets of energy would have me savour every bit of my babies – lapping up the joy of being out with them, or playing more with them. Filling my cup right up allowing my guilt to ease somewhat.

The thing about children as I start to come out of the worst of it physically is, they don’t dwell on what has been. My babies are 7 and 5 and they wake each day with a renewed excitement for what today might bring. Even in lockdown. Even with parks being about our only exciting outing. Practically every day has still been an adventure. 

Have they been impacted by my breast cancer diagnosis? It will always be hard to know the full extent due to lockdown and lack of their usual routines having its own impact too. They sometimes refer to me being ill and my daughter especially likes to remind me that I have a dreadful memory now. But my illness does not define their days. They remember a summer of fun and not a summer where I was in hospital for a week. They remember spending lots of time at home, but very rarely mention how much I slept during it. They live for today and remind me to do the same each day. 

Living in the moment, present day to day, leaves no room for guilt to play its part. Guilt is regretting what you haven’t done and being present is dealing with what you can do today. My children don’t dwell on what they haven’t done this past year so why should I. Especially when one day I will be able to explain to them just how much my love for them spurred me on during my darkest days of my treatment. And as a friend once pointed out to me when I was having a guilty moment, one day they will have a greater understanding of all that we faced as a family this year, and it will teach them resilience, strength and the ability to face uncertainty with positivity. I wish cancer hadn’t touched their lives so young, but perhaps the lessons we will all gain from this experience will be more positive than I can imagine yet.  Guilt will try and rear its head but we can only play the cards we are dealt; do the best we can do and not dwell on a life we cannot have. So, my verdict on feeling guilty with my cancer diagnosis moving forwards… Not Guilty. 

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Future Dreams hold a range of support groups, classes, workshops and events to help you and your carers during your breast cancer diagnosis. These are held both online and in person at the London-based Future Dreams House. To see what’s on offer and to book your place, see here.

March 2021 (Reviewed February 2024)

This article was written by a guest author based on their own experience of breast cancer and its treatment. It is important to note that this is one person’s experience and that whilst there may be commonalities between the experiences of different people, everyone has a different diagnosis/treatment plan/general experience. The information and content provided in all guest articles is intended for information and educational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice. It is important that all personalised care decisions should be made by your medical team. Please contact your medical team for advice on anything covered in this article and/or in relation to your personal situation. Please note that unless otherwise stated, Future Dreams has no affiliation to the guest author of this article and he/she/they have not been paid to write this article. There may be alternative options/products/information available which we encourage you to research when making decisions about treatment and support.


Sylvie Henry and Danielle Leslie founders of Future Dreams breast cancer support
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Sylvie and Danielle began Future Dreams with just £100 in 2008. They believed nobody should face breast cancer alone.  Their legacy lives on in Future Dreams House.  We couldn’t continue to fund support services for those touched by breast cancer, raise awareness of breast cancer and promote early diagnosis and advance research into secondary breast cancer without your help. Please consider partnering with us or making a donation.

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