Mom writes a book to help her child deal with her cancer diagnosis

Three people in the family vacation photo

The first thought that came to Hollie McFarlane's mind after learning she had breast cancer was, "How am I going to tell my child?".

Since Hollie's husband was away at work during the week, she and her daughter Sydney, age 4, spent a lot of time together.

The zoo, McDonald's, swimming, pizza night, and the library were all part of their weekly schedule.

Their lives "changed overnight" eight months ago, though.

In October of last year, after putting Sydney back to sleep following a nightmare, the 43-year-old woman from Pwllheli discovered a lump in her breast.

Hollie said, "Everyone was telling me you've got nothing to worry about, you've lost weight and your body is just changing," but she still scheduled a check-up.

"When the day finally arrived, I was positive there was nothing to be concerned about. ".

The teacher of English and drama, however, was "absolutely floored" when she saw the expression on her doctor's and the nurses' faces.

Hollie sat in a hospital chair wearing a head scarf in hospital. She is smiling at the camera
Hollie wouldn't be alive today, according to her doctor, if she hadn't sought help when she did.

After quitting his job, her husband Mike remained by her side for the following five months.

According to the NHS, one in seven women in the UK will receive a diagnosis of breast cancer at some point in their lifetime.

Hollie said, "I tried my best to keep it from [Sydney], but she's not stupid.".

"After being just me and her in our small energy bubble, her dad suddenly comes home and drives her to school. She was aware of a problem. ".

In an effort to help Sydney comprehend what she was going through, Hollie chose to borrow passages from MacMillan's book Mummy's Lump.

A mother is shown inspecting her falling-out hair in the mirror in the book, which is written for children ages 10 and under.

Sydney read the page, looked at me, and then, she said, "just burst into tears at the realization that this is my mummy.".

I assured her that "Mummy's going to be fine.". ".

A graphic advising you on how to check your breasts

Over time, Hollie's ability to run 62 miles (100 km) per month decreased to the point where she could hardly descend stairs.

Because she's never seen me in bed like that, Sydney would become very irritated with me, Hollie said.

"She would yell "come on," pull the covers up, and attempt to drag me up onto the trampoline.

"She missed out on so many things because I was poorly, it made me feel awful… guilty. ".

Sydney "really struggled" as a result of these circumstances. Sydney took matters into her own hands because, according to Hollie, a young child her age had little access to support for dealing with the implications of the diagnosis.

Hollie began writing a book about a young woman with breast cancer years ago, but she never imagined that she would later identify as that young woman.

Writing a new one to help Sydney consumed her mind.

A photo of Hollie laying on the grass outside smiling with long blonde hair before her cancer diagnosis
Hollie posts videos of her online cancer journey.

Sometimes, Mummy Feels is a book.  was written from Sydney's perspective to help Hollie try to process what her daughter might be feeling.

"Whatever I'm feeling, I'll go to that page and show it to her - I still have to go through radiotherapy," she said.

Some may question when, how - and if - you should tell a child about your diagnosis.  Charities including Cancer Research UK and MacMillan have a range of resources available to help.

Sydney, according to Hollie, "needed to know something but didn't need to know the details.".

She kept any cancer terminology out of the book and focused on the pair's special moments together.  Sydney's favourite page depicts a moment the duo went to Chester Zoo following Hollie's last round of chemotherapy.

Hollie wearing a headscarf and holding her book titled Sometimes, Mummy feels... with a smile on her face
Her book Sometimes, Mummy feels. is available in English and Welsh for children aged eight and below.

"I think she is aware that she and I are the subject of the story.

"It's hard to explain to a four-year-old but I think she understands based on our experiences. ".

At first, 10 copies were made for the family, but once Hollie posted the book to social media it was met with a hugely positive reaction from places as far as Australia and Denmark.

"If I'm able to help one more family.  then I feel like something really positive has come out of a really negative situation. ".

Two pages
The page where it all clicked for Sydney.

To her relief, Hollie was given the all clear on 10 May this year.  But her cancer journey is not over, as she is set to undergo preventative treatment and radiotherapy.

"The lesson I've learnt from this is that I have to live each day," she said.

"Be happy and don't stress, it's just living in that moment and appreciating everything you've got around you. ".

Hollie's husband Mike cuddling Sydney on the sofa. The photo has a black and white treatment.
"Take that offer of help and try not to do everything all on your own," is part of Hollie's advice.

And for Sydney?

"I will tell her everything once she's old enough," Hollie said.

"But for now, she's come to this realisation that this book explains everything that's happened to us as a family, and knows now that everything is going to be alright. ".

If you have been affected by issues raised in this story you can find details of where you can get support at . BBC Action Line.

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