A mother-of-four says she wanted to be open with her children about her breast cancer diagnosis as she "needed them on board" during her fight against the disease.
Sara Hakim from Dublin was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago, and had to break the news to her four young boys.
She spoke to The Hard Shoulder this evening about her experience.
Sara explained: “I was diagnosed with breast cancer in May 2018, and it came as a big surprise to me.
"I had detected a really small lump - I really didn’t think it was going to be anything."
Sara had a biopsy, as told to come back two weeks later to receive the results.
She recalled: “They were the longest two weeks of my life, while I was waiting for confirmation.
"It was a really difficult time: I knew this could completely shake up my family’s world, and that it would have an impact, potentially, on the children - that really frightened me."
“I found it quite hard to function - I remember just spending a lot of time on my phone playing solitaire, as it was about as much engagement as I could deal with.”
After Sara's diagnosis was confirmed, one of the nurses spoke to her about how to speak to the children - encouraging her to tell them as soon as possible about the diagnosis.
Sara said: “She underlined to me that it would be really difficult for me to hide, because things would start changing about my appearance - I would lose my hair and I would start to become unwell.
“So we decided we’d tell the children quite quickly. Added to that we also came with the knowledge that something similar had happened with some good friends of ours previously - in fact, our friend had lost his life from cancer, and we'd had to tell the children.
“The kids had also lost a grandfather, who’d previously had cancer. Cancer was a word they were familiar with… we had to find a way to speak to them about it, let them know about it, and let them know I was going to be OK.
“Although I had an aggressive form of breast cancer, I was told it was very treatable and I was lucky I’d caught it early."
'They all took it differently'
A week after the diagnosis, the family sat down one Saturday at lunchtime, after the day's activities such as shopping and football were out of the way.
Sara said: “We basically told them in very gentle words that I’d found a lump, I’d been to the hospital, and the doctors said they’d found breast cancer.
“It was a really difficult moment, because in my head I thought their world was going to come crashing down around them. But actually they took it really well, and they all took it very differently.
“My eldest boy - who was 13 at the time - got up from the table, cleared the table, stacked the dishwasher, and then said he was going to go and do his homework, which is kind of unheard of.
“My next boy - who was 11 at the time - became really upset. I tried consoling him and letting him know that we hoped I would be fine. I didn’t make any promises… I never once said to them I will survive, absolutely. But I said there was every chance it could work out very well.”
One of the eight-year-old twins, meanwhile, became very ‘quiet and thoughtful’, while the other twin sat on Sara's lap for an hour and hugged her.
The four children did "bounce back" quickly - with Sara saying that before long the key thing they were really worried about was not being able to go on a planned family holiday.
'I had to be really frank with them'
Sara said it's been very important for her to be upfront with the children at every stage during the process.
There was points during the treatment that she was 'so unwell, tired and nauseous' that it was difficult for her to function normally.
She said: “For me to pretend that I wasn’t unwell as I was would have been for me almost impossible.
"I had to be really frank with them, because I needed them on board."
Sara has now recovered - she has finished treatment, still goes in for check-ups, and is on a standard post-treatment drug for five years.
She also praised the work of the ARC Cancer Support centre, saying their advice made clear that she was doing the right thing by communicating so openly with her children.
The young twins, meanwhile, did a six-week course with the centre to help them cope with the situation.
Sara said: “One of the key things for them was they met other children who were going through the same thing.
"I know they got a lot of comfort from that."