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One million UK mums are living with cancer

Cancer charity reveals for the first time the estimated number of parents with cancer – and raises awareness of some of the challenges they could be facing

Over a million mums in the UK are living with cancer – and of those, around 100,000 have young or teenage children – according to new estimates released today by Macmillan Cancer Support.

The charity is releasing the figures ahead of its World’s Biggest Coffee Morning fundraising event on Friday 29 September in a bid to raise awareness of the challenges that parents with cancer could be facing and urge them to get help.

Macmillan is concerned that parents across the UK are grappling with a range of issues that include breaking the news of their cancer to their children, being apart from them while they have treatment, and needing to pay extra childcare costs.

The charity’s analysis of a survey of more than 2,000 people living with cancer in the UK, conducted by YouGov, found:

  • Three in four people (77%) living with cancer in the UK are parents
  • This means an estimated 1.1 million mums and 780,000 dads in the UK are living with cancer
  • Overall, there are around 100,000 mums and 70,000 dads with cancer who have young or teenage children
  • The average age of mums with cancer who have teenagers or young children is 47 and the average age of dads is 49

Macmillan wants parents with cancer to get in touch and is urging people to find a Coffee Morning event nearby to get involved in, to help fund its vital services.

The money raised from the World’s Biggest Coffee Morning will help Macmillan provide a range of services to those with cancer, including parents. The charity provides Macmillan nurses and professionals who can offer practical and emotional support, as well as information on how to communicate with children about cancer. It also offers a telephone helpline, local support groups and an online community where people with cancer can get support from others who have been in the same situation.

The charity also provides financial help for parents. For example, in the last five years it has given out a total of £160,000 in grants to people who needed help with childcare costs.

Dany Bell, Macmillan’s Special Advisor for Treatment and Recovery, has been a registered nurse working in cancer care for nearly 30 years. She says:

“Parents going through cancer are grappling with so many challenges. They are fearful about their own health and navigating treatment, but they are also worried about their children. I’ve spoken to mums who have asked for help on how to break the devastating news to their children in a way they will understand. I’ve spoken to dads who have broken down, terrified they won’t see their children grow up.

“The first step to getting help in these situations is to talk about it and our message is clear: Macmillan is here to listen.”

Alison Young, 53 from London, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015. She says Macmillan helped her break the news to her nine-year-old son, Billy, that she had cancer.

She says: “As a single mother, my main fear was for Billy. I was worried about how he would take the news and how he would cope through months of treatment – and how he’d manage if the worst happened.

“I had no idea what to tell him or what to say. I could cope with my own issues but felt useless in how to care for his emotional needs. Macmillan gave me books with pictures and uncomplicated language to help us talk about cancer and what would happen to me. The literature was really helpful because I could give him time to process the news and then he could ask me questions. It would have been hard to have the conversation without it.

“Practically, I had a lot of difficulties with day-to-day living while I was in treatment. During chemotherapy, I was too weak to do anything so I had to rely on friends to pick him up from school. I had to adjust how I made dinner – cooking and carrying heavy objects was a challenge. I rested during the day so I could save all of my energy for him when he came home from school. It was really tough at times but the help I received from my friends and Macmillan was invaluable.”

Macmillan helped millions of people with cancer through its services last year. The telephone support line helped almost 70,000 people, its printed resources helped 3.7million and its 6,900 healthcare professionals including doctors and nurses helped countless more.

But the number of people living with cancer is growing and Macmillan needs generous donations from the public to fund its work. Ahead of the World’s Biggest Coffee Morning on Friday 29 September, the charity is encouraging everyone to find an event near them to get involved in by visiting www.macmillan.org.uk/coffee.

Lynda Thomas, Chief Executive of Macmillan Cancer Support, says:

“I know how much energy it takes to look after children so I can’t imagine how hard it must be when you’re also coping with the emotional strain of cancer or having gruelling treatment. This World’s Biggest Coffee Morning, we want to bring people together to catch up over a cuppa. In turn, this will raise money to help the mums and other people out there with cancer live their lives to the full.”

Every coffee slurped, crumb dropped and conversation shared will help Macmillan continue to provide emotional, financial, medical and practical support to people affected by cancer. For more information on Macmillan’s Coffee Morning or to find an event to get involved in, visit www.macmillan.org.uk/coffee.

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