Michelle was diagnosed with aggressive Stage 3 breast cancer in 2011. Her youngest son was six months. The doctor initially thought the lump in her breast was mastitis, common in breast feeding mothers, so the diagnosis came as a massive shock to her and her family. “When you’re told you’ve got cancer it’s the worst thing you want to hear,” says Michelle. She had to have a mastectomy, the lymph nodes in her armpits removed and multiple rounds of chemotherapy. “Just coping with having one breast and no hair at one point, I think that was the lowest I felt”.
Michelle and Ian didn’t want to hide anything about Michelle’s cancer from their two children. They also wanted their children to be familiar with how Michelle would now look. To a point the children were involved in that process. When Michelle started to lose her hair after her first round of chemo, Ian, helped by their eldest son, shaved off the remainder of Michelle’s hair. The children became use to her shaved head as she didn’t like to wear a wig. She found them itchy and hot. The children were also familiar with the scars of her surgery from her mastectomy.
Michelle never forgot the support and advice that the charity Rennie Grove gave her, so when her and her husband started displaying their Christmas light extravaganza outside their house, they decided to do it as a fundraiser for the charity. The Christmas light show is an amazing sight. I am not sure how to even start to describe it. And it is so much more than the 100 or so light decorations. On the drive there is a Santa’s sleigh that you can sit in. There is a large Christmas lego scene displayed in the front of the garage. There are snowmen, angels, grazing reindeer, a train, penguins, three wise men and elves, all dotted around the front garden. There is Santa in his sleigh with Rudolph in front, perched on the roof of the garage. There is a polystyrene nativity scene on one side, which Ian’s dad built. There is a Christmas fun fair scene set up in the front window of the house. There are lights on the sloping roof and even Christmas music playing as you walk around. Even the tree on the public pathway outside the house didn’t get away from the Christmas make-over, with a string of lights wrapped around its trunk.
“We started nowhere near on this scale.. it’s just got bigger and bigger!” says Michelle. Over that time they have raised around £2.5k – £3k for Rennie Grove. It takes around two months to prepare the lights and decorations. Ian then has to take a full week off work to put everything up. Michelle is quite relaxed about strangers walking around the front garden, looking at the display. Last year the ITV news weatherman, Martin Stew, presented the weather report from outside the house. “Suddenly all our neighbours wanted to come out!” giggles Michelle.
Today Michelle is still on medication and will be for another three years. Her immune system isn’t as good as it should be and she picks up colds and flu more easily. The concern that the cancer will come back is always at the back of her mind. “You do always worry. It potentially could always be there, but you try not to think about it.” Her children are very pragmatic about it, as children tend to be. They see that, “Mummy is better now”. When the children see something on the television, like Children in Need, highlighting children who have lost a parent to cancer, Michelle says, “they know lots of people get better and lots of people don’t”.
RAW publishes interviews regularly about a community member from Hemel Hempstead or the surrounding villages. To keep up to date with RAW’s interviews, click follow at the top of this page or like RAW’s Facebook page, highlighted at the side of the page.