A young mum of three who is battling incurable brain cancer has revealed that she is wracked with guilt about the devastating impact her illness will have on the rest of her children’s lives.
Alannah Sheehan said her feelings of helplessness at handing them a life sentence of sadness and grief is like ‘mammy guilt multiplied by 5000.’
The 35-year-old also divulged just how guilty she felt when she was too exhausted from treatment to be able to properly spend time with her children
The Tipperary woman even insisted on swapping her bed for the couch just so she could be in the same room as her children, despite not being able to play with them due to the gruelling after-affects of chemotherapy and radiation.
Now she wants to urge other mothers who are fighting cancer not to feel guilty if they have to rest and not to forget they are terrific superheroes who are just using all their energy temporarily to fight the ‘bad guys’.
The Nenagh woman has thankfully managed to keep her aggressive form of cancer Glioblastoma from growing since she was first told she had the disease – alone in her bedroom and by phone from a doctor – just days before Covid-19 triggered lockdown.
During brain cancer awareness month, Alannah wants to use her experience to highlight the disease and the fact that only two per cent of funding goes to its research, despite the fact that it is the number one cancer killer of young adults under 40.
Alannah was celebrating the sale of a new house and the birth of her little girl Phoebe just weeks before a seizure began her nightmare journey of survival.
“My little girl was here after two beautiful boys, and we had just secured buying the home we were renting after months of stress due to its repossession.
“We felt we were finally home and dry only to have the rug pulled out from under us.
“I had been suffering from dizziness and instability, but I had put it down to stress and then pregnancy. It was the night of Phoebe’s Christening that I had a seizure and then a subsequent second seizure which saw me hospitalised.
“As soon as the doctor said I’d be having surgery in ten days, I knew, due to the HSE waiting lists, that I was in trouble. There was something sinister going on.
“The results of the biopsy took ages. Phoebe was 12 weeks, Luca was two and Finn was four so it was a busy house. When the phone rang, I ran upstairs, and I knew I was screwed the minute I answered the phone to the doctor.
“I had all these questions to ask but when he said I had cancer, the queries of how do I wash my hair and when can I go on holidays seemed to be suddenly irrelevant.
“I just collapsed on the floor and cried as I was told my life expectancy had been greatly reduced.
“I wrote everything down about the treatment plan that the doctor was telling me and then he said goodbye. And I was left with Dr Google for two to three weeks which told me that I had up to 15 months to live while the world went into lockdown.
“My husband came into the bedroom and we cried for ages. And then we had to go downstairs and be parents to the babies who needed us to be normal.”
Three years on from her diagnosis and Alannah now has to go for a scan every four months to check if her cancer has progressed.
“I’ve had no treatment since 2020 and they removed 95% of the tumour but I am heavily reliant on anti-seizure medicine. I’ve been the luckiest girl and doctors say I’ve had the outcome they were dreaming of.
“I’m happier and healthier than ever before and I am so grateful for everything because I know the rug can be pulled away from under me again at any time. It’s horrible and messed up but it is now part of my life.
“I worry every time before the MRI and then cry with relief when I get the news that it hasn’t grown but I realise that I can have a happy life or be miserable.
“It is brain cancer awareness month and so many don’t realise all the lives it takes, yet how treatment hasn’t changed or progressed in 30 years.
However, Alannah wants to highlight the guilt parents feel when going through gruelling chemotherapy and radiation.
“My babies were small when I was coming home exhausted from treatment and I felt so guilty because they didn’t know why mammy couldn’t play or cuddle them.
“Some days I would just sleep, but others I would like on the couch just to be near them. I felt so helpless and I felt I wasn’t being a proper mam to them. It’s totally irrational, but I guess that’s what mams do – beat themselves up about everything.
“It was during lockdown so we had no-one to help us with the children. My relatives would leave us dinners but no-one wanted to be near me, in case they gave me Covid-19.
“I remember once I decided to change two single beds, despite my exhaustion. I spent two hours wrestling with duvet covers, but I wouldn’t give in or ask for help. I felt better then that I managed to do something for the children.
“We have told the children that mammy is sick and if I have to go to hospital but one day, this is going to hurt them and that’s why I started my blog @worth_fighting4. To leave breadcrumbs of who their mam was. My morals and hopes for them and my love for them wasn’t something I could write in one letter, so this is for them.
“The guilt that I feel when they discover the extent of my illness and the impact that it will have on them for life is like mammy guilt multiplied by 5000. If I survive, they will have to live with the uncertainty of not knowing how long they will have their mammy for.
“And if I die, they will have to live without me forever. They may have to go through big occasions and see everyone else with their mams, but I’ll be gone. And I feel so guilty that my illness will put them through all those emotions and eventually the finality of grief.
“At the minute, I may be living cancer, but I have to believe that I am not going anywhere right now for the sake of me, my husband and my children. And I do believe that.”