Emma Hannigan: being a mother is my perfect gift
Motherhood is the subject of The Perfect Gift, Emma Hannigan’s 10th novel. The joy her children bring has made her only more determined to overcome each cancer diagnosis
Emma Hannigan: Being in charge of teenagers means I’m in the wrong most of the time and 90 per cent of what I say is construed as being annoying. But I am, none the less, overwhelmingly grateful to have the chance to be a mother
Most parents will agree that children are the most perfect gift anyone can hope to receive.
As the mother of two teenagers there are days when that gift seems less perfect and more of an endurance test. Being in charge of teenagers means I’m in the wrong most of the time and 90 per cent of what I say is construed as being annoying. The bulk of their glances in my direction are peppered with rolling eyes and accompanied by tuts. But I am, none the less, overwhelmingly grateful to have the chance to be a mother.
I’ve been married to Cian for almost 18 years now. Ours was a whirlwind romance. We met in a night club, moved in together after three weeks, got engaged 10 months later and were married six months after that.
It never occurred to us or indeed anyone close by that we were rushing things. It felt right I suppose.
We went to Paris for a weekend a few months after our wedding. After several bottles of divine champagne we had our first serious conversation about the future. We came to the conclusion that we’d wait a few years to have children.
Two weeks later I found out I was pregnant.
Our son Sacha came tumbling into our lives and I was bowled over by the magnitude of love that he brought with him. Instantly I wanted another baby. Exactly 18 months later our daughter Kim completed our family.
I still remember vividly, as if it were yesterday, how elated I was the day we brought Kim home from hospital and our two children met for the first time. I felt overwhelmingly blessed at having two healthy and vibrant babies. The icing on the cake was having one of each flavour – a gentleman’s family as we were often told.
They were so close in age that we simply floated through the baby fog together. The four of us got through sleepless nights and the usual exhaustion tiny babies and toddlers bring.
By the time that fog cleared and they were both in school and Montessori respectively, I was at a crossroads. I wanted to change jobs but wasn’t sure what I could do. I needed something that would slot in around our children. I wanted to put them first.
As it happened, my mind was made up for me in rather extraordinary circumstances.
In 2005, I discovered I carry the Brca 1 cancer gene. This meant I had an 85 per cent chance of developing breast cancer and a 50 per cent chance of developing ovarian cancer. To reduce my risk to 5 per cent I opted for preventative surgery. In 2006 I had a double mastectomy and my ovaries and fallopian tubes removed.
My main driving force at that time was my children. Having the surgery was a no-brainer. I always saw it as a positive thing. I was reducing my risk of untimely death.
In 2007, in spite of the surgery, I was diagnosed with cancer for the first time. The all-encompassing terror that gripped me was entirely fuelled by the notion that I may not survive to see my children grow up after all. Like a lioness protecting her cubs, I vowed to do all I could to beat the disease.
I’d been given two perfect gifts and I wasn’t about to relinquish them without a fight.
I was and still am astonished by how amazing my husband and children have been with regards to my cancer. To date, I’ve been diagnosed with and beaten cancer nine times. I’m currently having treatment for the tenth diagnosis.
I assume my children don’t remember a time when I didn’t have cancer. But I always try to look at the positive side of things. My children have always seen me get better. For that I am beyond grateful.
As I mentioned above, I was at a career crossroads when the children started school. Being ill meant long spells in hospital. During that time I began to write.
I poured my feelings into books and found the perfect way of venting my spleen while making a living and managing to fit it in around my children.
This February my tenth novel, The Perfect Gift, will hit the shelves. I’m genuinely hoping I’m not destined to have a cancer diagnosis per book release, as I fully intend continuing with my writing. But things have worked out so well for me.
I’d rather not have cancer, of course. I hope with each clear scan that I will remain free of the disease, but I am mindful of the fact that I am one of the fortunate ones. The treatments I’m being given work on the cancer I get.
I try to take things in my stride and get on with my job while being a wife and mother. Some days I have to be the bad cop when I think they’re in danger or want to do something that I worry about. That’s not so much fun.
But there are many moments when we laugh out loud together as we bounce of one another. As the years roll by and our relationships develop, I find myself lapping up the privileges motherhood affords me. I live for the times when they regale stories amidst choking laughter. I swell with pride when they do well in school or at sports. I endure the thumping music and fug of hairspray and cologne as they get ready for a disco or party. I cherish the photographs they sometimes allow me to take as they huddle with friends before going out.
I love raucous meals where we all express opposing opinions. I treasure the hugs I still receive and smile from my heart when they tell me they love me.
Suffice it to say, I am aware that being a mother is my perfect gift.
Emma Hannigan’s new book, The Perfect Gift, is published on February 11th by Hachette Ireland at £12.99