Katie and her mom, Angela Farrar, share a strong bond (Credit: Katie Farrar)

Angela Farrar felt like her world had come crashing down when she heard the news of her breast cancer diagnosis in 2006. She was 34 at the time.

“My children were six and nine and it was right after a wonderful holiday in Florida, just before Christmas. I was told I’d need a mastectomy on my birthday, December 27, and my mind went into overdrive, worrying about losing my hair and how it would affect my family.” 

Her daughter Katie was too little to remember everything but she never forgot the day her parents told her about her mum’s illness.

“I came home from primary school, and they sat me down and told me. They had to explain to two young children, who didn’t know what cancer was, that mum would be unwell, probably lose her hair, and be in the hospital for a long time. 

“They told me my mum was going to lose her hair. I ran upstairs, crying my eyes out. I can’t remember my brother’s reaction, but I remember my mum, my dad trying not to cry, and seeing him cry over it. It’s difficult. It’s hard to describe.” 

NHS’ latest report shows that three in four people now survive cancer in the first year after diagnosis, a 9% increase from 2005 to 2023. 

National Cancer Survivors Day this month (June 2) holds a special meaning for Angela, now 52. She was treated at Doncaster Hospital and declared cancer-free 2007.

Meanwhile, daughter Katie, inspired by her mother’s experience, is now a senior therapeutic radiographer at The Queen’s Centre for Oncology and Haematology in Hull.

Care is a medicine too 

As a child, she recalls doing little things to make her mum happy because “there was little could do to support my mother.”

Angela adds that she wore my headscarves with her and made her get well cards. 

Katie says, “Having a life-changing disease like cancer brought us closer as a family. It has made me want to live life to the fullest, especially given my job and education. My grandmother was also always with my mum, my brother, and me.” 

‘I ran upstairs, crying my eyes out. It’s hard to describe’ 

For Angela, familial support mattered the most. She recalls how her husband took care of her, saying, “My family was amazing. My husband took three months off work to support me and the kids.

“He attended every appointment, sat with me during chemo, and cared for me when I was struggling. He even shaved my head when I couldn’t handle my hair falling out. They never left me alone, even when I wanted to cry by myself. My family means the world to me.” 

Not just family, but medical staff also formed close bonds with Angela and the children.

“There was a nurse at the cancer unit who cared for my mum and continued to check up on the family for years. She recently retired but was always concerned about me and my brother, showing she was more than just a care provider,” Katie says. 

Angela adds, “Initially, the doctor dismissed it due to my young age, but when a Macmillan nurse joined the consultant, I knew it wasn’t good. Even nearly 18 years later, the fear has never left me.” 

Passion for radiography 

Katie’s curiosity about cancer ignited her passion for radiography. Angela remembers how Katie would constantly ask a lot of questions about cancer. 

“I was quite fascinated [by cancer] although it also scared me back then,” Katie says. “It was something I always wanted to do — to give back to others the way the medical professionals helped my mum and our family.” 

Angela was initially unsure of Katie’s chosen career path. “I thought it would be hard emotionally, seeing very ill people every day. Wouldn’t it bring back too many memories? How would she cope? But she proved us all wrong.” 

For Angela as a cancer-survivor, seeing Katie walking on to the graduation stage was nothing short of a “burst of pride.”

“I love telling people about her, and I’m sure they can see how proud we are. She has ambition and loves her job, and we all love her.” 

Talking about her job, Katie says that it’s not just about caring for people or giving them medication. It’s a profession where emotions clash with responsibilities.

“It’s about seeing results and making a difference. When patients return, many are not as unwell as expected. Despite a cancer diagnosis, they are still working, in good health, and have a promising prognosis.” 

Treating seriously ill people is challenging, especially when they remind me of my mother’

“Treating seriously ill people is challenging, especially when patients remind me of my mother or resemble my grandmother or brother’s age. It hits close to home, and I reflect on it during my drive home, grateful it’s not my brother.

“Fortunately, I work with my best friend at the hospital. When things get tough, we hug and share our feelings, which helps. While not always easy, I cope with support from family and friends.” 

Taking care saves all 

Katie is aware of her risk of being diagnosed with a breast cancer. According to Cancer Research UK, only 5 to 10% of breast cancer are hereditary.

“I regularly check myself and encourage others, including friends and younger people, to do the same. You can’t assume that being young and fit makes you immune, my mum is an example. It’s important to live with caution and take care of your health.” 

Katie’s personal and professional experience has made her outlook towards life and cancer patients in general a lot more empathetic.

Her advice is to “support those going through illness by holding them tight, as it impacts family and friends too.”

She adds, “Many thoughts occupy their minds, and people often overlook life after the illness.  Hold on tight, but also find support for yourself. Whenever I see my mum, I feel an overwhelming urge to hug her.” 

In the journey of taking care of your loved one, they shouldn’t overlook their own mental health.

“The thoughts you have might not always be appropriate to share with the person who is ill and may not be what they need. However, it’s important to express your feelings for your own mental health. Seek support from friends or family, as it’s a difficult experience. Having a seriously ill family member, especially at a young age, is something I wouldn’t wish on anyone,” she says.