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Stanton mum-of-two speaks about mental health challenges and the importance of opening up to others

A Stanton mum-of-two who has survived a challenging childhood, sexual abuse, her daughter’s leukaemia and her own breast cancer treatment is calling for people to keep talking about mental health.

Emma Preston, 38, said she wanted to speak about her experiences to help others and to assure people their pasts need not define them.

Growing up, Emma’s home and family life was unsupportive. Thinking this was normal, it was only when Emma met her future husband Andy she realised how other families behaved.

Emma Preston is talking about mental health following her daughter Mia's cancer battle and her own breast cancer diagnosis. Picture: Mecha Morton
Emma Preston is talking about mental health following her daughter Mia's cancer battle and her own breast cancer diagnosis. Picture: Mecha Morton

After failed attempts to improve her relationship with family members, Emma moved in with Andy and his parents in her mid-20s.

Then, in August 2017, Emma and Andy’s daughter Mia was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, a form of blood cancer, shortly after her fourth birthday.

Emma described the time as ‘just awful’ and said the impact on her mental health had been devastating, although she hid it from Mia – now seven – and other daughter Keira, four.

“I still have flashbacks from when they told us, then seeing Mia losing weight, losing her hair and looking ill. I kept strong for her but in the background I was a mess,” said Emma.

“I wasn’t coping well and behind the scenes, when she was sleeping, I would sob. When someone tells you your child has got cancer you think they are going to die.”

After two-and-a-half years of treatment, Mia finished chemotherapy in December 2019. But in July 2020, Emma was diagnosed with grade three invasive ductal carcinoma breast cancer.

She underwent surgery on July 28 and started six gruelling rounds of chemotherapy in September, followed by radiotherapy. Now, she undergoes regular hormone therapy injections and is waiting to have her ovaries removed.

The chemotherapy took its toll on Emma, causing severe sickness, while she also had infections, a blood clot in her neck and sepsis.

“It was unbearable, but you have to get through it,” she said, adding that radiotherapy was ‘a breeze’ in comparison.

Throughout, she has been seeing a psychologist at West Suffolk Hospital who specialises in families of children with cancer – something Emma describes as a lifeline.

“Now my treatment has slowed down I’m having more time to reflect and realise that a lot of things have happened. To cope with it I have just thought ‘let’s get it done’. Mentally, I am still working through aspects of my childhood, Mia’s illness and my own cancer,” said Emma.

She is keen to highlight the importance of talking and telling other people if you are struggling with mental health.

“People might be able to help you if you open up,” she said. “I never used to, as I felt it was me failing. But it’s not that at all. “For me, there is light at the end of the tunnel. With my illness and Mia’s, it made me realise life is far too short, so I want to embrace it.”

“Try not to let the past dicate your whole life. Be open and honest about how you feel. If you are not okay, say so.”

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