There are so many defining moments in my life but nothing, nothing, nothing could ever prepare me for the shock of finding out I had breast cancer. I was 38. My kids were tiny (4 and 2). I was nursing my mum through terminal and aggressive lymphoma. I was running a creative business, a content agency that employed seven women who all relied on me to be able to pay their bills.
October 2014. It was my husbands birthday. Rather than celebrating down the pub we were in the strip lit cancer centre.
“I’m sorry but you have aggressive breast cancer.”
In that split second life took an unchartered trajectory and changed forever. All I could think was a) how would I cope with everything I was juggling and b) how my kids might grow up without me.
But I learned how resilient I really was. I had to go through a mastectomy, radiotherapy and 18 rounds of chemotherapy. God, I hated sitting in that room, being pumped full of drugs - some days I had treatment on the same day as my mum, some days randomly sitting next to the butchers wife - as you do - making small talk like “how you doing today?” It was so weird.
My dad had already died, and watching my mum become more and more poorly and in the worst pain was literally one of the most heart-breaking times of my life. It was so unfair. Watching her die was the strangest and hardest thing ever but also a privilege. I literally had to go straight from the hospice the day she’d passed away to have my own chemotherapy appointment. It was all so surreal.
I was literally in danger of losing my sh*t.
Lucky for me I’ve never been conventional so when my husband suggested moving abroad to get away from it all for a bit, to heal and do something different, to live by the sea and learn a new language I took all of a nano second to say yes. The day after my last chemotherapy session we moved to Barcelona, bought a camper van (and named her Annie after my mum @anniethevan on Insta) and spent two and a half years travelling.
And all that sunshine, learning a new language and yoga on the beach opened up my closed and bedraggled heart. So I wanted to share the lessons I learned because what I know is that grief is really all about love. And I don’t hate cancer, in fact I have learned to be grateful for all these things it taught me.
1. When you’re faced with sh*t, your inner goddess makes an entrance.
Because we are all waaaayyy more badass than we think, it’s inside us all already. You, me, everyone. So, quite literally, grief and cancer have gifted me with the meeting of my inner self, and now I know she’s there, I know she’ll always have my back!
2. It’s not the time we’ve got, it’s the memories we make.
Sharing a small van with kids might not be for everyone, but for us it works. We lived in 10square metres together for 6 months and covered 17 countries. Nothing beats the thrill of parking up by deserted beaches and cooking our dinner watching the surfers, or of road tripping around the Croatian countryside singing our hearts out with literally NO plan about where we are going to go next.
3. You’ve got to do what makes you happy. Not just on the surface but deep inside.
It was only after making a massive lifestyle change I realised working with major brands didn’t make me happy. My clients were the likes of Unilever, Jumeirah and Wedgwood. Little old me, a new mum who grew a business to multiple six figures. Success, right? But what I really craved was a deeper connection and I realised I could use all my experience to help other women, so I started my new business from a point of love.
4. There is NO love like mother’s love, whether they are here or not.
Losing my own mum as I was worrying about my own mortality was traumatic. But all this only made my love stronger. An elderly neighbour told me once that relationships still evolve after someone has passed away and it’s so true. I am grateful to have amazing people in my life but nobody will ever be able to look deep into my soul like my mum and my daughters can. That her love would flow down so freely through me into them. And even though she's not here, she still guides me unconditionally through life.
5. Grief is a powerful part of love.
It helps me see what is truly important. It shows me not to sweat the small stuff, but to crouch down tenderly and savour the simple moments. The kids crawling into bed with us in the morning, washing up in the sun by the campervan, waking up on a deserted beach, snogging my husband.
So when I'm knackered after being up with sick kids, or like now, going through a load of tests to check whether the cancer has come back, I hold onto these lessons tight because they have made me evolve and grow into the woman and mum I think I was always meant to be.
Ruth Hoskins (@ruthie_hoskins on Insta) - I'm a writer, podcaster and mentor to creatives as well as a mum of two girls and step mum to one (big) boy. I've just moved back to the UK after years of travelling and living in Barcelona. I'm about to launch an online course for creatives to find chemistry within their business. I'm obsessed with the 80s and dim sum.