After losing her mum to cancer when she was only 11 years old, Rachel Greenwood had to put her grief to one side to help bring up her four younger siblings.
Years later Rachel has been helped by CancerCare to help her finally come to terms with her loss – and to give her the confidence to have a family of her own.
Now 27 and mum to 11-month-old Oscar, Rachel is grateful for the support and understanding the Lancaster charity provided her with when she needed it most.
Rachel’s mum Doreen was just 39 when she died in June 2001. She had been treated for stomach cancer and given the all clear, but tragically doctors failed to spot ovarian cancer until it was too late.
Doreen’s death left Rachel’s dad Gordon with the mammoth task of bringing up five young children – Rachel, 11, Angela, 10, Stuart, eight, Ryan, four, and three-year-old Kathryn – on his own.
“I lost my mum when I was 11 and I don’t think I dealt with it very well as a child,” said Rachel, who works at a children’s centre in Garstang.
“It wasn’t really talked about. It was always inside me that I needed to grieve but I hadn’t really been allowed to.
“I was just starting high school and I just got on with it and no one at school even knew.
“My whole teenage years are a bit of a blur really. I sometimes wonder how I got through them.
“I was the eldest of five children so I helped my dad out a lot and went into the role of mum.
“My dad is quite a private person and he didn’t really express much.
“But as my brothers and sisters grew older and didn’t need my support it was time for me to have some support, I felt like I was a bit lost.
“I knew I needed to talk to someone but I didn’t know how to go about it. In the end I went to the doctors and they put me in touch with CancerCare.
“I was a bit reluctant at first because I thought it was connected to the hospice, which is where my mum died.
“But I went up to meet everyone and I knew from the first time I went in there that it was what I needed. It felt right.
“I went an hour a week to see my counsellor Helen for about nine months. It was probably one of the best things I ever did.
“By the end I felt healed in a way. I knew that I had just needed someone to talk to.
“Going to CancerCare is a bit like piecing a jigsaw back together and now I feel at peace with it all and I can put it away rather than carrying the feeling with me all the time.
“Being able to do that has helped me to move on. At one point I thought maybe I didn’t want children because I felt like I had already done that with my brothers and sisters.
“I also worried that I could get cancer and leave them without a mum.
“The counselling gave me a more positive attitude to not feel like that.
“It helped to open up the next chapter in my life really.
“I feel like all my memories were at one time about the death and dark times and now I can put that away and remember the nice times.
“I don’t think I would be able to be a happy mum to Oscar if I was still in that place.”
Rachel, her partner Will and Oscar recently moved from Lancaster back to Catterall, where she grew up and where her father still lives.
And having not even known previously that CancerCare could help people in her situation, Rachel is now keen to spread the word about the vital work they do.
“Going to CancerCare was like a safe place to go where I wouldn’t be judged,” she said.
“I almost looked forward to it sometimes. I always came out feeling like I had a weight lifted off my shoulders.”