Rosie and the Badly Kept Secret is based on personal experience of watching my mum go through cancer when I was three years old. Despite being so young I have some clear memories, and some that have probably found their way into my head from what I’ve been told about the time, but one thing is certain: even at three I knew something was wrong. I stopped getting dressed in the mornings, I started being uncharacteristically difficult, and some of the stories that I half-read, half-made-up featured a mum with a poorly bosom.
I began to think about how difficult it must have been to tell me what was happening: how do you find a balance between honesty and protection?
Talking to Macmillan
I went to chat with Macmillan to see if they had much experience of this, and how they dealt with it. As I was sitting in the Horizon Centre I picked up a leaflet that confirmed what I assumed; that honesty is the best policy. But how? There is huge pressure not to say the wrong thing, not to traumatise, and broaching the subject falls again to the parent or caregiver at an already difficult time.
Macmillan itself has such a huge task coping with those in treatment that there are limited resources for those affected secondarily, but this issue was a very common question from people who were diagnosed: how do I tell my children (or grandchildren)?
With this in mind, a woman called Gill who works within Macmillan and specialises in Neurooncology, started to collect books that tackled the subject either directly or indirectly; books like ‘The Invisible String’ and ‘A Monster Calls’. These boxes of books are left in various centres (including the Horizon Centre in Brighton) and they are a resource to help open up a conversation with children, or simply to read yourself.
The use of stories in this way has spurred me on and persuaded me not to shy away from the topic. There are a myriad of experiences, and I can only put one down in writing and on stage, but I hope it might give voice (a bright and childish voice!) to things that are very hard to talk about.