Midlothian mum diagnosed with cancer after husband's sudden death writes book to explain illness to children

A Midlothian mum who was diagnosed with cancer after the sudden death of her husband has written a book to help explain the disease to young children.

Tuesday, 22nd June 2021, 4:55 am
Elke with her family while she was going through treatment in 2012
PIC: Julie Broadfoot
Elke with her family while she was going through treatment in 2012 PIC: Julie Broadfoot

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Elke Thompson from Gorebridge was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer as a young widow still trying to come to terms with being a single mum to two grieving tots.

Doctors delivered the massive blow after Elke found a lump in 2012 while the family was still reeling from the shocking death of her husband Martin a few years before.

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Elke and her kids Olivia and Alex

Martin suffered a heart attack while away on holiday with their son Alex who was just three at the time. Alex managed to get help but his Dad died in the ambulance. He was 34.

Elke was determined not to hide the cancer diagnosis from her children. But she struggled to find resources to explain it to her kids Olivia and son Alex who were three and six at the time.

During treatment Elke produced ‘Is it still okay to have cuddles’ in between hospital appointments which is written from the perspective of her youngest Olivia.

The graphic designer had already published two picture books after their dad’s sudden death when she found a lack of help available to help her answer their questions.

Elke wrote 'Is it still okay to have cuddles?' in between hospital appointments

The 46-year-old said: “When I told them I’d found a lump and had cancer in their heads that meant I was going to die.

"One minute I was fine then the next I had to face my own fear that I would die leaving my children orphaned. But I had to find courage to be honest and tell the best version of the truth. I took them through what would happen step by step. It’s so important not to lose their trust.

"The cancer was found when it was treatable. The page that starts “Who will look after me when you die Mummy?” sends shivers down my spine. It had never really occurred to me that I might not be there for my daughter’s first day of school. I’m so grateful that I was there.”

"You can’t protect kids by hiding things from them because they pick up on so much. Like why is mum closing the door while on the phone or why is she crying. Not knowing what is going on scares them more. For days after chemotherapy I couldn’t life my head off the pillow but they knew it was coming.

"One day my son asked me what’s your biggest worry mummy? I told them it was that they would have worries and not be able to say them out loud. I didn't want them carrying that. It helped me to know I was helping them to deal with it. I hope the book empowers others to have those difficult conversations.”

The author and public speaker remarried seven years ago and together with husband John the pair have seven children.

She is now in the clear though still undergoing maintenance treatment nine years after diagnosis and hopes to be discharged from the clinic next year.

After self publishing the book which came out last week she has given copies to libraries at Maggie’s Centres and donated 150 copies to the charity to help them raise cash for cancer support.

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