No mother wants to explain to her children that their daddy won’t always be with them but that’s what first-time author Michaelagh Broadbent is facing with her two young sons.
Her husband Harry has a brain tumour and even though he has beaten the odds they are realistic that one day they will have to explain to Harry Jr, five, and Alex, two, that their time together is running out.
Their experience has prompted Michaelagh, 32, to pen a children’s book, My Daddy is My Superhero, that celebrates Harry as a wonderful father but also in the hope of helping the boys, and her, to process his illness.
She hopes that other families experiencing a similar situation can use the book as a starting point for honest conversations. “You feel really helpless and don’t know how to even begin that conversation. Am I doing the right thing?”
Boston-born Michaelagh and Brit Harry met and fell in love while working in a summer camp in America in their early twenties.
It was words that kept their long distance relationship alive, with reams of e-mails criss-crossing the Atlantic and binding them together.
When Michaealagh moved to Edinburgh in 2008 to study a masters in English Literature it was the couple’s chance to start a life on the same shores.
Harry, now 34, was only 25 when he started experiencing headaches and what he thought were panic attacks that turned out to be mini seizures.
He put the symptoms down to his new fast-paced graduate job in banking but after a misdiagnosis of epilepsy the couple were floored to discover he had a brain tumour.
He was on a sailing trip in Cornwall when his doctor called to deliver the devastating news.
Michaelagh was shocked when he returned home and told her: “Brain tumours are out of the movies and he was so young. He told me it was so difficult to tell me.
“I think he felt guilty, like he was a burden.”
After a successful operation and radiotherapy, the couple married in 2011 in Massachusetts and son Harry Jr was born on their one-year anniversary – the only reminder of their ordeal the six-monthly scans to check on Harry’s progress.
But in 2015 and with Michaelagh very newly pregnant with their second son the scan results were no longer in their favour – the tumour had started to grow again.
Michaelagh said: “Every year that passes you think maybe it’ll stay asleep for a really long time, even though we were told in 2009 that most people will only survive for eight years.”
Alex was born in September that year and Harry was scheduled for another operation in January 2016.
This time though, with a three-year-old at home, Michaelagh wanted to prepare her oldest son for his father’s operation.
She said: “I didn’t want to hide it or lie but it needed to be age appropriate.”
She approached Maggie’s Edinburgh who helped her navigate the conversation.
“We told Harry Jr the weekend before the operation. We didn’t want to scare him so we just told him that daddy had bad cells in his head and the doctor was going to fix it.”
What is most striking about Michaelagh is her positivity and her determination that every moment the family have left together will be full of love and laughter and making the best kinds of memories.
The idea for the book came after her husband’s second recovery.
“She wanted to write something that would help her boys understand their father’s illness and one day, his death.
“For me it was what I needed to do next to help my kids.
“I wanted to be prepared for when the time comes and I have this tool to use.
“My husband and I were doing the explaining together but I don’t know what his health is going to be like and will I one day be explaining this alone?”
Writing the book, which has “elements of sadness but it’s all about love and the relationship a little boy has with his father”, has been a release for Michaelagh who has written since she was a child: “When you’re faced with a situation you can’t do anything about, it’s something you can control in a way”.
When she texted him the poem that forms the basis of the book Harry thought she had found it on the internet. When he realised his wife had written it for him he was “blown away”.
“Even though its explaining death, it’s about remembering the positive times and how someone can live on through you.
“I wanted Harry to see this and know that we’re going to be ok – I think that comforts him.”
My Daddy is My Superhero is published in June with all proceeds going to Maggie’s Edinburgh. The book can be preordered from Michaelagh’s website www.michaelaghbroadbent.co.uk