Hidden scars of Halifax cancer nurse's private battle as a new mum

Macmillan nurse Charlotte Ward
Macmillan nurse Charlotte Ward

Cancer leaves a pitted path, says Calderdale nurse Charlotte Ward, each dent a silent scar. A crater for sorrow, for fear or anger. Another for loneliness, and for the loss of fragile dreams.

These scars stay hidden, she adds, long after the disease has wrought its course.

But the Macmillan nurse, having herself battled a rare cancer, is determined to ease the stigma for others. To open up conversations about cancer's more taboo side effects.

She was robbed of her daughter's most precious moments, she says, when a mass was picked up on her pregnancy scan.

The terror and guilt had instantly morphed into all that she could imagine, as she feared leaving behind the newborn baby girl she had only just brought into the world.

A decade on, she still faces fear. But now working as a Macmillan breast care nurse at Bradford Teaching Hospitals, she is determined to ease the burden for other women.

'Silently screaming for help'

The gut-wrenching terror and loneliness can only be lifted, she says, when that weight over a crumbling world is shared.

"I felt like I was constantly drowning, feet kicking frantically, trying to keep my head above water," the now 38-year-old from Halifax says.

"I was silently screaming for help, help that never came because I didn't know which way to turn. I longed for someone to speak with who would understand."

Miss Ward had started experiencing pelvic pain at just 15, but it was brushed away. At one point, going to the GP, she was given indigestion tablets.

At 26, after being told she couldn't conceive, she was overjoyed to find out she was pregnant. But at her first scan, a mass was discovered. At the second, it had grown to 12cm.

Cancer diagnosis

When she was called in with test results after the birth of her daughter, newborn Isabella at her side, the doctor couldn't quite meet her eye. It was cancer.

"I could not take in what he was saying," she says. "I thought if I closed my eyes then I didn't have to hear what he was telling me.

"All I could see was this image of my mum, and Isabella in the car seat beside me. All I felt was this immense guilt, at bringing this baby into the world.

"All I wanted was to see the daughter that I'd just had grow up," she adds. "Was I going to see her first birthday, her first day at school?"

Initially diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer, Miss Ward was to undergo a full hysterectomy, plunging her into the menopause at 29.

Later, doctors discovered she actually had a rare appendix cancer, Pseudomyxoma Peritonei. Over the next few years, she was to undergo three more surgeries.

Stolen time

"My time away for surgery was time away from Isabella, as a baby," she said. "Cancer robbed me of enjoying my pregnancy. It's stolen part of the enjoyment of being a mum.

"And it's what it leaves behind. Cancer turns your world upside down, and it impacts every single area of your life, from finances to relationships. Your identity changes immediately."

It was a moment in a supermarket which shook Miss Ward to the core. Two ladies at the checkout, chatting over her as she bagged up a basket of shopping.

It tore into her. She was invisible. Her scars, her pain and loss, was invisible. She was screaming inside, but to the world she was just another face in the crowd.

"My scars are hidden, but they go with me everywhere," she said. "People don't know.

"Inside, I was absolutely crumbling. That's why I would encourage anybody now, to reach out.

"Its a long process, to grieve a life that's gone, and to build the foundation of a new future, and a new identity. But little by little, the fear disperses.

"The disease had robbed me of enough precious times and I wasn't prepared to let it keep me hostage any longer."


Charlotte Ward is backing Macmillan's campaign to overcome ‘cancer taboos’, with one in three sufferers admitting they struggle to talk about the impact on things like relationships.

Macmillan is worried that shame and stigma are preventing people getting help for common side effects, putting them at risk of deteriorating physical and mental health.

For support, visit macmillan.org.uk or call its support line on 0800 808 0000.