I’m very honoured to bring you the wonderful words of Siobhan, aka @the_tightrope_walker a lady I met through the Future Female platform on Instagram. Her story is a mix of heartbreak, hope, possibility, grit, and unconditional love. Siobhan is fighting for her son Dylan’s recovery from cancer like every mother would. The strength needed to support Dylan is beyond what any Mother should have to endure. My admiration for Siobhan has no boundary, I am inspired by her courage and I wanted to share her story. I wanted to know what she thinks of Future Female, how she copes and what advice she has for others in a similar world of cancer.
FF: Can you tell us a bit about your background?
SOF: I am nearly 46, partner to Nicholas & the mother to two boys. Ruari has just turned 19 and Dylan is nearly 8.
I have been a full time working mother, a single working mother and now I am a full time mother.
My job as Design Director for one of the oldest furniture manufacturers in the UK took me all over the world choosing fabrics and designing for some amazing companies. I set up as a freelance designer in 2007 and stopped working when I had Dylan in 2010.
My mother was born in Guyana and my father was born in Essex.
At the age of 8 my parents moved to Saudi Arabia, I lived there with them until I was 11 and then I was sent to an all girl’s boarding school in the south of England. I was surrounded by girls from around the globe and I believe it laid down the foundations for me to build strength, independence, self-worth and moreover respect for other females and the ability to embrace different cultures.
In August 1990 my father was taken hostage in the Gulf War having just accepted a job in Kuwait; my mother was one of a group of ten women who flew over to Iraq to ask Saddam Hussein to “give their husbands back”. She took my then 6 year-old sister with her and booked my other sister and I into a local hotel for Christmas dinner “just in case they didn’t return”, I was 18 and doing my A Levels.
The only time I saw them until my Father’s eventual release at the end of November 1990 was on the news on the TV in the school common room.
In many ways I think boarding school saved me; I had a privileged upbringing but my parent’s marriage was extremely disquieting.
It all had a profound impact on me but it taught me strength and how to deal with life head on and how to face difficult challenges.
The greatest challenge I’ve ever had to face (and am still facing) is my son Dylan’s cancer diagnosis in December 2016.
FF: What does Future Female mean to you?
SOF: To me Future Female means inclusion and challenging antiquated societal “norms”. It means openness, honesty and respect for everyone. No boundaries and no divides; an attitude creating space for who we all are & paving a way for our future and the future of our children.
FF: You are currently caring for your son Dylan who has cancer, what are the daily challenges you face and what advice would you give other families facing this challenge?
SOF: Dylan was diagnosed with b-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma just after he’d turned 6. Life as we knew it came to an abrupt halt & time became an unknown unquantifiable concept; we nearly lost him.
He is doing well and his treatment is set to end in April 2020.
No two days are the same, planning anything almost feels like a risk and trying to work out what we would now class as “normal” is virtually impossible.
Dylan had almost a year off school and is still not back full-time because of his chemotherapy regime, he also has a weakened immune system so we often have to be very careful where we take him and when as he is susceptible to illness and infection.
My advice to anyone going through this would be to ask for and accept help when you need it, find the friends who will support, listen and carry you; you cannot do this alone. To be honest the shock never leaves and having an outlet to express the never ending plethora of emotions is essential. I started writing a blog www.thelittlebigc.com in November 2017 and it has really helped me, it has also helped educate others about the multitude of complexities that appear overnight from a cancer diagnosis and I believe it is also helping others in the same or similar situation have something tangible to relate to. Life is very much one day at a time.
FF: Is ‘me time’ something you can experience and if so what do you do to give yourself some self-care ‘me time’?
SOF: Since Dylan’s diagnosis ‘me time’ has pretty much vanished. My perspective has completely changed and my core values have been amplified. I am extremely lucky to have the most wonderful partner in Nick (Dylan’s father) and I am also blessed with an amazing sister and brother-in-law as well as the most supportive loving group of friends.
Over the last few months I have been able to go and stay with my sister for the odd weekend which was something I couldn’t do for well over a year. I am finding the courage to be away from Dylan a tiny bit but in all honesty I struggle just sending him to school (when he’s able). I am however acutely aware that for me to be the best mother, carer and partner I need time to myself; it’s not always possible but if an opportunity arises I dig deep and try to embrace it.
So much stopped after Dylan’s diagnosis but I am making a conscious effort to retrain myself and to remember who I am.
FF: Future Female promotes everyday equality, by raising awareness of everyday casual sexism. What advice from your own experience would you give others dealing with casual sexism?
SOF: Having worked in a very male dominated industry for over 18 years I am acutely aware of the issues surrounding casual sexism; it is something I found myself having to deal with on an almost daily basis. I dealt with it by behaving with dignity, being unafraid to call people out and using my voice to confront the plethora of daily inappropriateness that so many people have to deal with. It took a long time to be heard but patience and consistency make a huge difference. I will never understand why people fail to act with kindness before anything else.
FF: What action do you take in the everyday to promote female equality?
SOF: Raising two boys really magnifies the need to promote both female and gender equality. It is imperative to me that my sons go out into the world armed with as many life skills as I can teach them. Educating them through love & mindfulness is the start. Getting them to understand that there are no boundaries to gender roles or societal pressures is key; ensuring that they know who they are as individuals & creating strength in their belief system is something that I am passionate about.
There are often so many stories about the vulnerability of females but having two boys has seriously highlighted the fact that boys & young men are equally vulnerable. Educating my children to be open, honest, mindful & respectful of others is my way of promoting female and gender equality.
FF: What is inspiring you at the moment?
SOF: Having been plunged into the heartbreaking world of childhood cancer I have drawn on the inspiration not only of both of my children in having to face this disease but also the hundreds of other children and families going through similar journeys. It is very difficult to convey the exactitude of this plight but it is one faced by many in a wholly courageous and truly thought provoking way.
FF: If there was one thing you would change about your life as a woman what would it be?
SOF: That history and chauvinism had not paved the way for making life as a woman so damn hard.
FF: What are you reading at the moment?
SOF: I’ve recently read Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl and I’m about to start reading The Self-Care Revolution by Suzy Reading (which was very kindly gifted to me by another oncology mum).
FF: How would you describe your style?
SOF: Confidently relaxed.
It’s been a privilege to interview Siobhan and share her story, a big thanks to her for taking the time connect with us. If you want to continue to follow Siobhan and Dylan’s story on instagram click here The Tightrope Walker Instagram