When Nicola Dady was diagnosed with late stage Transitional Cell Carcinoma (a rare form of kidney cancer) in 2010, it didn’t slow her down, it sparked a business idea…
After struggling to find support as a single mum to two young children during her three-year chemotherapy treatment, Nicola founded Don’t Forget the Kids, a non-profit voluntary organisation providing support for children with a parent or carer living with cancer.
Now, six years after receiving the all clear, Don’t Forget the Kids has gone from strength to strength, becoming a creative support system where families can come each week and have fun together, helping the children to realise that they are not alone. It also gives the parents some much needed respite.
Her success with Don’t Forget the Kids has gained widespread attention, even earning her a nomination for the award of Social Enterprise of the Year at the 10th Annual Precious Awards. The ceremony that takes place on 27th October celebrates the success stories of women of colour.
Here, she tells us her story…
‘I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of bladder and kidney cancer in 2010, and told there was an 80% chance that it was going to be fatal. My main concern as a single parent was for my children: aged 3 and 7, forced to stay with family members while I was in hospital for months at a time undergoing chemo.
I was shocked by the lack of support out there for my children. I approached different organisations from social services to cancer charities but I found that there was no support system for my kids. All I got was a bunch of leaflets with information on how to be mindful of their emotional and mental wellbeing, and social services couldn’t help my children unless I was classed as terminally ill, in which case they would have taken my kids into foster care. I found a website for teenagers but nothing for younger children – I was shocked.
A lot of people told me not to tell my children I had cancer, and there was no information out there telling me how to do it, but I did tell them. Our lives had changed and they knew that something wasn’t right – if I died, I didn’t want them to resent me for not telling them. Being honest with them made me realise how resilient children are. They felt much happier to be included and found their own ways of helping me through it. We supported each other as a family and became a lot closer.
I used creativity to help my children. There was so much I wanted my kids to know as they’re growing up, and I wanted them to really know about me, in case I didn’t make it. We created a scrapbook together, putting in old pictures, sharing stories and making family trees. It was a place where I could record my values and what I wanted for them. They didn’t want to talk about my cancer and found it difficult to express how they felt, so I created ‘the book of love and feelings’, it was always on the side and we could all write about how we felt in it whenever we wanted to communicate with each other that we were scared, without having to actually say it.
I decided to create my own support system for children whose parents have cancer. I used my experience of working through cancer-related emotions with the kids and I brought together a team of close friends and family to create Don’t Forget the Kids, which we launched in 2013. I chose not to work with psychologists – we spend enough time with professionals – I just wanted to create a space where we can come with our children and they can feel comfort in being around other kids in similar positions, who understand what they’re going through.
We offer guilt-free play. We don’t talk about cancer, instead parents and children do projects together, the same ones that I did with my kids to help the families learn about each other. We do arts and crafts, drama, music and poetry workshops so the kids can express themselves through creativity, rather than sitting down in a circle talking about cancer. It’s not counselling, it’s peer support. Our support group is based in Tottenham, with weekly sessions that are completely free of charge. We’re working on expanding into Enfield and Hackney but we’re just trying to make sure we have something solid first– we don’t want to run before we can walk.
My long-term vision is huge. We are going to go as far as possible – there are millions of children suffering. While I was in the States recently, being awarded a fellowship from the Winston Churchill memorial trust, I realised that there aren’t any consistent support systems there either. I was approached by a woman who wants me to start Don’t Forget the Kids in California so we’ll see.
Having cancer has changed my life. I didn’t take me down, it woke me up and it actually made me realise that there’s more to life than cooking and cleaning, making sure the kids have clean school uniforms and going out. Helping people has given me a purpose.
Don’t wait until something like this happens to you to enjoy life and the people that are closest to you. Cancer forces you to appreciate what you have and pursue your dreams. If there’s anything that I want people to learn from my experience, it’s to just go for it and to do amazing things with your life because we only have one and it is so short.’