INTERVIEW WITH DONIA YOUSSEF, Award Winning Author, London
Just after celebrating her 39th Birthday, Donia had to share heart breaking news with her two children, aged 2 years old and 5 years old, that she had been diagnosed with cancer.
Instead of ending her successful career as the founder of the internationally renowned model agency for children – Tiny Angels, Donia decides to step up to the challenge and play to her strengths, lead her life with a renewed purpose and inspire other parents to overcome traumatic news and empower them.
You wrote a book for children that helps parents communicate with their child. What inspired you to write this book?
In April 2017 I was diagnosed with breast cancer which had spread to my lymph nodes and was told I had a 60% survival rate. Being a mother of two very young children being faced with mortality in this way was terrifying and having to undergo chemotherapy, a double mastectomy, radiotherapy and ongoing hormone therapy treatment, I felt my children needed to know what journey their mummy and our family was about to endure. Being open and honest is almost always the best way with children as they pick up on things not being right. Uncertainty may be harder for children to cope with than the truth and they only need simple explanations.
I had researched books to read to my children as I was a little unsure on the best possible way to break the news to them whilst protecting them at the same time. I stumbled across a book called “Mummy’s Lump’’ which I read to my children and this was the very book which inspired me to write my own. Since my diagnosis I did extensive research and going through the experience with my toddler and 5 year old, I felt I could definitely help young Mothers who are going through the same ordeal with various coping strategies and help raise awareness. Reading books to young children with lots of illustrations can help you to feel less alone and more in control.
How important is communication for a family with a parent/ grandparent who is acancer patient?
Good communication with your children helps everyone in the family cope with whatever changes lie ahead.
Among the many difficult questions parents face when a family member is diagnosed with cancer is “What do I tell my children?” Fearful that they might upset or worry their youngsters and teens, some parents withhold the news. But even at a very young age, children can sense when something is wrong. If not told the truth, they might imagine that things are worse than they really are or even that they themselves are the cause of the problem.
Talking to a child about a parent’s, grandparent’s, or sibling’s cancer and how it will affect the family isn’t easy, but it is necessary. My book can help. It includes tips for talking with children about a family member’s cancer and treatment. It also suggests ways to help children cope with some of the feelings they may experience during this time.
By talking with your children honestly and helping them express their emotions, you make it easier for them to feel safe and secure. And as their parent, you are the best judge of how to talk to your children. But the first conversation about cancer is often the hardest. The information in my book will help you start that conversation and give you the tools to keep it going every step of the way.
What are your plans for helping other parents connect with their child using the power of your story?
I would like to raise awareness campaigns, book launches, audio books, encourage parents to read evening and mornings, writing articles, inspiring others to talk and share their own stories. Actually, I am working on a new project together with BYP TV and few media partners, to help child cancer patients to write their own book, have lots of fun along the way. We are launching their books at The Stardust Awards in London at the end of October. I know there are a lot of people who volunteer for helping children who are diagnosed with cancer but I want to give them the experience of writing and publishing their own story, create their own legacy and being part of an exciting project of their own.
What Changes have you experienced since giving yourself the gift of sharing?
Sharing experiences is important to spiritual growth. You benefit not only from hearing the experiences of others, but from sharing your own experiences. Although none of us may like the idea of sharing details about times when we were discouraged or when we were a discouragement to others, these are important confessions for us to make.
When you are feeling stressed in your situation, your cortisol goes through the roof to deal with the stress. The cortisol makes it difficult to think, put things in perspective and consider your options. The antidote for elevated cortisol is oxytocin, which is another hormone related to bonding, closeness and feeling less alone. When you express your feelings – fears, anger, disappointments, etc. – and feel others genuinely empathizing, caring and showing compassion towards you, your oxytocin goes up and your cortisol goes down.
And when that happens, you begin to feel less alone and then you feel relief, hope and your ability to think and consider options – including learning skills that you didn’t think you could learn – come back.
So, share what you’re feeling, show empathy and compassion towards each other, and together you will all make it through whatever difficult times you’re going through.
What is your solution?
They say you have to fight some bad days to earn the best days of your life. My solution is to read my own book, called ‘The Monster in Mummy’ which shows exactly how it can be done with ease.
Life is so very precious and I do hope you find some inspiration from my journey to keep going, no matter what life throws at you – Love to you all!