Imogen and Tennille Purton are twin sisters, who have one shared experience with cancer — and a very different one.
When Imogen was five she was diagnosed with cancer. Soon after being given the all clear, the family learned her mother, Heather, was now facing her own battle with a similar strain.
While Tennille had struggled to comprehend her sister’s illness, and had celebrated her recovery, she now had to watch her mother go through the same battle.
Imogen and Tennille were 10 years old when their mother passed away from cancer.
They have chosen to share their stories with Mamamia for National Bandanna Day, CanTeen’s annual fundraising and awareness campaign for young people who face the challenge of cancer in their lives.
As a child I was always happy and I always had a smile on my face. You would never know that I was living with cancer.
I was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia at the age of five, in 2003. Throughout all of the chemotherapy and hospital visits, I tried my hardest to feel like a “normal” kid. This was hard as I had my twin sister, Tennille, to compare my life to. In my mind, she was living the “perfect” life.
One memory from when I was going through chemo has stuck with me, no matter how hard I have tried to repress it. I had just lost all of my hair and I was at McDonald’s with my family. I vividly remember the lady behind the counter looking for the toy to go along with my food and her coming up to me and saying, “We have run out of boy’s toys, would you like a girl’s one instead?” I didn’t understand why this lady couldn’t see that I was a girl even though I didn’t have any hair.
In March 2005 I had beaten cancer, but three years later, in 2008, my life was turned upside down — once again, due to cancer. This time it was my mum, Heather. I remember when she told us she had cancer so vividly. The whole family was sitting in the car as she told us. I was 10 years old at the time.
We would only visit her on weekends. Every time I saw her she look even more sick. It got to the point where I was too scared to look at her because I couldn’t recognise the person in front of me anymore. She lost her fight in July 2008.
As I continued on in my life, I felt like I was alone and that no one else understood what it was like to be a teenager who was affected by cancer. I didn’t have anyone to rely on for support, despite the many councillors I was seeing.