Shining Her Light
A Sunshine Coast mum diagnosed with terminal cancer has written a book to help her son and other families fighting cancer. Ingrid Nelson shares her story.
Donna Penny is one of those people who makes a big impression from the moment you meet her. Her sparkling personality and love of life is infectious.
I first met Donna during an interview for Profile late last year, when, in true Donna style, despite being told she had terminal cancer had just opened a hair salon with her two best friends. Little did we both know what the next six months had in store for this courageous Sunshine Coast mother of two.
Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008 at just 35 years of age and undergoing a double mastectomy, Donna was given the all clear until the cancer returned five years later and she was informed of the devastating news it had spread to other parts of her body and was given just two years to live.
I don’t want to die. It’s not that I’m scared of dying. I’m scared of leaving my kids behind and I want them to know their mum loved them more than anything in the world.”
“Statistically, I was given 24 months but it depends on how you respond to treatment. I am now nine months past my expiry date and I am just taking it day by day and living life to the fullest,” says Donna.
“Don’t get me wrong I have days when I sit in my cupboard and cry and think why me?
But I pick myself up and I always get over it. I just don’t think it’s going to happen to me. I don’t want to die. It’s not that I’m scared of dying. I’m scared of leaving my kids behind and I want them to know their mum loved them more than anything in the world.”
One of the biggest hurdles Donna has faced since her terminal diagnosis has been trying to explain to her nine-year-old son Kai that the cancer is never going to go away.
“I remember Kai asked the question “Why out of all the mummies in the world does this have to happen to my mummy?” said Donna.
The book explains that mummy’s cancer will never go away but doctors are keeping the cancer sleeping with special medicine.
“How do you explain to a child what terminal means? Why your hair is falling out? That you’re not going to get better?”
Having searched high and low for books that were suitable for her son, Donna found they were all too sad and “morbid” so she decided to write her own book to explain her situation to Kai, penning a heartfelt children’s book called Why My Mummy?
“I couldn’t find anything that wasn’t doom and gloom. I wanted to create something bright that would be child-friendly, using language he could understand. The book explains that mummy’s cancer will never go away but doctors are keeping the cancer sleeping with special medicine.
“He doesn’t really understand the full impact of cancer but through the story he has more of an understanding of what his mum goes through. The book has really helped his understanding of the condition.”
We have been working together on a crowdfunding campaign and I am so overwhelmed and grateful for everyone’s support so far."
Sunshine Coast creative design agency What The Fox have made the book possible by donating their time to design and market the book, which has had an overwhelming response.
“They have looked after me and helped me handle the craziness. We have been working together on a crowdfunding campaign and I am so overwhelmed and grateful for everyone’s support so far. I love the book and I was just hoping the world would love it and embrace it too.”
Having been touched by cancer herself, with the loss of her first husband to brain cancer, The Project’s Carrie Bickmore was so moved by Donna’s story she flew to the Sunshine Coast in February to meet her and share her story on the show.
“They were going to do a live cross but then when Carrie was told about my story she practically dropped everything and flew up with her crew. She was so sympathetic and hugged me like she really meant it. We cried together, we shared stories together. I felt like she really cared. Her little boy lost his father so she knew what my family was going through.”
Donna’s aim is to leave a legacy for her family to remember her by. She wrote the book in the hope it would help other parents talk to their children about terminal illness and it is the first of many in a series she intends to write to support families at different stages of the cancer journey.
“I want families who are going through this to be able to read it together and not be intimidated by it because it doesn’t use big, intimidating words, it’s just explaining cancer the way we explain it in our family.”
Donna, the Sunshine Coast is right behind you.
To follow Donna’s journey and show your support visit www.facebook.com/whymymummybook