The Fight Within- a woman discovers she has cancer. Therapeutic short story.

The Fight Within.

A requested story for a friend of HT


Mary couldn’t sleep. It was still dark outside, no sounds came through her closed curtains ; the world had not yet stirred. Mary’s mind was in turmoil. Now she knew for sure what she had suspected for some weeks. It was cancer. The wait after the test over a weekend had felt like forever. She had thought over her entire life remembering all the good bits and the bad, wondering if something she had done could have created this lump in her body.

Mary’s family were not yet fully grown, they still needed their mother. They were learning to become independent, but she felt they still needed a lot of support. Her husband Robert would be all right. Always independent, doing his own thing, he wouldn’t suffer if she went , she thought. Her life had not been quite what she had hoped for so far. She was more of a reactor then an instigator. Life had happened to her rather than she had made it happen. She had not been ambitious and had not made demands on her family. Rather the opposite was true, they had made demands on her and she had complied. What should a mother do other than look after her kids? She fetched and carried them , she gathered up their dirty washing strewn on the floor and dealt with it. She cooked their favourite meals and often felt they might show more consideration and gratitude. She was tired of nagging them; it seemed easier just to do everything herself. She had not insisted that they thanked her for the meals she carefully prepared for them or for keeping the home nice. They were oblivious to her need for recognition and she wasn’t about to tell them how she felt.

Mary thought about how she would do things differently if she survived this. She told herself that the statistics were good these days. Doctors were much more on top of cancer. Most people survived it. Strangely, the idea of telling her family that she wanted more help and appreciation was more daunting to her than telling them that she had cancer. It almost felt like a weakness in her, yet she knew it was not. Her weakness had been in letting them all do exactly what they wanted, without insisting on some return, which would make her life easier and more pleasant. They were not bad kids, they were just selfish and oblivious to a different and better way to behave. It had been her duty and her husband’s to guide the children and they had not. Her husband had grown used to her saying ‘Oh, I don’t mind’, and it had suited him to believe her. He did not take his fair share of parental duties, but as she did not complain, he continued to ignore the situation.

The small knot of resentment had grown and now she had cancer. She had heard that stress can cause all sorts of ills, including cancer, and suddenly she wondered if her bitterness was showing up in her body. It was time to shake up her life. She needed new goals and she needed help to achieve them. The only person who could change things for her was herself. She saw it now. Taking the line of least resistance was not an option now. She made a list of things that would have to change, it was not a long list, but it was a very important one.

Mary stuck the list on the fridge door with a magnet and went back to bed and slept. The following day was a Sunday. Normally she would be the one to get up and make the breakfast. On this day she slept on. At 10 o’clock her husband appeared with tray, on it was a pot of tea and some toast with butter and marmalade. He looked sheepish and embarrassed.

‘Oh, thank you Robert. I thought you were off to golf this morning.’ she said.

Mary’s son and daughter appeared at the door. They looked upset and worried . ‘Hello Mum,’ was all they could say.

Robert reached into into his back pocket and took out Mary’s fridge list. He put it on the tray, Mary noticed ticks on all the items, they looked like marks of agreement. The family had at last come together and had seen what needed to be done for their mum.

‘I’m going to fight it,’ said Mary, ‘but I don’t want to have to fight you too. Thanks for the ticks. Promise me that you’ll remember to go along with it? It is fair enough, isn’t it? All I want to do is to be able to train as…. an astronaut. …That’s not too much to ask, is it? ‘

Her smile told them they were forgiven and she hoped that all their tears were a promise of the help and support she needed.



The Elephant Man. A story about being helpful, for children from 5-9 years

The Elephant Man

Usha’s mum was a busy woman.  She worked on the market stall selling the greens and fruit that grew on the family’s piece of ground.  Usha was a dreamy girl.  She went to the market to help her mum, but she preferred to watch everything that was going on around her.  Her job was to look after the baby.  When he cried she had to feed him.  She had to make sure the flies did not settle on him when he was asleep.

There was one customer who was her very favourite person.  He was the mahout.  She called him ‘the elephant man’.  He used to come to her mum’s stall to buy his fruit and vegetables.  He loved babies and would always tickle the baby under his chin and make him laugh.  He was a very small man and quite wrinkled, and he could climb like a monkey because he was always having to climb up onto his elephants’ necks to take them to work.  He used to like telling stories to Usha.

One day Usha’s mum was cross with her because the flies were on the baby and he was upset. The elephant man turned up to find both Usha and the baby crying.

“What’s this, what’s this?”  he asked.

“She’s a naughty girl.  She’s not helping me with the baby.  I need help, I can’t do everything myself!” said Usha’s mum.

“Now, now, don’t cry any more.  You cuddle the baby and I will tell you a story about my lovely most helpful elephant.” said the mahout.

The elephant man climbed up on a pile of boxes and sat perched up on top with his legs crossed.  Some other children noticed and came over to listen too.  Everyone liked the elephant man’s stories.  He spoke in a loud voice so everyone could hear.

“I’ll tell you about Rani.  When she was a young elephant her mum had a baby.  Rani could tell that the baby needed lots of help.  It was very small and could get trampled on by the bigger elephants.  Rani always made sure that the baby was between her and its mum, that way Baby would not get squashed.

The time came for Rani’s mother  to get back to work.  She had to pull logs on the plantation.  She was taken out of the elephant compound and led away by the mahout.  By this time Baby was bigger and eating grass and other green stuff.  When he saw his mum disappearing into the distance, he started to trumpet as loudly as he could.  His mother replied with one quick “Taraaa!” but she didn’t look back.  She knew Rani was there to look after Baby.  Rani laid her trunk over Baby’s back and gently rubbed him.  Then she took some tasty greens and passed them to Baby.  Baby stopped crying and ate a leaf.  I was so pleased with Rani that day.  I was in charge of all the elephants who were not working, and I was worried about Baby being upset when his mum went away.  It’s not good having upset elephants.  I did think that as Rani was such a helpful elephant, she would probably look after her little brother, and I was right.  All the elephants stayed quiet and calm that day which was a good thing for me, don’t you think?

And what about you lot, are you helpful to your mums and dads?  I hope so!” said the mahout as he looked round at all the children.  With that he picked up his sack of vegetables and disappeared between the stalls.

Usha thoughtfully rocked the baby who was smiling now.  “I want to be as helpful as Rani,” she said to her mum.

“That’s very good to hear, Usha, and I’m sure you can be!” said her mum.


Does the story remind you of anything in your life?

Who do you think was  most helpful in the story,

was it Usha, Rani the big sister elephant, or the elephant man?

Why do you think that?

Do you try to be helpful?  How?

If you are helpful to others, do you think they might be helpful to you?

If you are not helpful, do think others will feel like helping you?

What would it be like if nobody was helpful?

What would it be like if everyone was helpful?


Looking after Mum (story:family members taking responsibility for helping in the home)

Looking after Mum

Mary lay on her bed. It was all she could do to lift her head from the pillow to take a sip of water. She felt detached from her body which had let her down so badly. Her normally fit strong frame was now prone, limp, like a rag, all vitality and spark gone, yet her mind was clear and bright. She lay thinking about her life and what could have caused this terrible situation.

She had gone from being an extremely busy teacher with a family of two teenage girls and a husband to look after, to a helpless, lifeless body incapable of doing anything at all. This had happened so suddenly that her family were in a state of shock. The doctors said it might have been a virus. They had taken blood and performed numerous tests. Nothing had been found. Mary lay inert. She could not have lifted her arm up to reach the glass of water on the bedside table. It was worse than yesterday but in a strange way her mind was enjoying the rest. Suddenly other people were having to do the thinking and the doing. At first they had resisted it.Mum’ had been doing everything for them. They watched a bit of TV and played on their computers. Mary’s husband expected his tea on the table when he came home. He was tired after a long day at the office and had no desire to cook or clean. Neither did the girls.

Now it was different. They were looking after their mum. They had no choice. Reality had suddenly set in. They began to realise exactly how much their mum had been doing for them. The house started to become dirty. Washing piled up. Dirty dishes filled the sink and the dish washer. No-one could find anything. Where did she keep the Hoover?

Food shopping was a nightmare. How much should they buy? What did they need? What would it cost? Gradually the girls and their father worked out a routine. It took them a month to fully understand what Mary had been doing for them over the past years. Meanwhile Mary drifted in and out of consciousness, unable to answer any of their questions. Martin her husband learnt how to use the cooker and the washing machine. He ruined a few garments, but not too many. He burnt a few meals. He began to wonder how Mary had managed to do everything that she had done for all those years, and she had worked full time too. Mary was a pleaser, he knew that. She was always anxious to keep others happy to the extent that she did not like to ask for help; she could not cope with the grumbling. That suited Martin and the girls. They were not pleasers, they were users, but they did not like to admit it.

The three of them sat by Mary’s bedside one evening holding her limp hands. Martin decided to tell them all what he had been thinking even if Mary could not hear or understand.

“I’m sorry, Mary,” he said. “I think we’ve worn you out. If you ever get better we’ll never go back to how it was, I promise. We will all do our share of the work.”

Tears were running down Martins face. He had at last realised how selfish they had all been.

That night Mary’s energy returned. She quietly got up and dressed herself. She took her keys and drove away.

Mary returned a fortnight later, rested and refreshed. She never had to wash another pan again. It had taken her near death experience to change to change the behaviour of her family and also her own behaviour. She had done enough pleasing. She realised that having a perfect home was not as important as looking after her own health. Enough was enough.


  1. Does this remind you of anything in your life?
  2. Why do you think the family changed after Mary went away?
  3. In your family how is the work shared out?
  4. Do you look after your own things and keep your room clean and tidy?
  5. Who puts your clothes for washing and who puts the clean clothes away?
  6. Who cooks the meals?
  7. What can you cook?
  8. How could you learn to cook?
  9. What more could you do to help out?