Penpal

I still remember the first words I read from her, 31 years ago: Mfwako’s friend’s sister Barbara gave me your letter…

I’d written to a 13 year old girl in Canada called Mfwako (yes, really) whose details I’d found in Jackie magazine. I was only 9. I don’t know why I was reading Jackie, which was for teenagers. No doubt Mfwako wrote back to all the 13 and 14 year olds who got in touch with her. She gave the 9 year olds’ letters to her friend, who gave them to her sister, Barbara, who gave them to her friend. Who wrote to me.

She had the most beautiful handwriting. It didn’t seem possible it was a child’s. I was always so excited to receive those letters. The envelopes were always decorated with stickers (and they still are to this day!).

It was an online friendship before online friendships. I never met her, but I knew she was my friend. We sent each other letters, cards, presents and photos. We knew all about each other’s lives.

Sometimes the letters slowed down a bit, then they would pick up again. But we never stopped writing.

Our lives had incredible parallels. She married a man with the same name as my husband exactly one week after I got married. Her daughter (eldest child) was born in the same month as my younger son.

Around that time, the letters stopped and the emails started. For many years, I only switched the computer on once a week – to do my Tesco order and check whether I’d got an email from my penpal. And if I had, I would always reply straight away.

We always sent cards at Christmas, always with a photo of our kids in a Christmas outfit. Her daughter looked just like her, her son just like her husband.

As the kids got older and life got busier (and I started using the internet WAY MORE than once a week), the emails dwindled to just once or twice a year. When we moved to the rented house, I misplaced my address book. I wouldn’t be able to send her a Christmas card! I emailed to ask for her address and there was a delay in her getting back to me.

The reply was a shock.

She had been diagnosed with breast cancer a few days earlier. I got her email the day I heard my friend Emma aka Crazy with Twins had got the all-clear. I was devastated to read this. Another young(isn) woman struck down by cancer. Another mother. Another woman with everything to live for. Another woman who wanted to be there for her children as they grew up.

I felt as though we’d grown up together, although we’ve always been thousands of miles apart. I’ve known her longer than virtually anyone. Now she was facing an uphill battle against cancer.

She’s had her surgery and it’s all looking fairly positive. It’s been a tough few weeks for the whole family. The cancer was at a very early stage and hasn’t spread. She will find out soon what treatment she needs. She’s still got a way to go.

The good news is, we’re back in touch and I will be following her progress from thousands of miles away and willing her to recover just like Emma recovered.

She’s my penpal and we’ve still got an awful lot of writing to do.

Author: Sarah Mummy

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23 Comments

  1. I had a penpal that I wrote to twice. Well done on cementing an ever lasting friendship. I hope she recovers from the cancer really quickly and completely x

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  2. Lovely that you’ve kept in touch, and I hope Mfwako makes a full recovery. I also had a penpal, from India, when I was younger. We don’t tend to write to each other now but keep in contact via Facebook, amazing that we’ve been friends for 30 years now! #pocolo

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  3. I think this is such a wonderful story – people just don’t treasure the old writing skills like they used to. It’s heartwarming to read and I am very sorry to learn of her sad news. It sounds as though things look positive for her though. Keep writing and keep treasuring x

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  4. How amazing that you’ve been able to stay in touch all this time. Am sorry to read her sad news and hope that she can beat this x

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  5. How lovely that you’ve stayed in touch for so long, and how fortuitous that you have re-established contact now that she will need friendship and support more than ever. I really hope things pick up for your friend, and that you and she carry on enjoying each other’s words for many years to come!

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  6. This is a lovely story. I truly hope she makes a full recovery and that the treatment isnt too gruelling for them all. Another reason to walk with #EmmasArmy. Xx

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  7. Wishing your friend a very speeding recovery! It’s great that you’re back in touch, and you can be another line of support for her through the process. As Emma has said, hopefully the treatment won’t be too gruelling #PoCoLo

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  8. So sorry to hear about this sad news, here’s hoping that your penpal makes a full recovery. Thinking of you both x #PoCoLo

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  9. Thank you all for your lovely comments, I really appreciate them. It does sound pretty positive for her, but I’m sure she has a long way to go yet.
    Thanks, Suzanne, you were the person who gave me the idea of writing this post. x
    Definitely another reason to support #EmmasArmy, Emma! x

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  10. I hope your friend recovers soon. It is amazing that you’ve managed to stay in touch for all that time and I think it’s wonderful that you are still there for her, supporting her through this tough time.

    #PoCoLo

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  11. I’ve had a penpal for 25 years, we got in touch through Mother and Baby magazine after our first children were born. She’s still not caught up on the internet! So sorry to hear about your Penpal’s Cancer though, it strikes so many these days, it’s very sad x

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  12. Gosh I hope she is ok x I always wanted a penpal when I was younger! But now with social media, it seems everyone is in each other’s lives on the surface anyway… ha!

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  13. My best wishes go to your friend, and long may you both continue your ‘pen friendship’.

    I have a penfriend who I met in circumstances similar to yours. This was 50 years ago via The Beatles fan club magazine! One of her classmates advertised for penfriends and as she lived in some exotic sounding place called Manhattan Beach in California, I decided to write. The replay I got was from Dorienne and we have remained friends through some bad times as well as good. We met only once in 1988 when she and her friend came to stay with us during which we had a great time together doing the touristy thing in The Peak District 🙂

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  14. How wonderful to keep in touch for all these years (I read Jackie when I was 9 too!). So sorry to hear about her breast cancer but thank goodness they caught it early. My Mum has had it twice now and is still going strong so I hope all will be OK for her too. Thank you for linking to PoCoLo x

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  15. Aww how lovely to stay in touch for all these years!
    I hope she makes a full recovery!! PoCoLo x

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  16. How wonderful to have been in touch for such a long time. I’m sorry to hear her news, and I hope her recovery continues to go well xx #PoCoLo

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  17. Beautiful post, I remember the penpal addresses in Jackie, haha they were my cousins magazines as my mum never brought me any so I get hand me downs, which was great with all my older cousins, smash hits was my favourite one. to be penpals after all this time and still be in touch is amazing, so glad she is getting better with the treatment…

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  18. I read this yesterday on my phone and it wouldn’t let me comment, but wanted to pop back to say that I love the fact you still keep in touch like this. I miss the art of letter writing. And I’m so glad you’re able to offer your support too.

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  19. Thanks very much for your lovely comments, everyone. I really appreciate them. Especially appreciate you coming back to comment, Redpeffer 🙂
    Lovely story about your friendship, Penguin’s Waddle. Somehow I don’t think my penpal and I will ever meet as we’re both quite nervous travellers, but never say never!
    Impressed that you’ve stayed in touch with your penpal too, Anne!
    Good to hear I wasn’t the only 9yo to read Jackie, Vic! And that you remembered the pen pals, Claire. Just shows we’re the same age! 😉

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  20. Just another reminder how precious and fragile our lives are. I’m sure your penpal is so glad to have a friend like you whom she can communicate with to get some strength and support. Keep on writing – your ‘letters’ may just be what she needs right now to keep her going.

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