Everyone needs to know that they are cared about. It is one of the basic human needs. We need food, water and to be cared about. And at no other time is it as important to know this, than when diagnosed with cancer and making …
We’re delighted to announce that we’re collaborating with Future Dreams Breast Cancer Charity and from now on our practical content, personal stories and expert guest blogs will be situated on the Future Dreams website at www.futuredreams.org. But we’re keeping this website which will focus on …
In this article, Cancer Support UK tell us about how their support groups can help someone who has finished cancer treatment and is struggling to navigate post-cancer life.
At Cancer Support UK, we understand that it’s perfectly normal to be left with anxiety and concerns after treatment – sometimes for a long time – and following discharge, it’s hard to know where to go for help. When cancer treatment finally finishes, family and friends often expect cancer patients to feel better, but for many, it’s when they feel worst of all.
Cancer Support UK’s Cancer Coach support groups can help.
Our Cancer Coach support groups are available to anyone who has completed their physical cancer treatment and is experiencing low mood, anxiety and worry, and doesn’t know how to move forward in their recovery. The course takes participants through a series of weekly facilitated group sessions, run for a six-week period over the telephone or online video. The sessions take participants through a series of strategies, techniques and exercises that aim to furnish them with the tools, support and coping strategies that can help them on their recovery journey.
Our trained group facilitators talk participants through the negative thought patterns that can linger after treatment ends, how to challenge them, as well as how to manage worries. There is also a chance to talk to others in the group, all of whom are recovering following the end of treatment. This ensures everyone can receive and give valuable peer support and encouragement.
The course is free and completely confidential, accessible via the telephone or online video, from the comfort and privacy of home.
When Sharon, 49, was discharged from hospital after being diagnosed with cancer, she initially expected her life to feel the same as it had done before her diagnosis but instead found it more difficult to re-adjust. Due to this Sharon took part in a Cancer Coach telephone group, which significantly improved her emotional outlook. Sharon said
“I would really recommend the Cancer Coach support group sessions. We all had the same shared feelings, concerns, and anxieties based around cancer. It was so nice to open up about your feelings and have people who could nod in recognition and say “Yeah, I understand completely how you feel.” I feel like I’ve met friends for life through Cancer Coach support group sessions and I still have that support that I was lacking before I discovered this organization.”
The programme helps people who have experienced cancer to:
- better understand and manage their own challenging emotions
- build resilience
- begin to reduce feelings of isolation and low mood
- improve their confidence and self-esteem, both during the programme and beyond
Since Cancer Coach takes place over the phone or online video, participants do not have to travel to a physical appointment. They can join their sessions from wherever they feel most comfortable.
If you’re interested in finding out more about Cancer Coach, please submit an application to join a group at cancersupportuk.org/cancercoach and a member of Cancer Support UK will be in touch.
For more information, take a look at www.cancersupportuk.org
We’ve all heard the phrase ‘movement is medicine’, but can it really help those preparing, going through or recovering from breast cancer treatment? Over the coming weeks, Sarah Newman, Cancer & Exercise Specialist and Breast Cancer Rehab Coach, will be discussing how to overcome and …
By Barbara Wilson, Working with cancer Returning to work after cancer wasn’t something I gave a great deal of time or thought to during my treatment for breast cancer in 2005. When I was first diagnosed, I kept telling myself and others that I’d be …
By Katie Murray, Love of literacy
One and a half years of breast cancer treatments have left me feeling like a broken house. Chemotherapy. Three surgeries. Radiotherapy. Hormone therapy. I am all smashed windows; a trail of litter and destruction running up to my door. Maybe like a house that looks like you have been burgled but actually it was just your toddlers. Metaphorical littered tea-plates and bits of blackberry jam smudged on the table top, old bottles of half-drunk red wine and dirty tea towels. You get the picture.
Feeling out of place, exhausted and emotional
It’s not how I imagined my recovery. Although I was warned, I didn’t think I would feel so out of place. So exhausted. So emotional. Seven months post – active treatment and I am in a place I can only describe as a Wasteland. It’s all new – my body needs so much time to rest. I have to prioritise my mental health. I have not returned to normal.
I keep throwing away all my old clothes – anything that reminds of my pre-cancer self and myself in treatment. Especially the clothes I was wearing just before the diagnosis in the winter of 2019. Our clothes hold our stories. And when I open my soft-green wooden drawers and hear the confusion and pain, I know I will never put them back on my new body. They smell of betrayal to me. I can barely bring myself to pick them up and touch them, they stare at me in my tumbled drawers and ask: how did you not know you had a 7cm tumour in your right breast?
A sea of images: fear and isolation of surgery during Covid
The ‘good news’ jumpsuit’ I celebrated the unexpected news that the 9cm tumor on my adrenal gland was benign? Gone. I can’t imagine putting my legs into it’s happy turquoise without drowning in the sea of images that are lodged, the fear and isolation of the surgery at the height of Covid. So they go to the charity shop – the Cancer Research one, naturally. And I tell myself I’m shedding skin, that it’s a natural thing to do, to get rid of everything you used to be.
Bags and bags leave the house, looking for new owners. My eyelashes are back and my hair grows. Curly now too, which is a treat. I have no idea who I am now.
I start writing to process the shock of it all
I started writing as soon as I started chemotherapy. I had to, to process the shock of it all. I resisted at first because I was supposed to be writing a PhD, not a journal about breast cancer. But write I did. Firstly, to stave off the dreaded chemo-brain (some days, even writing a tiny poem was hard, but there was such comfort in completing something – no matter how small).
In the lonely recovery room after my adrenalectomy last May – my first of three surgeries during Covid – I grabbed my phone and with eyes that could barely see and a body that could not sit up yet, I signed up for Wildfire magazine’s weekly writing workshops. I had come across the American magazine for young women affected by breast cancer on Instagram and was drawn to their Personal Narrative workshops led by the Editor and founder, April Stearns. I just knew I needed to deep dive into writing. And I haven’t looked back. Only inside.
Writing creates a space for me to slow down
I found that writing created a space for me to really slow down and process on a deep level everything I had been through. My words retraced the traumatic path; each word, image, phrase became a stepping stone or a bridge – and magically I found – I still find that writing about my experience opens up a direct channel between me and what I call my tender voice.
Writing out the pain and hurt is therapuetic
Writing out all the pain and hurt became so therapeutic, I was able to start seeing myself how others might. Writing about myself helped me be gentle with myself, helped me tap into what I really needed in this confusing and lonely wasteland that is post-treatment. Instead of putting pressure on myself or feeling frustrated that I couldn’t do all the things before and basically needed a lie down before simply making the dinner, writing helped me listen to my body and I started hearing a tender voice. A warm voice, like an arm around my shoulders, she whispers, ‘you are doing so well, look how far you have come. I’m proud of you. Gently does it.’
I may not recognise myself. I may not know who I am. I may be reluctant to fit back into the shape I left. But I do know how I want to feel. It comes quietly and invisibly, like seeds caught on the breeze. I am starting to really acknowledge the fact that ‘I am’ is a complete sentence. My to-do lists have become to-feel lists. I know I would rather watch my plants grow than track the changes in my face. I used to look for lines and wrinkles, signs of getting older, grey hairs would horrify me. Really they did. That all seems absurd now to me.
Writing helps me understand how I really feel
Writing is a profound component of my messy, quiet, silent, disruptive non-linear healing. I have seen that actually I don’t really know how I feel about something until I write it. Writing has helped me dig under the surface of my story. Helped me see beauty through the trauma. And helped me lay some serious negative spiralling thoughts to rest. I’ll leave you with the words of April Stearns, Editor and founder of Wildfire magazine:
“Writing our stories gives us the opportunity to shift our perspective, to become an observer, the narrator, versus the victim. The shift is small and yet it is everything in regaining a bit of control in an out of control situation. I believe it can be the difference between a difficult cancer experience being simply traumatic and taking a traumatic experience to a place of empowerment. It begins with the pen and looking bravely within.”
Katie is a literacy consultant, writer, teacher and mother of four. After her primary breast cancer diagnosis in November 2019, Katie fell in love with writing, and has written her way through the messy, non-linear healing. She writes fiction and non-fiction. She loves to garden, grow her own veg and enjoys sharing her holistic healing journey through her wellness blog: skinelixir.co.uk/blogs/news. You can find her holistic and creative literacy work here: loveofliteracy.co.uk.
By Annabel Mackie and Rachel Evans from FF4C Fighting fit for cancer Exercise has been shown to provide powerful benefits for your physical health and emotional well-being when you have cancer. Engaging in exercise after diagnosis significantly lowers the risk of death from cancer and …
Hi. I’m Emma. Married to Darren and co-owner of two small humans, Toby (seven) and Chloe (two), and Beagle Arthur (nine). Lawyer by day- representing nurses, I’m now also an author by night – hopefully inspiring patients, after my unexpected journey with Breast Cancer. Buckle …
Everyone has to die from something and 1 in 3 women get breast cancer, those are just the facts of life. That is until it happens to you or somebody close to you.
As a child, my Nanny Mary had breast cancer, treatment and a mastectomy later she was all clear, I was none the wiser. As a slightly older child my Nana got breast cancer, treatment and a mastectomy later she was in the all clear, I was relatively none the wiser.
Saying good bye, last chats and humor as a coping mechanism
But in 2017 my Nana got metastases (secondaries) in her bone, liver and spleen. I was 17 by then and I was wiser. It was a normal day, I was a busy school kid, but my perspective had changed. My Nana and Papa only lived a 15-minute drive away and so I visited much more often, and my parents took them on holiday. I moved up to University, now a 6-hour drive away but I sent postcards, little treats I knew she would like and wrote notes on her fridge when I came back to visit.
It’s funny now, I got on that 6-hour train ride so many times for an ‘emergency goodbye’ to walk in her house and her get up and hug me, it was almost like she was thinking ‘what’s all the fuss about?’. I must have had our ‘last chat’ and our last ‘I love you’s’ 10 times. Humor was the coping mechanism.
Finding a new way to support my mum after her diagnosis
But in 2019, my Mum was diagnosed with Grade 3 hormone led breast cancer and it couldn’t be made funny. It was a week after her 53rd birthday and I was home for University summer holidays. My Mum had a pre-booked holiday to see her best friend in Italy and at this stage the diagnosis and was treatment to come was still unclear. Of course, my mum went and had all the emotional chats she needed at that time with her bestie.
But my brother was working at a summer camp in Canada and I was at home with my Dad. Our personalities are very similar, (a rare admission but blindingly obvious), we are unemotional, ask either of us for a hug and you’ll think you’re a stranger the way we look at you in response. So, the subject of mum’s diagnosis did not come up. It was only while I was working in my summer job that it hit me. Wow the poor staff, I had worked there only a couple of weeks, I was still at the small talk stage but suddenly I was in floods of tears.
I realised then that I couldn’t bottle it up! I wanted to be a daughter that hugged and kissed her mum to the point she asked for an inch more personal space, but I just wasn’t. This never meant that I wasn’t close to my mum or that I didn’t ‘care’. I am so incredibly close to my Mum, but I needed to find a different way to support her. What am I good at I thought? Rowing. The idea was born.
Rowing a marathon every day for a week to raise funds and to feel useful
In September 2019 I rowed a marathon every day for a week (to note, a 7-day week!). A total of 301.8 km to be precise. 32 hours and 32 minutes. I raised £4000+ for Breast Cancer Care charity. I felt that if even a small bit of the pain I went through could be taken away from the pain my Mum was about to go through with her mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy then it was worth it. My Nana was so proud of me. I felt useful. At the end of the week, my Mum described it like a holiday- Bruce (my brother) was home and the four of us were spending ‘quality’ time together- 32 hours and 32 minutes!!!! I must say, not quite what I was thinking but the humor was back!
Covid-19 hit and well I don’t need to tell you how rubbish that was. My Nana, the incredibly strong lady she was, probably spent a record amount of time in the hospice and was taken back home so we could all be around her. My Nana sadly passed away in April 2020, I will never forget the memories we made in those last couple of weeks and years.
Mum gets the all clear but we say good bye to nana
On the positive side, my mum finished treatment and got the all clear in March 2020, so my Nana got to hear the great news. I not only never want to stop making my Nana and my Mum proud of me, but I want to help other breast cancer ladies and families. Again, I asked myself how?
Art and creativity become a source of self compassion and love
Lockdown 2.0 came and brought with it Sophie Tea art and a big burst of creativity. I participated in a ‘Sophie Tea live paint with me’ and from there I was off. I am a big preacher of self-love and that it’s a journey everyone should be on, including myself. Painting abstract nudes helps me represent this and celebrate women. My Mum and her mastectomy scar were always on my mind, but I wanted to hone my skills before I felt I could do her justice. I took the leap and went for it and dammmm it is beautiful (a little bit biased maybe). Scars and not something to hide but represent everything you went through and how strong you have become.
I would love nothing more than to celebrate more ladies and their scars through my paintings, and of course also donate to breast cancer charities to help breast cancer research and support those diagnosed with breast cancer and their families along the way.
My Nana: Doreen Howson
My Mum: Kate Abbott
Surviving cancer is as much about catching it early and being positive about the outcome, as it is about the treatment. I am Carolann Bruce, and I am a breast cancer survivor, but only because I refused to take no for an answer. A dream …
Laura is a mindfulness meditation practitioner, leading group and one-to one sessions in both the private and voluntary sector. For more information, visit www.lauraashurst.co.uk A worrier from childhood I have always been a worrier. That natural ability that we all have to worry about things …
Emma Herring is a freelance writer, editor and communications consultant. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017.
A routine mammogram leads to a shock diagnosis
My cancer was the birthday present you never want to receive. Having reached the age of 50 and celebrated in style with my husband in New York, I went for my first ever mammogram. Having no symptoms or concerns, I was shocked when I was recalled to the breast clinic.
A distressing afternoon spent having more tests and biopsies led to an initial diagnosis of high-grade DCIS and I was told I would need a mastectomy. It was hoped that the surgery would be all I would need.
But 15 August 2017 is a date that neither I, nor my husband, will ever forget. It was the day I was told that the results from the pathology revealed a grade three tumour, along with cancer in a lymph node, and it was also HER2 positive. I think everyone heard my screams. I spent days in shock and was so scared.
Struggling to get through treatment
Next followed chemotherapy which I found a great struggle. I had to have a port fitted as the chemo nurses struggled to access my veins for blood tests and chemo. Losing my hair was awful. I refused to have it cut short, but after my first dose it came out in handfuls and my husband and I both cried in the kitchen as he cut off my remaining hair. I always wore a wig, or a scarf, and my husband was the only person who ever saw my bald head. I also reacted badly to one of my chemo drugs which led to a change to a weekly chemo regime.
After chemo I had further lymph nodes removed – luckily all were clear of cancer – and then 15 sessions of radiotherapy and my dose of Herceptin every three weeks.
The distraction of a new puppy
I didn’t cope well with my treatment. I just about managed a short walk most days and was grateful for friends and family who helped and walked our puppy who arrived the day after I had biopsies at the breast clinic. We had wondered if we were doing the right thing getting a dog – but our lively cocker spaniel was such a brilliant distraction. For my husband she was great company and an opportunity to get out for a walk when he had to cope with my fear and steroid rages! For me it was good to walk around the fields close to our house and not think about cancer and laugh at her enthusiasm and excitement for life.
Difficulty concentrating affects my work and self-confidence
I found concentrating very difficult and reading and writing hard. As a writer by profession, it made working tough. I managed to do small amounts, but the cancer treatment had really dented my confidence. My sister was a great support and brought me novels to read and a book of writing prompts to help me. I had support from the charity Maggie’s and did its ‘Where Now?’ course after my treatment ended. I also discovered the Ticking Off Breast Cancer website and reading about others who had come out the other side of treatment and having the tips and advice was a big help.
Coping with post treatment fatigue and rebuilding my confidence
Coming to the end of treatment was hard as I had terrible fatigue and although I’d had immediate reconstruction with an implant, I still had to wear an infill prosthesis to balance me out. I hated it and found it very uncomfortable and was so pleased when I could have symmetrising surgery in 2019 and I could do away with the prosthesis.
I had read stories about people who after having cancer re-evaluated their lives and made big changes, learnt new skills and changed jobs. But I was so tired and beaten that just getting through each day was an achievement. I was trying to work but the fatigue was an issue so was pleased when I got some work coaching from the organisation Working with Cancer. My coaching sessions gave me a real boost and helped me get back my confidence and start working again with some new clients.
Joining the Ticking off breast cancer team
It’s only now that I can look back at what happened and think about what I went through. I’m really pleased to be part of the Ticking Off Breast Cancer team and look forward to helping others as they navigate breast cancer treatment.