My diagnosis devastated my whole family. My daughters were only 12 and 18 and the devastation rippled through to everyone.
In February 2018 I started chemotherapy. It was hell. I felt like the chemotherapy was taking over my body and keeping me hostage. I was admitted to hospital twice due to complications and each time I was in hospital for 10 days. I felt like a zombie. The treatment made me extremely sensitive to the cold and I couldn’t leave the house. After each round of chemotherapy I would be in bed for a week before having a few days of feeling better and then having to start all over again. I didn’t lose my hair, which I know for many people is traumatic, but for me personally I would have traded my hair to stop the awful diarrhoea I experienced.
It took every ounce of strength I had to keep returning for chemotherapy. My mind kept asking me why I was putting myself through it. But the wonderful nurses at the hospital kept me going. I didn’t want to let them down by stopping treatment.
After I was diagnosed my brother told me about Penny Brohn UK. He said he had attended a course with his wife when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was curious about what the charity could offer and decided to book on to a Living Well course. Part of the reason I wanted to attend a residential course was to give my family a couple of days rest.
As soon as I walked into the National Centre I was in awe. I felt like I was in a different world. Everyone was so welcoming. I am a mental health nurse and psychotherapist so I am used to attending residential training courses with work and feel comfortable walking into a room filled with people I don’t know; however I was worried that everyone would be talking about cancer and moaning about how unfair it was. But I was surprised that the group didn’t spend the whole time talking about cancer and when they did they talked about cancer as an obstacle; as something they needed to acknowledge, work with and overcome.
I’m quite a private person and enjoy my own company but I found meeting people in a similar situation helpful. I’ve learnt how healing it is to be with other people and have made a conscious decision to connect with others. Eating with the group at every mealtime was such a positive and healing experience.
I wanted to get myself back and recover my dignity which had been lost during treatment. Coming to Penny Brohn helped change my thought process. I realised that there were things I could do to help myself and the medical approach was only one part. I really felt like I was getting myself back where I had been taken over by the chemotherapy. I’ve never been a competitive or aggressive person and it was a relief to accept that I wasn’t in a battle with the cancer but that it was something that I would need to take with me. Before coming to Penny Brohn, I was anxious about seeing cancer as something I needed to fight because I didn’t want my daughters to see it as something I could lose.
When I finished Living Well I felt euphoric. I went home with ways to change my diet and exercise. I felt like I had been given permission to by myself again. I found a shift from being dominated by a medical approach, towards one focused on myself.
I went back to the National Centre to attend the Approach. This time I knew what I needed and was more proactive so it was a different experience. I also had the opportunity to meet with a doctor and a nutritionist which was priceless. They really honed in on me as a person not focused on the cancer. They helped me learn that I am an expert in my own disease and this has given me great strength when meeting with my oncologists at the hospital.
I’ve since had surgery, radiotherapy and more chemotherapy but I felt better equipped to deal with the treatment. I will be having a liver resection in October but my attitude has changed. I no longer see cancer as something that is killing me but something that is on a journey with me. Penny Brohn UK has helped me accept that being diagnosed with cancer is not personal and has helped me focus on what I can do to help myself rather than being in a battle with the cancer.
My life has changed in so many ways since I was diagnosed with cancer. I have become passionate about living well with a cancer diagnosis and feel strongly about using my experience for good.