Angela was diagnosed with head and neck cancer, and was suffering from bad fatigue when she discovered Penny Brohn UK's Bristol Whole Life Approach.
"Penny Brohn UK’s impact on me is multifaceted. From food, emotions, the physical side and even just being in the wonderful grounds; it’s like a haven, a very safe place, calm and relaxed."
My consultant said: ‘we noticed unusual, abnormal cells’, which I didn’t register. I wasn’t expecting it. I’m quite a pragmatic person, it’s just about taking it in your stride. Being pragmatic helped.
Initially, they removed the cancerous cells. A few weeks later they removed the parotid gland it was in. It was a very contained cancer. Radiotherapy was daily over 6 and a half weeks, over Christmas. I even had it on Christmas Eve and Boxing Day. It was tiring and I still had to be a mum and get the children ready for school.
After treatment, I suffered bad fatigue, which impacted me and my family including two young children. I went to a cancer fatigue management course in Bath and Penny Brohn UK. Fatigue is often misunderstood. People think fatigue equates to being tired, but it’s not in the same league. Fatigue sometimes meant that getting out of bed and doing the simplest things was a really big effort. If you’ve got a young family, it’s a pull on resources. Fatigue is bad for everyone, not just the sufferer. It’s tricky to find the balance between the energy that you’ve got and the things that you do, it’s hard to balance the books. How long does it last? How long is a piece of string?
One key thing Penny Brohn UK showed me was their whole person model. It has helped me listen to myself and follow my instincts, whether about my body, emotions, just to tune in with myself, or to stop and be aware.
Initially, I came to the Treatment Support Clinic. I was introduced to meditation and was sceptical. One aspect Penny Brohn helped teach was building time within your day, your week, to have restorative activities, so things like meditation, or whatever it is for you, music, being creative etc, to make you feel good. I tend to do guided meditation, which helps me to relax. Before Penny Brohn, it was not something I would have done, but I trusted the process, didn’t try to work out how it works and benefited greatly. It takes me to a different place. One of my best friends, I’ve known her for 20 years, often said that I lived in the fast lane, going 100mph. Since coming to Penny Brohn, I’ve learnt to slow down, that it’s ok to slow down and that it’s good for you.
Another thing Penny Brohn taught me was to treasure life and the small things, such as some of the treasured moments with my children, ones that are not repeated, stages of life. Whereas before, it was just trying to get through the age and stage. Other things like seeing a full moon and the stars help me pause. For me, diagnosis helped me put things into perspective, as opposed to it being scary. It helped me realise that this isn’t a dress rehearsal, so make the most of life and accept myself for what I am, and to learn from mistakes.
Before Penny Brohn, I used to go to the gym very regularly and started t’ai chi about a year before my diagnosis. After diagnosis, I was scared of exercising for fear that it might throw me back into a fatigue cycle. Penny Brohn taught me that exercise was good. It is about building it in around my fatigue. I found that by starting off with a small amount of exercise, I could build on it over time, to the point where I could jog on a treadmill and I’ve never done this in my life. So, going from walking, fast walking and then jogging on a treadmill was a big breakthrough. Rediscovering exercise was empowering. It massively boosted my confidence. Even if you haven’t done exercise or much exercise before, you can start slow with a small amount, build it up and trust the process. I say just hang in there and you’ll see the benefits over time.
I’ve also benefited from Penny Brohn’s Healthy Eating Plate. It gives you tips and suggested ratios to eat certain foods. I revisited what I was eating. The main difference now is that I’m very aware of what I’m eating. It doesn’t mean that I only eat ‘healthy foods’, I have an occasional treat. I’ve also got more control over what I eat and when shopping I buy more fresh food and enjoy it more. I’m more aware of what I’m giving my family, especially my children. They can still have sweet treats, but it’s definitely balanced with healthy options and encouraging them to try new foods.
I’ve attended one of Penny Brohn’s healthy cooking demos, which has been really insightful, in terms of looking at recipes and meals. The charity’s vast nutritional knowledge helps you choose well and they show how items, such as a humble onion, can benefit you. It’s great that they cover starters, mains and desserts, so you have a full menu.
I’d say Penny Brohn’s impact on me is multifaceted. From food, the emotional side, physical side and even just being in the wonderful grounds, it’s like a haven, a very safe place, calm and relaxed. Even if there’s no sessions going on, it’s just nice to walk around the tranquil garden, a perfect retreat.