I was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009, a triple negative variety, which had relatively few treatment options. I discovered a raised area in my breast and a mammogram confirmed it was a tumour. I was devastated, but treatment was swift and seemed effective. I was operated on within a month and had the option of chemo and mandatory radiotherapy.
I have often thought whether I made a catastrophic decision by refusing chemo. I had just accepted a new job in Birmingham and knew I would write off a year of my life if I had chemo. The oncologist didn’t dispute things, she seemed to fully accept my decision. I took the role, carried on with life and forgot about my brush with cancer.
By 2015, I was considering early retirement while enjoying the good life running a smallholding at home. I was using my right arm a lot – hauling hay, mowing lawns and even doing a sculpture course. I noticed a large lump in the corner of my arm, between my collarbone and shoulder, and thought it was a new muscle. How naïve! I got checked and it was a 5cm tumour. Breast cancer had returned, albeit in an unusual place and initially I was told it was inoperable.
I started on the usual treatment roller coaster, beginning with chemo for six months to try to reduce the lump to make it operable. The drug, Avastin, worked and most of the tumour melted away. Radiotherapy seemed to eliminate the tumour, but, a few months later, I was told cancer was still in a lymph node. So, 18 months after first diagnosis, I had an operation to remove six lymph nodes in my chest. Through this, I lived in a perpetual state of uncertainty and this is where Penny Brohn UK came in.
I visited the centre looking for relief from the chronic fear and tension I was suffering. Hospital visits, particularly assessments, intensified that fear. I needed to meet others experiencing similar emotions and needed strategies to help me live with cancer. Penny Brohn proved to be everything it promises and far more. The comfortable surroundings and beautiful grounds create a friendly, well-appointed hotel rather than the institutional accommodation I expected. The Living Well course was run by an extremely experienced facilitator, who made us all feel relaxed and at ease with each other. A range of practical strategies was shared that I now use daily, from breathing techniques to nutritional advice. I live far more healthily now without compromising enjoyment of a good restaurant. Best of all, the group bonded so well that we are great friends and support each other via a WhatsApp group. Thanks to Penny Brohn I say – never wish time to pass, or rush through a day. Pause for thought, appreciate every small moment of enjoyment, notice the intricacies and complexities of life and let any petty thoughts and emotions go!