Kate was breastfeeding her 8 week old baby when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. After both a mastectomy and treatment, she discovered the support of Penny Brohn UK.
"I’d arrive and instantly be aware of the peaceful, safe, nurturing surroundings – it almost has a pulse. I’d find myself taking deep breaths and naturally just slowing down and focusing on me."
My first baby, Charlie, was 8 week's old – our family was complete. The postnatal check up went well, but I thought I should ask the doctor to check a lump in my breast. I’d not got on well with breast feeding, they were sore and lumps were expected. I wasn’t concerned even when my GP referred me to the Breast Care Centre. I arrived feeling out of place. We had Charlie, nappies and sterilised bottles, etc. The waiting room was full of women nearer my mother’s age.
I saw a consultant, before a biopsy and scans. I returned in four days to be told the biopsy showed bad news, blah, blah, I hadn’t heard, had my ears blocked out the words? I asked, is it cancer? Yes, came the reply. I was petrified. My chest hurt with the pressure of pain and fear of dying, leaving my boy and husband behind. I couldn’t feel my hand in my husband’s and could barely see Charlie through tears.
I was told due to my age, they’d hit me with everything: surgery, mastectomy, chemo and radiotherapy. I needed to understand everything and gain control. We needed answers. My breast care nurse gave us a plethora of information, including post-surgery exercises, support timelines, complementary therapies, counselling, partner and family support.
Apart from giving birth just 10 weeks before, I had never been in hospital, let alone had general anaesthetic. The threat of cancer in me far outweighed concerns of an operation.
Two days later, my consultant shared the pathology results. My lymph nodes were clear – the cancer had not travelled around my body. I chose delayed reconstruction due to radiotherapy, which is better without implants.
Chemo was at home. I was thankful – it meant I wasn’t apart from Charlie, who was in the next room with his grandparents. I lost my hair, which I felt was harder than losing a breast. 10 days in, I was having a shower and blocked it as clumps filled the drain. I was in bits – I had one breast and no hair. I tried a wig on what was possibly the windiest day of the year, so scarves or baldness it was.
Chemo was a tough six cycles with a three-week gap. The side effects are endless and often not shared publically. I found my determination to get back to ‘normal’ gave me focus. My family, friends and medical team were special.
Four months after my last radiotherapy, I returned to work. I opted for a DIEP breast reconstruction, using part of my tummy to form the new breast. But I found a lump in my other breast two months after, another primary cancer, but triple negative. Luckily, tests showed it had not spread. Being diagnosed twice felt like it was the beginning of the end. I was in a dark place. I was not sure that knowing what I needed helped me believe I could do it again.
I knew I had to take a different approach to treatment and not just look after my body, but my heart, mind and soul needed rebuilding. I had heard about Penny Brohn UK when I was first diagnosed, but didn’t visit. This time I knew I needed to speak to people who could help me.
I received counselling, which didn’t stop when my treatment finished. I’d arrive and instantly be aware of the peaceful, safe, nurturing nature – it almost has a pulse. I’d find myself taking deep breaths and naturally just slowing down and focusing on me.
The Centre has been designed so thoughtfully, with many facilities to use independently, such as the library or areas to sit and reflect or write. The gardens are stunning, offering beauty, wildness or shady areas and benches with far-reaching views.
I attended nutritional days. These help you focus on powering up your body with the right nutrients to support it whilst receiving treatment. Doing the day courses meant you had the opportunity to chat to others to share experiences and offer support.
All of these were available for free. The support they offer to people and their families is spectacular. So, to thank them, I returned with 30 Lloyds Banking Group colleagues to help in the garden. We had a wonderful day, working hard and planted a tree we hope to revisit with another gardening day. I am also now delighted to join the charity’s board of voluntary trustees. With Penny Brohn UK extending its services across UK, it’s an exciting time to be part of the team shaping its future.