In February 2016 I received a letter inviting me to come for a routine mammogram. My partner and a friend both nagged me to go. I argued, saying I would never get breast cancer but went in the end just to shut them up. A couple of weeks later I received a letter saying they had found something and they had made me an appointment in Llandudno. The appointment was the day prior to receiving the letter. This was the start of the nightmare. Not only having breast cancer; or having to drive round trips of around 100 miles (in the end I travelled over 5000 miles for treatment); or being told I had the cancer on my birthday (and knowing my late father was diagnosed with cancer at the same age); or losing control of my life and my body; or having to learn a new medical system; or my partner being in Australia; but letters arriving after appointments or never arriving, files going missing and many other administrative mistakes. When I finally got the all clear I felt I had almost been driven to madness as everything that could go wrong did.
For the next year I tried to move on, but I was exhausted all the time, barely coping with getting through each day. I began to question my sanity and couldn’t figure out how to get myself back on track.
Eventually a friend suggested I contact Penny Brohn UK. I went online and looked through their website. I then rang them and it was like being warmly embraced. The woman I spoke to was so nice and calming. She suggested I come for a retreat and said there was a waiting list. I thought here we go – this will take months. But then she said she could book me onto the Living Well retreat in two weeks. Penny Brohn UK offer many different retreats but require people to do two courses first – Living Well and The Approach.
The Living Well course introduces the Bristol Whole Life Approach and their philosophy and how it can help the participant live as well as possible for as long as possible with the impacts of cancer. Through a series of workshops on the first retreat we learnt about the philosophy of Penny Brohn and they taught techniques on how to handle the stress we were all living under. The accommodation is hotel style rooms, ensuites (with toiletries), a cd player (there is a library on site to borrow cds and books from). The meals are amazing and are based on the latest cancer research into healthy eating. The building is set in beautiful grounds to wander around in and there is a small gym for the fitness fanatics (like me). You can bring your partner or friend (the friend will be given their own room so you don’t have to share). I didn’t bring anyone but it was interesting to see how the workshops helped them and also to hear their side of the story, which helped me to understand a bit of what my partner was going through. Although it was enough to just to have to think about myself there was the realisation that this was also hard on my partner.