Veronica was diagnosed with breast cancer after a routine mammogram. A year after treatment, Veronica found that she was barely coping. She got in touch with Penny Brohn UK and said it was like a "warm embrace". Veronica credits Penny Brohn UK with saving her sanity and teaching her how to look after herself so she could cope.
"A year on I am sane (well as sane as I can be), strong both mentally and physically and most importantly happy. I totally credit Penny Brohn with saving my sanity and teaching me how to look after myself so I could cope."
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 5,000 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 UK and they taught techniques on how to handle the stress we were all living under. The accommodation is hotel style rooms with en suites (with toiletries) and 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.
The next retreat was the Approach course which helps to deepen and personalise the information from the Living Well course. I spent time learning their self-help techniques and discovering how they could work for me. In one of the sessions I talked about how I couldn’t seem to move on and the leader suggested I do some counselling. Next thing I knew I had been signed up for six sessions of over the phone counselling (they offer this service for people who don’t live near the centre). I was assigned a wonderful counsellor who continued the philosophies of the centre. I also found talking over the phone very liberating. Not seeing the person and their reaction to what I was saying meant I felt really free to say anything. She also continually asked me to describe my body reactions to whatever emotion I was feeling (this was to help her) but I also found it helpful for me to learn how my body reacted to an emotion and then how to deal with that reaction. On the Approach course I also had two one-to-one session with a Doctor and with a Nutritional Therapist, providing the opportunity to ask questions related to my personal situation. If I had wanted I could have had six sessions over the phone with a nutritionist.
In October 2017, I was diagnosed with breast cancer in the other breast. Seventeen months after the first operation I was back on the cancer nightmare treadmill. This time it was more serious and at one stage the surgeon said I might be dead by Christmas 2018. Scary stuff – really did my head in. When I was given the diagnosis, I was still doing counselling with Penny Brohn UK. Clare (my counsellor) immediately said she would see if I could receive more sessions. In the end I had about three months of counselling. Without it I think I would be certifiable mad by now. She kept giving me coping strategies for each situation that arose. I find these strategies great now for just coping with every day situations and as I am coming up to the one-year anniversary of my second all clear I continue to use them in all aspects of my life.
I also went back and did more retreats whilst going through the second cancer. The two I chose to do were Nurturing Resources which explored how nature, journaling, creativity and meditation can nurture your personal resources and Stillness and Relaxation to help discover your own paths to peace and stillness. Both retreats included a one-on-one session of reflexology or healing. I tried both and after each session slept really well (one of the big problems of going through all this is I stopped sleeping – I now know what 3am really looks like and how engrossing Facebook can be at that hour!) There were other retreats I could have done – nutrition, creative, etc. And other resources I could have utilised. But with the counselling over I realised at the last retreat I was okay. I no longer felt like I was going crazy and I was ready to move on with my life. A year on I am sane (well as sane as I can be), strong both mentally and physically and most importantly happy. I totally credit Penny Brohn UK with saving my sanity and teaching me how to look after myself so I could cope.
Veronica's story was first published in Sibrydion Cymuned.