My story started in March 2007 when I visited the doctor just to check out my blood pressure.
I had recently started going to the gym and as part of the induction, I had to undergo a health check. My blood pressure was unusually high so off I trotted to the GP surgery.
It was while I was there that I happened to mention a funny kind of hard tissue on one of my breasts, quite near the armpit. He said since I’d just started working out, it was probably muscular but I didn’t have one on the other side so he sent me to the hospital for a check-up anyway.
At the hospital two weeks later I was told it was probably nothing to worry about but they would do a biopsy anyway, just in case. I thought nothing of it as cancer isn’t in my family and I hadn’t felt unwell in the slightest.
So, a week later, as my sister and I were sitting in the waiting room for the results, I remember us laughing and joking like we always do when we’re together. Little did I know that my world was about to come crashing down.
Within a month of this appointment I was in Barnet Hospital having a lumpectomy: surgery in which the tumour and surrounding tissue is removed from the breast and in July I started having chemotherapy and quite quickly developed septicaemia which put me in an isolation ward in the North Middlesex Hospital.
I had never felt so low: my hair had started to fall out; visitors were limited due to the nature of my incarceration. I felt lonely and desperate: I didn’t want to go on.
But life is a funny thing and just when I was about to give up all hope, a good friend visited who made me think twice about things. For starters, he said it was no big deal that I had lost my hair as it would grow back! I can’t understate the importance of having a good friend who is there when the chips are down – someone who knows how to lift your spirits.
This was just as well because a couple of months later I got another infection which gave me the symptoms of a heart attack and I was shipped back off to hospital for another week!
By the end of November I started having radiotherapy. It wasn’t plain sailing: I got second-degree burns which felt like having all my nerve endings loose. I couldn’t wear a bra and there’s a fine line between letting the burnt area air out enough to put a dressing on it and airing it out too much and risking it getting infected.
Unsurprisingly, I developed depression.
I didn’t want to text anyone, speak to anyone and didn’t want anyone near me. I used to take myself off to the pictures because no one knows you there and you can lose yourself in the story; you don’t have to think about what you’re going through. But it’s not all bad!
After my lumpectomy I discovered The Nightingale and they became a big part of my recovery. I remembered a friend of mine who’d had breast cancer a few years back, raving about them so when I was given leaflets by the breast cancer nurses it jogged my memory about them so I thought, “What have I got to lose?”
I remember phoning in and speaking to the lovely Eileen. She picked me up and took me straight round to a drop in session. I absolutely loved it: I was able to speak to people who were going through the same things; feeling the same emotions.
No matter how much support you receive through family, friends and the workplace, nothing quite matches sitting in a room with people who are going through what you are going through.
I was lucky at that time that The Nightingale was quite a young charity so I never had to wait for counselling. Things have changed though and now they are 15 years old and the need for their services is greater than ever. I am so pleased they have been able to find their own building. I wish the new place had been around when I’d been on my journey. The new building is a fabulous opportunity to expand and grow and reach out to more people who need help just like I did.
Since I retired in 2013 I’ve begun giving back to The Nightingale. I helped set up and run the shop in Waltham Cross; I did the Ruby Ball at Hatfield House; I have been a befriender and helped in the fundraising office, amongst many, many other things! I just want to help the place that helped me.