Nicola was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2022. After receiving support from Penny Brohn UK through her treatment at GenesisCare, Nicola wanted to find a way to give back to those who helped her feel strong. She shares her story.
Recovery from breast cancer is not ‘one size fits all’. It’s not quick, it’s definitely not easy and it can become a whole new battle.
I was initially diagnosed in April 2022, and it was a very quick process after that. In June I went in for surgery and had a double mastectomy, followed by 16 weeks of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. By that point it was November, and ever since then I’ve been on hormone therapy. On top of that I was diagnosed with the BRCA gene – meaning I’m at much higher risk of a reoccurrence in the future – and so I am on a new drug to try and reduce this risk and keep me well.
It was through my chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments at GenesisCare that I was introduced to Penny Brohn UK and all that they can provide for those living with cancer like me. Keeley gave me so much advice on ways I could support my own wellbeing, along with providing me with relaxation and reflexology sessions. Which, I tell you, are a real game-changer when you’re going through treatment. I was lucky that GenesisCare would try as much as possible to arrange these sessions on the day of my treatment. It was priceless to be able to have something that would take my mind off of the fact that you’re having all of these drugs pumped through your body.
It wasn’t just the in-person support that meant so much to me though, but also the online sessions that Penny Brohn UK provide. My story with cancer started just as we were coming out of lockdown, and so I had an incredibly weakened immune system. When I was introduced to Penny Brohn UK I was still trying to understand what was going on with me. I didn’t know where to go, what to do, what to think, and so I accessed their Treatment Support Programme. The 4-week online course opened it all up to me with a level of support that I didn’t know existed. It taught me so much to try and understand the treatment side of things that I was going through, as well as understanding all of the jargon that the doctors use and make sense of what I was being told. But not only that, I was also able to surround myself with other people going through a similar experience. It brought such a level of comfort to know that I wasn’t alone and helped to put me in control of my situation.
If you’ve never had experience of cancer before, whether personally or through family/friends, it’s easy to imagine that after you receive that incredible word; remission, that your illness is over. But it doesn’t quite work like that. With the incredibly rigorous treatment you’re put through, the copious number of drugs, it really takes a toll on your body in the physical sense.
It was only when I was chatting with my friends, having these separate conversations with each of them, did I realise that we were all going through rough times in our own way. We’re all of an age where we’re experiencing menopause, so we can all relate to the aches and pains your body can go through. This inspired me to suggest an all-girls holiday, but with a little twist. I wanted to challenge us all to something physical, a challenge with an exercise element to it that would encourage us to get out into fresh air and work together as a team towards a common goal.
I always wanted to do something for Penny Brohn UK after they’ve done so much for me throughout my treatment. One of our friends lives in Norfolk and so we asked her to organise a 13-mile walk along the Norfolk coastline from Cromer to Blakeney. We thought this would be a good bit of therapy for all of us to get away from everything. Enjoy the scenery, each other’s company, (sharing stories, putting the world to rights and more importantly have a few laughs) while achieving something for ourselves.
We were hoping it would be quite a flat challenge, but we were in for a real surprise! One of the most notable moments was getting to the top of Beeston Bump, a really steep hill part way through the walk. As we approached I thought we were going to go round it, but no – up we went! It was incredibly worth the effort, with a really stunning view from the top. On our way down we met an elderly couple, who asked us what we were walking in aid of. While talking to them I thought “If they can climb this, what are we moaning about?!” It really put the whole experience into perspective to me.
I was truly blessed with the people in my life, not only the girls who completed the challenge with me, but everyone who supported us along the way. I was very conscious of the time that we’re living in, and that a lot of people have specific charities that they choose to support. But everyone truly blew me away.
We initially set a target of £500, something we thought was very achievable between the 3 of us, and it went completely through the roof, raising an incredible £1,396 for Penny Brohn UK!
I’d set up a WhatsApp group at the beginning of my treatment to keep friends and family updated on what I was going through. In those moments you feel so alone and wrapped up in yourself. But knowing that I had those people to fall back on, and that they all showed up in support of me and Penny Brohn UK so long after I’d finished treatment was a real testament to everyone being so kind and so caring.