"Mentally, I had reached a point where I was struggling to cope" My name is Michelle. I work for West Yorkshire Police and I’m an ambassador for Breast Cancer Haven. There are probably few people who haven’t been touched by cancer. Whether it be via family and friends or personal experience, and most probably a large number by breast cancer. Everyone’s encounter with cancer is different. I don’t want to dwell too much on my personal experience of cancer itself, more on its impact on me and how Breast Cancer Haven helped me deal with it. I was diagnosed with breast cancer nearly four years ago. I had been referred to the hospital by my GP. I’d found something suspicious in my breast. I felt quite well, not poorly or anything, so unusually I was fairly relaxed because I thought the check-up was just a precaution. On the day of my hospital appointment I went into work first, expecting to be back by lunchtime. But by lunchtime I’d been through a series of diagnostic tests and been given the devastating news that I had in fact got cancer. Once I heard the word cancer all the rest was a blur. For me the word cancer simply meant there was no hope and no future. The only thoughts I had were for my young daughter who was eight. I was just so devastated about what it could mean for her. My main worry was that I wouldn’t get to see her grow up and reach important milestones in her life. At that same appointment I was given my potential treatment plan and told I urgently required a DNA test to investigate whether I carried a faulty gene – this type of test suddenly became high profile at the same time with Angelina Jolie revealing that she carried the faulty gene and had taken preventative measures against cancer. It was all a major blow because I had only just got over a similar experience with my cousin Julie, who’s kindly helping today. She was diagnosed two years earlier and went through a similar gruelling treatment plan as the one which had just been outlined to me – so I thought I knew what was coming. Together we also faced an anxious six week wait to find out whether we carried a faulty gene and would require further preventative treatment – thankfully we didn’t. Once I started to process all this information and come to terms with the diagnosis, I realised it could be a positive outcome for me and there was hope with surgery to remove the cancer supported by chemotherapy and radiotherapy. I was told I would need to be off work for up to a year. As a cancer patient, hospital visits take over your life – sometimes up to four visits a week and suddenly the world you feel confident in starts to become very small. Chemotherapy as everyone knows is gruelling. I ticked all the boxes for the nasty side effects, shaving off my hair because it had started to come out. Physically I stood up to all of this as well as can be expected but the constant hospital appointments, treatment, tests, results and complications began to have a major psychological impact. I didn’t expect that. In some respects the physical side effects of treatment were almost easier for me to deal with because I was given a huge list of them and when they happened there were other treatments I could take to counter them. But mentally, I had reached a point where I was struggling to cope. I couldn't react properly to anything good or bad, I just felt numb to everything. And I have to admit I was frightened, not just of what I still had to face but also what I had already been through. I was concerned about how I was going to return to what I recognised as my normal life – I had severe anxiety and felt lonely and increasingly isolated. That's despite the incredible amount of support from my family and friends. Once my treatment was over they quite rightly wanted me to leave cancer behind and I was really keen to do. I felt incredibly lucky and grateful but it wasn’t as simple as that – everyone deals with it differently and I was really struggling. The NHS was absolutely fantastic, I can't praise them enough but while they dealt with the medical side of things they just don't have the resources these days to deal with cancer’s emotional and psychological impact. I spoke to my GP but in my area the only support was based in the local hospice and there was no way that I could set foot in there! At that point, my nurse recommended Breast Cancer Haven. I had never heard of it and to be honest I had always been sceptical about complimentary therapies – but frankly at that point I would have tried absolutely anything. It proved to be a real turning point in my recovery. When I walked through the door at their centre in Leeds for the first time I realised it really did live up to its name. It’s as far away from hospital as you can get, an oasis. Its aim is to improve the quality of life for people affected by breast cancer by providing personalised emotional, practical and physical support. Breast Cancer Haven actually picks up where the NHS lets go. It offers a wide range of therapies and treatments including acupuncture, hypnotherapy, counselling, and lots more, with very experienced professionals who really know how to focus on and help you deal with your personal fears and emotions. Each centre is led by a specialist cancer nurse who manages a team of people highly trained and experienced in supporting people with breast cancer. They know how to use therapies safely alongside a person’s medical treatment and correspond with each person’s medical consultant and GP to ensure that they provide care that is both safe and appropriate. They take a holistic approach to help with your recovery, also having access to a nutritionalist, a herbalist and other specialists who are all focused on your well-being. Following an assessment with the specialist nurse, you are offered a bespoke one to one programme over ten free one hour sessions built specifically to address your personal needs. Eight of my sessions were with a hypnotherapist – I could never say I found all of it easy and there were many tears as I confronted my fears. The hypnotherapist focused on dealing with my stress, worries and anxieties through mindfulness and relaxation techniques. I learned how to focus my mind and free it, how to live in the now which really helped me to face forthcoming tests and appointments. It was at that point that body and mind really started to come together again and I began to feel I was properly on the mend. Breast Cancer Haven also supported me in the run-up to and following my return to work. I knew that if I needed them at any time after completing my programme, I would only need to pick up the phone. When I was approached by Breast Cancer Haven to become an ambassador, my initial reaction was to decline because I wanted to continue to move forward and hopefully confine cancer to my past. But Breast Cancer Haven was absolutely amazing to me. I can honestly say that while the NHS undoubtedly saved my life, Breast Cancer Haven enabled me to live it again. So I felt strongly that I wanted to raise awareness of its work and funds in the hope that other people who have been through or are going through breast cancer could have the same opportunity as me. More than 50,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK each year and around 400 men. With massive breakthroughs in treatment 8 out of 10 women survive breast cancer beyond five years which is fantastic. But that also means more women are dealing with the emotional impact of cancer and charities such as Breast Cancer Haven can be a lifeline. Breast Cancer Haven is a national charity, currently with five centres in London, Hereford, Wessex, Leeds, Worcester and a sixth due to open in Solihull later this year. For people who don’t live near a centre or are unable to get there, telephone appointments can be be organised with many of their therapists, nurses and advisers and there are web-based films and DVDs available. An outreach service is also available in some areas. Anyone affected by breast cancer is welcome and they can go before, during or after medical treatment for cancer. If family or friends need some emotional support they can also see Breast Cancer Haven counsellors. If you have a breast cancer story to share, please click here.