There are many things I thought I’d be planning three weeks after getting engaged to my boyfriend of 13 years. But, I must confess, a mastectomy wasn’t one of them.

What neither of us could have known, as we sipped our champagne on Christmas Day and talked about how 2014 would be our best year yet, was that the lump I’d discovered in the shower just the day before would turn out to be an aggressive form of breast cancer.

Ask me what I remember from the last eleven months, however, and I won’t tell you about the time I lost my boob, had my lymph nodes stripped out, the weeks of injections for fertility preservation, the nights when we would sleep with a washing up bowl after chemo, the day when my hair starting falling out on my laptop or the strange tattoos that come with a course of radiotherapy.

Instead, I want to tell you about the amazing boob cushion the massage team at The Haven used to allow me to have a full body rub (and it was a good rub). I want to tell you about the essential oils that transported me far from the hospital appointments, cannulas and needles. I want to tell you about the Look Good, Feel Better course held at The Haven where I finally learned how to apply green primer without resembling Kermit the Frog and the Shiatsu that helped my whole body relax. I want to tell you about the induction day where I met like-minded people who have become friends, the time I appeared in the world’s most sedentary lympheodema exercise video and the life coach who taught me the importance of paying it forward when I was trying to comprehend the overwhelming kindness I’d experienced. I want to tell you about the delicious beef and prune casserole from The Haven’s recipe book that helped me go the toilet when I thought I would never go to the toilet again. And, I want you to leave tonight thinking about a quiet corner of the Capital where, with its promise of appointments without anxiety or anaesthetic, I didn’t feel like a cancer sufferer. I felt like a friend.

Cancer forces you to take a long hard look in the mirror and I think I’ve surprised myself when I think how quick I was to smile back. Having had to learn to walk again in my twenties, I went into this year knowing that it wasn’t the surgery, the hospitals or the pain I had to fear. It was the times when I was alone, struggling with my mind, my rehab and my weight gain. The Haven helped me focus on my smile and let my hospital care team get on with fighting the cancer. Breast cancer stripped me bare and while I will be forever grateful to the people who saved my life, it was The Haven that put me back together again.

As I stand here today, with my tingling hands and feet, my hot flushes, fluffy head and missing toenails, I’m smiling. I’m smiling because I’m here and this body of mine has fought every step of the way. I’m smiling because I’ve learned to love my imperfections. And, I’m smiling because generous people like you will make sure those facing breast cancer will have a door to open when the hospital consultation room door closes.  

On a cold day in January, I vowed to make every day of active treatment count. And, thanks to the specialist advice, warmth and generosity of those at the Haven, I have done just that.

So, when I am consuming my body weight in mince pies and brandy butter this Christmas, I won’t be raising a glass to a wedding day one day in the future. I will be raising a glass to The Haven for all it has done for not just me, but lots of people just like me.

As I see it, 2014 wasn’t the year that tried to take my life away. It was the year, thanks to The Haven, that I got my life back. Thank you.