Susan Smith

In September 2015, after a check-up of a breast that felt 'uncomfortable' but which didn't have any obvious outward sign of tumour (i.e a lump), I was referred by my GP to the breast screening department via the NHS and consequently undertook a mammogram. I had not expected anything to come of the initial GP’s appointment and figured that things would be resolved quickly. Sadly, this was not the case, and far from my situation being resolved quickly - my life would be turned upside down. After some initial worried looks at the mammogram appointment, the doctors told me that my results would be returned in approximately two weeks time. Two weeks passed and the results were in; I now was confirmed as having breast cancer.

Initially, due to the shock of the news, I broke down in tears, but soon realized I would have to go forward with a positive mindset. The doctors had told me that the breast cancer was in its early stages and that I was lucky to have identified it when I did, lest something more disturbing might have functioned as the outcome. Still, a long journey lay in wait ahead of me, including, but not limited to a mastectomy. There was a long way to go yet, and the cancer potentially spreading was just one of my worries.

In time, I would be told that I had various treatment options, in addition to the aforementioned mastectomy. This further treatment would function as a preventative measure to keep the cancer from returning. I would also be a candidate for breast reconstruction surgery, which I have now had and continue to feel the effects from. After some deliberation between various doctors and specialists, some of whom had conflicting opinions on the treatment options – I was told, by majority opinion, that drug therapy and chemotherapy were my two best chances for preventing reoccurrence. The drug therapy would have relatively few side effects but the chemotherapy; potentially devastating side effects (including the oft visualized hair loss) and other negative phenomena including the dangerous weakening of the immune system and chronic fatigue. Naturally, the decision to accept drug therapy was an easy one and, after much deliberation, I decided against chemotherapy. This was because in my particular case, the doctors had told me it was strictly my decision, since the estimated clinical percentage of outcome improvement was only 3% (up from 91% to 94%) – 91% being the odds of survival within ten years taking into account drug therapy but excluding chemotherapy. The improvement in percentage was thus, according to doctors, marginal and they would not advise either for or against the treatment.

Aside from the doctors offices and hospital visits, I had a persistent and overriding feeling of things being newly surreal. Gone were the days of perceived, assured safety of my mortality for the foreseeable future. I was now, more than ever, associated with a biological entity that could, and perhaps would – if treatment were not pursued, threaten or put to the test my mortality. After speaking to various persons about my condition, a neighbour advised me of a breast cancer support centre called ‘The Haven’. The Haven was a place I was told for those who had breast cancer to go for specialist advice and support. Attendees would have the chance to meet people who they could relate to in their situation and who could help them medically, psychologically and even physically.

‘The Haven’ is an organization that comprises of health professionals – nurses, therapists, counsellors and advisers, and, as aforementioned, the important audience of those who are in the ‘same boat’. There are currently five different Haven centres across the country, with the most recent opening in Worcestershire, early this year (2016). Luckily, I was located close to a Haven centre in Yorkshire, something that I am eternally grateful for. The Haven runs yoga classes, therapy sessions, offers nutritional advice and a whole host of other beneficial activities and offerings that are indispensable to those feeling lost after receiving their diagnosis. The Haven is a charitable organization and the effective continuation of the excellent support it offers its participants relies upon the kindly input of the general populace. Of course, there are other ways that the Haven can raise money for its operation costs, one of which is ‘fundraiser events’ like the one I endeavour to participate in, here. I cannot stress enough how much the various classes and the people I have met at the Haven have helped me through my treatment.

All money raised by my 10 kilometre run will go directly to the Haven, which helps countless persons like myself with its kind staff, whom make even the most distraught persons feel at home and welcome, and provides an environment for other persons in similar situations. This is useful and provides extra help for those who have the loving support of their family like I have, but is utterly essential for those who perhaps have less access or support from their loved ones.

The whole process that I have gone through, has brought forth an increased sense of clarity to my life. Life is precious and temporal, and one should endeavour to enjoy the beneficial things in life (however small or seemingly mundane) whilst they can – which I believe to be the greatest gift of all.

Susan Smith