Isolation, loneliness, confusion are all common among those battling cancer but somehow they seem magnified when you are young. No matter how amazing your friends are, they are just less likely to understand as they haven’t had other friends go through cancer at a young age. They also have their own busy lives to get on with either building a career, raising children or both. But what happens when your life changes so rapidly? Who do you turn to when those around you “just don’t get it”?
Vickie Yates was diagnosed in March 2010 when she had just turned 36. It was an unassuming decision on a Saturday night that would redirect her life. Vicky explains “I’m a married mum of two from Manchester, and my boys were just 2 and 4 at the time. My family, my friends and, most of all I, were all shocked to the core by my diagnosis. We have no family history of breast cancer and I was an active young, seemingly very healthy, mum. I had decided to do a self-breast exam one Saturday night, whilst my husband was downstairs watching Match of the Day. It turns out that that decision was one of the best of my life. I found a lump in my left breast and I just knew it was wrong. It felt like the stone from the middle of a plum, and was quite firm and fixed. I could only easily feel it when my arm was raised over my head. I went straight to my GP, was referred to the local breast unit and a week later I was diagnosed with breast cancer and my life became a before and an after.”
Vickie describes her life as having jumped onto a different track whilst everyone from her old life was still trundling along on the old track. Isolated, different, as “the mum with cancer in the school playground” Vickie realised she needed to connect with people who were feeling what she was. There were no existing support groups and networks that were specifically designed to tackle the needs of young women.
“I decided that there needed to be a way for us young women to find each other and to chat. There was a need that nobody was filling so I thought, sod it, I’ll do it myself. So I set up a Facebook secret group for younger women with breast cancer around the Manchester area. I posted about it on the Breast Cancer Care and Macmillan chat forums. I was literally besieged with requests to join, from girls all over the country, not just Manchester and so, within just a few days, we ditched the Manchester, added the ‘UK’ and welcomed girls from all over the country to the Younger Breast Cancer Network (UK), and our group has grown and grown ever since.”
Now with over 800 members, the network provides invaluable support through cyber-chats between members and real-life meets. It is impossible to see how this vital resource of knowledge and support could have been met without the network.
Vickie has also gone on to publicly speak on behalf of many of the Young Breast Cancer Network members, including being invited to do the opening address for Breast Cancer Care (engaging breast care nurses and highlighting the impact of cancer and its treatment on younger women), as well as cancer-related cognitive changes talk at UK's first oncology psychology conference, and the importance of social media in creating and managing online patient communities at Mummy's Star conference. Something she could never have previously thought of, prior to an ordinary Saturday evening in 2010.
This far-reaching, deeply personal experience is so vital when it comes to really understanding the emotional roller-coaster of feelings when you are diagnosed, undergoing treatment and beyond. Whilst it would appear we have come a long way in opening up communication about difficult and emotive subjects, cancer being just one, there is still a long way to go. There is certainly an abundance of well-written and practical information about symptoms, diagnosis and cancer treatments out there but very little in explaining the emotional and physical effects having cancer might bring. So it was somewhat of a revelation when “Tea & Chemo – Fighting Cancer, Living Life" was published in 2015. A hugely honest, humorous, but sensitive book written by Jackie Buxton.
Jackie is another aspiring breast cancer friend who at the age of 45, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Lurching between the crippling fear that the cancer had spread, and then the great comfort of knowing she was one of the lucky ones who could be treated, she did what she always does when life presents her with a challenge; she wrote it down. Well aware that there was nothing like this available at the time, the original blog, and then the book, aim to emphasise the lighter side of cancer and its treatments and through her own experience help others recognise you don’t have to be defined by your cancer. It highlights both the highs and lows of but also identifies many of the other issues involved such as what to say (or not) to someone having cancer treatment and the often unspoken "fear".
Its great success has helped so many people not only those who have been diagnosed but those who are caring for loved ones and wishing so hard to understand the emotional effects of the disease. It is without question exactly the sort of book any one affected by cancer should pick up and read.
As Jackie explains as only she can “Tea and Chemo is about sharing what I’ve learnt. It’s here to hold your hand when chemo gives you a mouth full of ulcers, your bones feel like they’ve been squeezed in a vice and you just want to go to bed and wake up when the whole darned cancer thing has been sorted. I hope it will give you a hug when all your food tastes as though it’s been sprinkled with bicarbonate of soda and stirred with mud. And I hope it will help your loved ones, too”.
All proceeds from the sale of Tea and Chemo are split between The Haven, The Robert Ogden Macmillan Centre and Breast Cancer Now - three amazing charities, whose compassionate care and professionalism make the difference to so many lives.
Read more inspirational stories here: LIFE AND BUSINESS AFTER CANCER.