“Reflexology brought life to one very tired, very stressed out body.”
Sue explains how looking forward to her favourite therapy replaced the dread of chemotherapy.
After an initial examination the nurse asked whether I had someone with me. Never a good question.
I found a lump after taking a bath. My first instinct was to call my GP. My second: tell everyone. I felt a desperate need for reassurance.
Exactly 14 days later, I was seen at the Rose Clinic at St George’s. I went alone. Friends had convinced me it was a cyst. After an initial examination the nurse asked whether I had someone with me. Never a good question. My personal tipping point.
I called my husband, who arrived soon after. A mammogram and ultrasound quickly followed. The rooms were cold. I became increasingly distraught. The nurses and technicians were extremely kind. I wanted my mum.
At the point of diagnosis I was already extremely distressed. My surgeon was both matter of fact and compassionate. She was immensely reassuring and I have enormous respect for her. She treated me with the utmost compassion throughout. And I have a beautiful scar.
One friend rang religiously every week. I seldom picked up but it meant the world to me.
My surgeon advised a total mastectomy with delayed reconstruction. Keep it simple. Minimise the trauma. There was no talk of chemotherapy at this stage. Losing a breast didn’t phase me. I wanted the cancer out.
I went off the rails for a while. And then I walked. My go-to stress relief. Under CMHT at the time I was able to offload to my consultant at a time when I couldn’t face anyone else. I withdrew while my husband, Peter, reached out.
Neighbours dropped by. Showed their support. One friend rang religiously every week. I seldom picked up but it meant the world to me. Another neighbour brought flowers after every treatment. Tangible signs that people cared.
Suzie [founder of Full Circle Fund Therapies] was kind enough to make time to meet me. I talked. She listened. We discussed complementery therapies, nutrition, yoga. Suzie arranged for me to have massage with Janice. It was a relief to talk. Human to human. Not doctor to patient. Not nurse to patient. I had an ally.
Coming home the day after my mastectomy was a high point for me. I felt positively euphoric.
Coming home the day after my mastectomy was a high point for me. I felt positively euphoric. The tumour was gone. My lymph nodes were clear. I thought that was it.
Perhaps a week later I went back to the clinic. It was recommended I be referred for chemotherapy and Herceptin* to reduce the risk of cancer recurrence.
Chemotherapy. My worst nightmare. But it was my choice to make. And I chose to take the treatment.
The first treatment made me very, very sick. I was admitted to hospital the following morning with severe dehydration. Given intravenous antiemetic and fluids. The vomiting stopped.
“Never again,” I thought.
Reflexology brought life to one very tired, very stressed-out body. It was a counter-attack to the onslaught.
A consultant came to see me on the ward. Apologised, actually. I thought that was nice. Assured me next time would be different. Prescribed a magic pill. She had nice boots.
It was at my second chemotherapy treatment that I hit my lowest point. I made it to the chair but buckled on sight of the syringe. The nurses called for Full Circle therapist Nick. Had it not been for Nick I could not have taken treatment that day. I am not sure that I could have come back.
Nick was a huge emotional support. And the best company. I could look forward to reflexology as opposed to dreading treatment. Reflexology brought life to one very tired, very stressed-out body. It was a counter-attack to the onslaught. I was able to relax sufficiently to sleep. And it felt nice. My favourite therapy. A vital counterpart to what is a very aggressive treatment.
I was also referred to Caroline, an oncology counsellor. Caroline was a rock. A hugely calming presence. We practised relaxation techniques. Grounding. Her support was invaluable.
I was referred to Caroline, an oncology counsellor. Caroline was a rock. A hugely calming presence.
After six sessions of chemo and a short break I started my first of eighteen sessions of Herceptin. Herceptin was more of a mental challenge. An endurance test. It carries none of the brutal side effects of chemotherapy.
Yet after each treatment I felt increasingly tired. I grew increasingly depressed. Three-quarters of the way through treatment I hit a new all-time low. I was able to reconnect with Caroline who was able to offer support through a series of telephone conversations. Caroline was a huge source of strength.
Post-treatment I met with Suzie and she told me about Dr Prasad, Integrative Medicine Physician for Oncology. I was able to get a referral from my consultant and met with Dr Prasad over a period of a year.
I also visited the Paul’s Cancer Centre in Battersea, and the Haven in Fulham. Both excellent resources. Other patients on the ward proved hugely inspirational.
By watching my stress levels, by taking responsibility for my own health, I become the one in control.
Today I am in my second year post-treatment with no evidence of disease. I prefer that term to in remission. I maintain a firm belief that prolonged stress and a lack of self-care caused my cancer. The flip side is that by watching my stress levels, by taking responsibility for my own health, I become the one in control. This is hugely empowering.
I now see a great therapist who offers a holistic approach to treatment. She is a huge support. Oh and I go to France a lot. It’s pretty there.
Being told to stay positive when you have just been diagnosed with cancer can make you want to punch someone in the face. But be positive because it is good for your health. Nurture positivity by finding something to be grateful for IN THE PRESENT. Express that gratitude. It feels better.