I've been part of the services team at Breast Cancer Care for two years and I'm one of the lucky people in life who can truthfully say - "I love my job!". My role as Regional Service Manger means that I get to travel across the country delivering our face to face information and support services to people affected by breast cancer.
People sometimes ask me how I cope doing such a hands on role and assume my job must be quite difficult, talking to people with breast cancer everyday. However although my role is exceptionally busy and throws me lots of challenges, I find it immensely rewarding. I'm extremely lucky that I get to see the huge difference our services are making to the lives of people affected by breast cancer.
Knowing we are making a difference is my motivation to get out of bed everyday and bringing people together is one of the things that Breast Cancer Care does best.
Many of the women I meet tell me that a diagnosis of breast cancer can be an incredibly isolating experience; that despite the support of family, friends and the clinical team - no one really understands what it's like. That's why our group information and support sessions are so vital. Giving people the opportunity to meet others in a similar situation and share experiences can be a real lifeline at a time when it feels like no one else understands.
One of our services celebrating its 10th anniversary this year is HeadStrong. It's a hair loss support service that provides practical information and tips to anyone experiencing hair loss as a result of cancer treatment. Following surgery for breast cancer the hair loss induced by chemotherapy can often feel like an unbearable additional assault on a woman's body image and femininity. Through private, volunteer-led, appointments clients have the chance to learn different scarf tying techniques. They try and test out a range of chemotherapy headwear from hats to hairpieces and get tips on hair and scalp care. Most importantly though, the sessions allow people to take some space and time for themselves, to rediscover some self confidence and talk through their feelings with people who understand.
I met one woman, who told me that attending a Headstrong appointment in the early stages of her chemotherapy had provided her with a much needed confidence boost at an otherwise very worrying and distressing time. She said that in talking with the volunteers she was able to manage her expectations of the treatment a little better and additionally seeing women who had been through a similar experience and 'come out the other side' helped her to begin to accept her hair loss and believe that 'there is life after a breast cancer diagnosis'.
Many of our sessions are run by volunteers and we couldn't reach the number of people that we do without their invaluable support. Most of our services volunteers are people who have been personally affected by breast cancer and are now using their insight into what it means to go through diagnosis and treatment, to help support others in a similar situation.
As well as working with people who are newly diagnosed, a really significant focus for me at Breast Cancer Care is supporting people who are at the end of treatment. Me and my colleagues understand that the end of hospital-based treatment can be one of the most challenging times, as the person looks to move forward in their life after breast cancer. There can be expectations from others that you should be returning to 'normal' straight away and yet we know that in reality this can be a struggle.
What many people with breast cancer ask me is "what does 'normal' mean now"? And how does a person find their 'new normal' after the huge impact of a breast cancer diagnosis? There are so many unanswered questions, fears and anxieties.
We work in partnership with NHS trusts across the UK to deliver four-week self management programmes of support and information; the Moving Forward Partnership Course. These courses help people with everything from managing anxiety and understanding the signs and symptoms of recurrence to dealing with fatigue and financial issues, we offer practical solutions very step of the way. Our aim is to provide a supportive environment where people can begin to develop the confidence and knowledge required to 'move forward' with life after breast cancer.
I feel really proud of the services that Breast Cancer Care provides and am really motivated by the positive feedback I receive from the people who come along to them. All of our services are delivered for free and we're keen for anyone affected by breast cancer to know that; whether you have questions about diagnosis and treatment, or are living with and beyond breast cancer, Breast Cancer Care is here to support you, your friends and your family - and will continue to do so as long as we are needed!