Elizabeth’s story

Elizabeth

It’s like having a special friend, tucked away, who you can call on when things get tough

Elizabeth was 49 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was working as teacher in a unit for vulnerable children who didn’t fit into mainstream education and was married with three daughters who were all still in full-time education.

I’d been unwell for 6 months beforehand; it was something of a mystery until the tests finally revealed I had breast cancer.

My reaction was panic, fear and mainly a sense of anxiety. But I’m not a person who sits around so I spent a lot of time in my garden. I did a lot of digging before I went into hospital. I read more. I tried to relax more and put everyday worries out of my mind. I knew it had to be treated. It had to be done, so I just got on with it.

I had a very supportive husband who I’d been married to for 25 happy years, plus three lovely daughters. I wasn’t ready to ‘leave the stage’. My girls were 21, 18 and 14 at the time. My youngest was very upset; the other two kept it together but I suspect they may have had similar feelings.

I felt it was important that they saw me in control of things. I was completely open and honest. I didn’t want them to think I couldn’t cope. Years before, my mother had died suddenly of a brain tumour, and the knowledge that someone so close to me could slip away in 3 months was frightening, but with the help of my husband I kept everything together.

The hardest part is telling people.

Speaking to your close family is one thing; talking to friends and colleagues is another. I mean, it’s never easy inviting your friends round for a coffee and telling them you’ve got cancer, is it?

However once you share your news, it’s amazing the number of people who say to you “My friend has cancer’ or my “My Dad is fighting cancer.” I remember joking to people, “This cancer thing, it’s as common as muck!’
I spoke to a colleague and that was immensely helpful Someone I worked with had first hand experience of breast cancer and being able to speak to someone I could trust was very reassuring.

I was also lucky that my employer was supportive and gave me time off. It allowed me to simply concentrate on my treatment and recovery.

Following my initial diagnosis I went into hospital for a full mastectomy.

Whilst recovering, the breast care nurse suggested I speak to the Cavendish, so I got in touch. My first impressions of The Cavendish Centre we’re positive and I was able to have an appointment very quickly. I felt at home from the start and I had an extremely helpful assessment with a lady called Gillian.

At the time I didn’t want to unburden myself in front of family and friends, so it was so good to be able to speak to someone who wasn’t emotionally involved, who would just sit there and listen.

Following the initial session, Gillian recommended a course of reflexology to calm me before my chemotherapy. This is very specialised form of massage to aid the healing process and it really helped.

Cavendish helped me pace my recovery as another important piece of advice Gillian gave me was that I should ‘give myself permission’ to stay off work for as much time as I needed. At the time my job was very demanding. Some of the young people that I worked with couldn’t attend school because of their challenging behaviour. I really wasn’t ready to go back and without Gillian giving me this sense of perspective, I might have gone back too soon or perhaps not all. As a result, when I did return to work I was able to cope and worked successfully for another 10 years. It really enabled me get back to normal, which is what I wanted.

Two years after my treatment, I got Lymphoedema and was rushed to hospital. Because my cancer had affected my lymph glands, it has damaged those channels forever so when I developed an infection in my arm I became seriously ill two years after my initial operation.

This was a setback and knocked my confidence – fortunately Cavendish offered to give me another course of treatment, which helped me to recover and manage a permanently damaged arm.

I’ve just been very lucky, very blessed. I know not everyone is that lucky. I had a brother in law who was diagnosed with cancer and sadly he didn’t make it. It can be so different.

Speaking to Cavendish means there’s always an open door, with a very welcoming, supportive set of people behind it.

Since I retired 5 years ago I’ve volunteered to support them, as a as away of giving something back. I know some people want to close the door on that difficult time in their life, which is fine, but I felt comfortable staying connected.

What if Cavendish hadn’t been there for me?

Although I had the support of family and friends, if the Cavendish hadn’t been there my recovery period would have been a lonelier and less positive experience.

I’m sure I would have carried a lot more emotional baggage. I wouldn’t have been anywhere near as confident at dealing with my diagnosis and I believe my recovery was vastly improved as a result.

Just knowing you can pick the phone up and talk to someone is incredibly reassuring. Sometimes it’s for practical, medical support, other times it’s about your wellbeing.

I know it sounds strange but I think of them as being like a special very loyal friend. I’ll always be immensely grateful to them.