Julie, 39, lives in Hackenthorpe, Sheffield, with her husband, her two children aged 11 and 9, and two cats. She works at the University of Sheffield. In 2018, Julie was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I initially got in touch with Cavendish Cancer Care to get support for my children. My daughter in particular was quite emotional, and after my diagnosis she seemed to be getting upset about things a lot. I was worried about her, so my children’s primary school passed on the details about Cavendish, and I got in touch about the Young People’s Service. I thought the children might benefit from play therapy; there was no other service for pre-teen, older children that I could find.
“They asked me if I wanted to refer myself too, which I hadn’t really thought about. My first thought was no, no, I’m fine. I felt like I didn’t really deserve it – that there must be someone else who needed the support more than me. But after my surgery, when I’d had to take sick leave from work, I found out I would also need chemotherapy. It was then that I decided to refer myself to the service – not really knowing what support I needed, but knowing that I needed something.
“Above anything else at that time, I felt very anxious about my treatment and what was to come. So after my initial assessment, I chose shiatsu sessions; I hoped they would help me to relax. I had six sessions with a therapist called Lisa. It was so nice to sit and chat with her – she was really knowledgeable and understanding.
Lisa knew what medication I was on and what side effects I might get, and would focus the treatment specifically on areas of my body that I felt needed attention. The sessions were so relaxing – I think I actually fell asleep once!”
It was a lovely little break every few weeks, and fell in line with my chemotherapy cycle so I visited during my ‘good week’. It was something to look forward to in a difficult time. The centre as a whole is such a calm and welcoming environment, where you can step back and take some time for yourself. Sometimes, after my session, I’d just sit for a while in reception with a cup of tea!
“My son started the Young People’s Service first, in about September. He wasn’t particularly confident at the time, so I wasn’t sure if he’d take to play therapy or not. But he loved the sessions – offering him a safe space to express himself and have fun was so valuable. Getting out of school for a bit was an added bonus for him, of course! Alongside my son’s sessions, Helen, his therapist, gave me lots of advice and support over the phone. This was invaluable during the summer holidays, as school was no longer there to support the children until the new school year started. My daughter started therapy when my son finished. She really likes art, so she did a lot of art therapy with a children’s therapist called Ellie.
I began to notice a difference in both the children. They were calmer; I’d learned new ways to support them, and not demand too much of them. The therapy helped them understand what was happening, and why Mummy wasn’t up for doing the usual activities for a while.”
“Since my treatment, I’ve been trying to pace myself, but also do a bit more of the things I used to do. I used to go to the gym, run in races, and go horse riding. I actually managed to keep up with horse riding during my treatment, which was good, but a lot of other things just weren’t possible for me. Before I was diagnosed, I was flying around all over the place, doing things for myself and with the children – I’m still trying to get back to that.
“My kids and I did Sheffield Together, Cavendish’s woodland running event, in March 2019, which was great. We did it to help me with getting back into exercise, but also to give something back to the charity – the children were really keen to support Cavendish. It was a really well organised and enjoyable day, even though it was incredibly muddy! My next challenge is the Sheffield 10k in September, which I’m doing for Cavendish as well. That’s my inspiration to keep working at my running – I’m not quite up to it yet, but I’m confident I’ll get there.
“You can feel so alone when you’re diagnosed with cancer. You’re just hit with this awful news, and you don’t know anything about what’s going to happen to you. That’s why Cavendish is so important – it’s a place full of lovely, helpful people, that’s always there if you need it.
Cavendish has been such a reassuring presence for me and my family, like a friend we can always turn to.”
Even now, a year later, I know I could come back anytime. It’s something a lot of people say about Cavendish, and it’s true – the door is always open.
If you or your family have been affected by cancer, Cavendish can help. Give us a call on 0114 278 4600, and we’ll see you within five working days. If you’d like to support Cavendish, visit www.cavcare.org.uk/donate to donate, or www.cavcare.org.uk/get-involved for more ways you can help.
With thanks to Anisa Mustafa for generously volunteering as our photographer.