“Cancer Coach gave me the support I needed” – Lisa’s cancer story

Smiling woman wearing a pink jumper cuddling dog

“My Cancer Coach group is like a mini family to me – they completely understand my cancer experience,” says Lisa.

Lisa is a secondary school teacher and careers advisor from Surrey who was 43 years old when she was diagnosed with bowel cancer. She joined Cancer Support UK’s Cancer Coach programme in November 2023 and says: “Cancer Coach is incredible. It helped me feel better about myself.”

“I was very poorly with severe abdominal pain, which I attributed to exhaustion from my job as a teacher. Doctors told me I was too young to have cancer.

“In October 2022, I was in so much pain that I ended up in A&E. They ran tests and found thickening of my bowel wall, so I was sent home. But I had to come back, as I was still in immense pain. I spent three days in a row in A&E. Eventually the doctors said the bowel thickening was suspicious.

“On 31 October, I became extremely unwell and was admitted to hospital immediately. I had a CT scan in the middle of night and then, at 7am, I was notified by an app that I had cancer (not a nice way to learn your diagnosis) and asked to sign a consent form for surgery. I was completely in shock.

“A doctor told me it emergency, as I had a blocked bowel and within three hours I was in surgery having a right hemicolectomy, which is a major procedure.

“Afterwards, the doctors said they thought they’d got all the cancer. “You will live a long life”, I was told. It was extremely hard to get my head around this – one minute I had cancer and the next I didn’t.

Female cancer patient having her face examined

Chemo caused a number of side effects for Lisa

“I spent five days in hospital. Then four weeks later I had a follow up appointment with the surgeon who told me I had stage 3 cancer, which had spread into my lymph nodes. So around eight weeks after surgery I began chemo treatment.

“They started me on CAPOX, which is used to treat advanced colorectal cancer. Unfortunately my body didn’t tolerate the chemo and I had a severe reaction. So they changed the treatment to FOLFOX and I had to start all over again with four cycles, which ran from January through to April 2023.

“My body didn’t really tolerate FOLFOX either and I contracted chemo induced pleurisy. My other side effects included peripheral neuropathy and palmar-plantar syndrome (where the skin peels off your feet and hands). I lost my hair, which was a heartbreaking and unexpected side effect, and I was extremely sick. On top of all this, the wound from the operation became infected.

“Despite all these set-backs, I managed to push through to the end of the chemo. My husband encouraged me, saying how much my family needed me. I knew I had to carry on to see my youngest at Prom and my eldest daughter graduate.

“In May 2023 tests showed I was clear of cancer. It was a huge relief and I cried for a week – I was so grateful to have come through alive.

“Yet I felt hard done by…asking myself, why me? What have I done to deserve this?

Female cancer patient in hospital

Despite many set-backs, Lisa managed to push through to the end of the chemo

“Side effects from the treatment are ongoing. I still have chemo induced blood clots in one leg and I suffer from neuropathy in my fingers and toes. I feel completely exhausted all the time, with just the odd good day. But I am trying hard to boost my immune system.

“People think that when you are given the all clear, you are back to normal. However, I know that my normal will never be normal again. I liked my life and who I was. Now I understand what new normal means.

“It’s been a year since I received the all clear, but I still think about cancer all the time. My health anxiety is through the roof. I recently had whooping cough and thought, that’s it I’ve got lung cancer.

“Friends say you look amazing and that’s all lovely, but they have no idea what’s going on inside my head. It’s a never ending cycle of tests and waiting for the results, hoping that they’re going to come back clear. It’s like a whirlwind. Every single time I think it’s ok, there’s another test and more waiting…Friends don’t see that. They don’t realise that inside you are screaming all the time.

“Before my own diagnosis, I never fully understood friends who had cancer. Now I get it. Cancer turned my whole life upside down. Life will never be the same.

“One thing I have learned, is not to have counselling too soon after treatment. You need to allow yourself a bit of time to process what has happened. Just after treatment, but before I had the all clear, I tried counselling through Macmillan. But I wasn’t ready. I still felt very numb and couldn’t talk about my cancer, because I hadn’t digested what had happened to me

Post treatment female cancer patient enjoying a joke

“I found Cancer Coach at the right point in my cancer journey – six months after I was given the all clear. It was wonderful and the best thing to happen to me. I was ready for it as I had already started adapting to the new normal,” says Lisa

“I found Cancer Coach at the right point in my cancer journey – six months after I was given the all clear. It was wonderful and the best thing to happen to me. I was ready for it as I had already started adapting to the new normal.

“I’ll never forget my first Cancer Coach session. We all cried right the way through it. I told my husband -I can’t do this.

“However, two days later, I felt like a huge weight had lifted. I realised how good it was to be able to say what I wanted and to have others understand how I felt. So I went to the second session and began building a close bond with the others.

“My Cancer Coach group is like a mini family to me – they completely understand my cancer experience.  They don’t judge me and they never wonder why I’m not over my cancer. They’re the nicest people I have ever met in my life. When Cancer Coach ended, we created our own Whats App group called ‘boobs and bums’.

“It’s a close bond that I never thought I’d have. Without them, I don’t think I would be where I am now. I was in such a horrible dark place, full of anger and frustration, and deeply upset. I felt every emotion that you could imagine and then used to feel guilty for feeling angry about what had happened.

“Cancer Coach is such a good way to get all those emotions out with people who understand. It’s such a relief. Other people look at me and think she’s fine, but the Cancer Coach group all get it.

“Cancer Coach made me feel better and I learned that it was normal to have all these emotions. Our group coach said you have every right to feel angry and that’s a really big thing for me.

“I do still think, why me? I loved my old life – I had a wonderful husband, children and lovely friends. Cancer changed me as a person but Cancer Coach helped me realise that I am still me – just with a few adaptations, because I have to deal with the difficult feelings.

“Cancer Coach was incredible. There was a different topic each week. I loved the Worry Tree and working out how to deal with different situations. I never realised that I have a tendency to catastrophise. But I’ve learnt coping mechanisms and different techniques, such as writing things down, because if the thoughts stay in your head, you can’t get rid of them.

“For me, it was such a relief to know that all the emotions I am feeling is normal.

“I recently recommended Cancer Coach to a friend who I met through a bowel cancer group and she messaged me to say that it was the best thing ever.