Kate’s cancer journey began in 2007, when, aged 32, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and given the shocking prognosis of five to eight years of life.
“It was my cat who found it. She kept walking across my chest and it felt really painful. On 9 November, following a biopsy in late October, I was called back to Kingston Hospital and told I had a Grade III 11.5mm invasive ductile carcinoma, or left-sided breast cancer. “The diagnosis came as a massive shock. I had only been married for one year.
“On the following Monday, I was admitted for the pre-ops and on Tuesday I had the first lumpectomy. I was the youngest breast cancer patient under my consultant.
“Shortly after I had a second lumpectomy and was referred to the Royal Marsden in Surrey. Chemotherapy treatment began in in January 2008. Chemotherapy is a common cause of neutropenia (low number of white blood cells), so I was very vulnerable to infection and during treatment I was admitted to the Royal Marsden, delaying my next round of treatment. After chemo finished I had daily radiotherapy for six weeks and, because of my age and sex, I was also given Zoladex injections to trigger the menopause in order to protect my ovaries.
“Although you don’t know what is being done to you, you never think to question the treatment. I didn’t feel confident enough to ask my consultant. Plus you feel so rubbish that you just want to get it over and done with.
The treatment took its toll both physically and emotionally on Kate.
“Before cancer, I had really long hair. But because of the treatment, even after wearing a cold cap, I lost literally all my hair, from my eyelashes to the tiny hairs on my back and of course my head. I remember very clearly lying on the bathroom floor, crying my eyes out, because I had brushed my hair and 2ft of hair had fallen out. Other side effects included putting on weight, because of the steroids I was given.
Then in 2008, Kate received the all clear from her oncologist – the operations had removed the cancer and the treatment had prevented it from spreading further, so she was free from cancer.
“Although it was a massive relief, you are basically left with nothing. It’s a case of you are fine, now get on with life.
“It’s really hard, because during treatment you are surrounded by teams of medical professionals all looking after you. I was also facing a limited time left to live. Nobody explained how that would work out.
It was at this point that Kate decided she wanted to do things to help other people. To kick things off, she signed up for Race for Life 2009 and joined her local gym, The Pavilion Club in East Molesey, Surrey.
“I started at the Pavilion to get fit. I ended up doing a couple of Race for Life events, as well as a 10k for Cancer Research and the Marsden March twice. The weather was horrendous and quite a few of the people I was doing the event with, couldn’t make it. I realised that I hadn’t been back to the Marsden since my last treatment. This absolutely walloped me, as I remember seeing the room I was admitted into and thinking, I’ve come so far.
“For 16 years I’ve just had to live with what I’ve endured, as well as the uncertainty about my future. I’ve had nobody to talk to. It’s very easy to brush cancer under the carpet. None of my family wanted to talk about it or were offered any support.
“As much as you can forget the pain, the side effects and the battle trying to take the medication, it’s the emotional flashbacks that are really really tough to deal with. I’ll never unsee the scars I have got.
“Each year though is another milestone. Every June or July, I have an MRI and a mammogram at Kingston Hospital. Then I wait for the letter to come through.
“However, I do feel very blessed – I work in community support, which is very therapeutic and over the years, I’ve learnt different techniques to help me cope.
“One of my lifelines is Nancy Priston’s exercise and dance classes at The Pavilion. It’s there that I know and feel I’m among close friends. I can talk to them about things that I can’t talk about with other people – including my own family. Physically and mentally, it’s a really good way to de-stress.
“One of the other things that helps me, is knowing what other people are going through who have been diagnosed. If I can help other people by raising awareness of the work that Cancer Support UK does and fundraising for this amazing charity, it helps me keep going.
“If I had received support like the help Cancer Support UK provides, things would have been a lot easier for me 16 years ago. This is what inspired me to the Sh’bamathon both this year and last year.
“I’ve done Nancy’s Shbam class for a number of years now. When she mentioned she was thinking about doing the Sh’bamathon in aid of Cancer Support UK, it was very hard to say no. We all love doing things with Nancy. However, spending three hours dancing non-stop on a Sunday presented quite a daunting prospect. It was also very emotional, as it was the first time a lot of people learnt that I had cancer, particularly when I started fundraising.
“At the start of the first Sh’bamathon, Mark Guymer, Cancer Support UK’s CEO, gave a very inspirational talk about what a difference the money raised from the event would make to help people living with and beyond cancer. This was an incredible motivation for me. It was also lovely meeting so many people who wanted to help the charity.
“I will definitely be signing up for next year’s Sh’bamathon. It’s a brilliant way to fundraise for an amazing charity.”
If Kate’s story has inspired you to support Cancer Support UK, please visit the Support Us page for more information about the many different ways you can help us
If you have completed your cancer treatment and are struggling with a wide range of emotions including anger, grief and isolation, Cancer Support UK’s Cancer Coach programme is available to anyone previously diagnosed with a primary cancer and who has now completed their physical cancer treatment. The course takes participants through a series of weekly facilitated group sessions, run for a six-week period over the telephone or online video. Participants benefit from the peer support of the sessions, as well as learning tools and techniques for improving emotional wellbeing, which can help them on their recovery journey. The course is free, completely confidential and accessible from the comfort and privacy of home.
If you don’t know how to move forward in your recovery, then please apply to join the course. Simply complete the application form online. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to email firstname.lastname@example.org or call: 020 3983 7616.