Natalie is 48 years old and was diagnosed with widespread papillary thyroid cancer with right vocal cord palsy during the COVID pandemic in October 2020. She is a former mosaic artist and lives in Dorset.
“It was actually a relief when I received the diagnosis. I knew deep down something was wrong and that I wasn’t going mad. I had significant problems swallowing and breathing, which were getting worse, as well as sheer exhaustion. However, these symptoms were attributed to weight gain. Thank goodness I listened to my intuition and convinced the surgeon to remove a large goitre (an enlargement of the thyroid gland) in my neck. The cancer was then found in the post-surgery histology.
Natalie received radioactive iodine ablation treatment and will need medication for the rest of her life, to address not having a working thyroid.
Cancer has changed her life, not just physically, but financially and emotionally, too.
“I sold my flat, closed my business, creating big 3D mosaic sculptures and running art workshops, and moved back in with my mum. My independence has almost gone and I’ll never be the same person again, but I’m stronger in my determination and core resilience.
“I’ve found the effects of right cord palsy tough. My voice can be quiet and patchy, and I still have problems swallowing, as well as nerve pain in my throat from the surgeries I’ve had, including reinnervation surgery to my vocal cord.
“Life is a daily struggle and I’m definitely a ‘work in progress’, while awaiting more treatment. I am conscious of my lack of voice and avoid busy, noisy places. There have been times when my mum has had to finish a conversation, as I haven’t been heard or my voice has gone completely. It has changed both our lives.
“I was surprised how vulnerable I felt during and after treatment, especially during Covid, when I felt very isolated.
“I signed up for Cancer Support UK’s e-news and read about the Cancer Coach course for post treatment patients. I applied to join and received the Cancer Coach workbook beforehand, which was really useful. It meant I could read the weekly topics and have a think before each of the six sessions. It also helped me to complete the post-session tasks.
“From the beginning, the sessions were like a breath of fresh air. The facilitator was welcoming and friendly with a soft Scottish accent, which had a calming effect on us. She did a good job keeping us on track, too. Cancer Coach provided a supportive place, where you could be honest, share your deepest cancer fears, cry and actually have a good laugh about cancer moments. It was good to take the time to really focus on my emotional wellbeing and cancer journey in the comfort of my own home, via the internet.
“Although my friends and family have been truly phenomenal, it was really beneficial talking to other people who have been though the wild ride of cancer. All four of us lived in different parts of the country and brought different perspectives. Yet they really understood the nitty gritty details and were so supportive. We are still in contact today and meet up regularly via Zoom.
“We covered a different topic each week, all in manageable chunks. The subject matter ranged from processing our experiences, to addressing relationships after cancer. We learnt how to schedule worry time and to keep a thought diary. We also tried out practical relaxation techniques, goal setting and how to plan for the future. It was invaluable being able to cheer each other on and off-load emotions.
“Cancer is a beast with many different heads, which can catch you off guard, but Cancer coach has equipped me with tools and strategies to help me face my fears when they surface unexpectedly. Through Cancer Coach, I’ve also met some fabulous ladies who understand the struggles and support each other. Knowing others who understand the complex nature of cancer is very reassuring and I now feel less alone.
“I would like to say a big thank you to all Cancer Coach facilitators and to fellow riders of these cancer challenges. To anyone who is thinking about signing up to Cancer Coach, go on, give it a go. It’s worth it and so are you.”
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’ve completed cancer treatment, but are experiencing low mood, anxiety, worry, and 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, email email@example.com or call: 020 3983 7616.