Thursday 15 Dec 2022
Being diagnosed with cancer was a huge shock for Anne, but with one-to-one and group support at Maggie’s, she was able to cope with treatment, discover a new sense of self and look to the future.
It all began in April 2017 when I found a very small lump about the size of a pea on my jawline.
After a biopsy, I was told it was not cancer, but I decided to have an operation anyway because the lump was getting bigger. After it was removed, I was given the blow - it was cancer. I basically went into meltdown.
Originally, I thought all I had to cope with was a scar; that I didn’t have to cope with the scar and cancer. Instead, I was sent home to wait to be referred to a cancer clinic. It felt like being sent home to die.
Now I appreciate that’s totally and utterly unrealistic, but it was how I felt at the time.
A hospital nurse suggested that we pop over to Maggie’s. My husband was with me at that very first appointment. Maybe if I’d been on my own, maybe I wouldn’t have gone. But I’m very glad that we did.
Maggie’s was somewhere to go before appointments but not feel like you were at a hospital.
I would chat with other people around the kitchen table – sometimes about cancer and sometimes not.
I attended the art classes, I’m not arty at all, but just sitting there and taking part put you on another planet, just for half an hour, which is exactly what you need just before an appointment.
I really enjoyed the meditation too.
When I was diagnosed, I only had one close friend who had survived cancer, and her advice was, "there’s lots of help out there but you need to find the help that’s relevant to you at the time that suits you."
If you are diagnosed with cancer, what do you need to know on that first day? Do you need to know about chemotherapy, radiotherapy, surgery? Some people will want 100% of the information on day one, and some people won’t want any information.
Maggie’s is brilliantly supportive because the information is there, but you can dip in and dip out when you want it. Whereas in hospital, you either get no information or too much.
When I was diagnosed, some friends treated me differently. Others treated me exactly the same.
One of my friends gave me ‘Ten things not to say to somebody who’s got cancer’, and we stuck it on the fridge. Every time she came round, she said, “Okay, how many have I said?” So, some friends made a bit of a joke of it, which was good because they treated me more as me.
Other friends didn’t know how to treat me. One friend brought me a beautiful scarf to wrap around my neck to hide the scar. I remember the first day I put it on and walked to the shop to buy a pint of milk and I was over the moon, it felt like I’d climbed Everest. Who would think going out would be such a challenge?
I felt I probably actually needed more support after I was told I was clear than I did during treatment.
You may find that strange because then you are back to work and it’s back to normal, but I didn’t feel normal. You are the same person, but you’re a different version of that person and I struggled with accepting that.
A few months after my diagnosis, I felt maybe it was time to see what else Maggie’s offered, and that’s when I went on the Look Good Feel Better course.
I did a bit more of the meditation, just to have some ‘me time’.
At Maggie’s Oxford, they have a row of books, it was quite nice to borrow a book because it was almost like I had to go back to return that book.
That’s also when I started having some counselling at Maggie’s. I wanted some sort of closure. I wanted to do something crazy like get a tattoo or do a bungee jump.
The psychologist at Maggie’s turned that around for me. I didn’t necessarily have to go and do something crazy, but I did have to find ways to try and enjoy life more.
I wanted to get me back but in a different way.
Three years after being diagnosed, I felt confident enough to show my scar. I also wanted to go and do something different with my hair.
Maggie’s had a gift-giving service at the time and I was lucky enough to win a haircut with top stylist Andreas Wild.
It was an amazing opportunity to meet somebody who’d been through cancer himself, who understood the psychological side of it, and who also understood that you need to do something for you. I was so excited.
My hair was terrible (worse than usual after lockdown), so I couldn’t wait to see the transformation.
When I came out of the salon, I couldn’t stop smiling. When I came home my husband was amazed, I looked so different. And Andreas said, “I’ve taken ten years off you.”
The hair change has felt like a form of closure, just like a line in the sand and time to look forward to the future.
So, is now the time to stop visiting Maggie’s? I feel I have 'me' back, but I don’t know if I’m going to have that blip and might need support.
Maggie’s is my safety net. If I ever feel I am having a wobble, or I just need somebody to tell me to take a breath and step back and realise I’m okay - Maggie’s is there.
If you or someone you love has cancer, Maggie’s is here with you.
Last review: Jun 2023 | Next review: Jan 2024
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