I want people from a BAME background to know about Maggie's
At some time in our lives, most of us will know someone with cancer; although it’s painful to think about, many of us will lose friends and family. I’ve had more than my fair share. I’ve lost my mum and my sister to cancer and, despite having preventative surgery because of the history of breast cancer in my family, I was diagnosed with it too.
I first came to Maggie’s soon after my sister was diagnosed. I’d been referred to the cancer genetics department at the hospital, and after we had the discussion about what my treatment options were, the counsellor said: “There’s a place I think would be very helpful to you”.
I needed space to think, and so Maggie’s became the place where I could do that. There were a couple of moments after my surgery when I was in so much pain. My sister was going through a horrendous time herself, so I felt I couldn’t talk to her about it. As a single parent, I didn’t have many people I could speak to. As soon as I went to Maggie’s, I realised that you can come here and talk if you want, and on days that you don’t want to talk – there were times when I wanted a quiet place to cry – you’re given the space to do that too.
After my sister died, I started seeing the psychologist at Maggie’s. That helped me through some of the most difficult times. I remember once, when I was feeling at my worst, I just started sobbing. I stayed there and cried, and she spoke to me and gave me a cup of tea and everybody made sure I was ok.
I love architecture, so I really appreciate what a beautiful building Maggie’s is. The fact that somebody thinks I’m worth this beauty and attention to detail is wonderful.
Cancer has taken a pretty good shot at my self-esteem, but coming to Maggie’s has gone a long way to restoring it.
Talking about cancer with my daughter
My daughter, Amy, is growing up with access to lots of incorrect information about my diagnosis and treatment on the internet. I was adamant that she shouldn’t go through what my siblings and I did without support, so I encouraged her to go to one of the Kids’ Days at Maggie’s. I also made sure Amy saw the psychologist. I wanted her to know that she could see someone and that resources were there for her.
My family comes from Nigeria, and there’s an attitude in Nigerian culture that you don’t talk about serious illnesses like cancer. When my mum was ill, that culture of secrecy and fear around illness was horrendous. There was no support. I didn’t know about my mum’s diagnosis until I sneaked into her room and read her medicine packet. It was only when I nursed her in the last 15 months of her life that she finally talked about it.
I’ve had my own issues to get through too. I used to think that having a high pain threshold was a badge of honour, because that’s the way you’re trained, especially as a woman. It’s so important that women know the risks and what to look out for, that they’re able to talk and share knowledge and advice.
I would love for every person from a BAME (Black and Minority Ethnic) background to understand that cancer is not shameful, because an illness of any kind is not shameful.
Ask for help if you need it
Asking for help doesn’t mean you’re weak. In fact, it’s a sign of strength, because that’s the way you build your resilience. I’m so glad I came to Maggie’s, but I can understand why someone from a BAME community or other minorities might not think it’s for them. I didn’t see anyone who looked like me at Maggie’s, and that can make you feel that it’s not for you. That’s one of the reasons I’m so keen to talk about it, because I hope that everyone – including people from communities where talking about illness is discouraged – will know they have somewhere to go and people they can talk to.
That’s what inspired me to write my book Navigating Your New Normal and set up my life coaching business, Inspired to Soar. I cannot think of my recovery without thinking of Maggie’s. It’s been so important in terms of my mental state. That’s why I’m adamant that no one should go through cancer alone, especially when there’s somewhere like Maggie’s, that’s here for everyone.