Elizabeth’s story – Maggie’s helped me to think ‘Yes, I can’

Tuesday 09 February 2021

Maggie's Yorkshire

Police Officer Elizabeth had little contact from her hospital team during treatment due to the pandemic. It led to a very isolating period, made worse by lockdown restrictions. Maggie’s enabled Elizabeth to navigate a way ahead in the time she needed.

I feel passionate about reaching out to people who live on their own.  I’m a capable person, and because of my job as a Police Officer, I can probably face most things.       

For those that live alone, it’s important to know that Maggie’s is there, and it’s ok for you to reach out. 

No matter how big or how small, how significant or insignificant you feel your experience is, it’s ok to make that call.

Cancer during coronavirus    

In December 2019 I was diagnosed with breast cancer.      

My surgery was at the end of January. The rest of my treatment, including my radiotherapy, was bang in the middle of lockdown.       

Living alone, I had very little physical contact with others. I am fortunate to have some close friends & neighbours who supported me by telephone and we created a WhatsApp group so I could reach out for telephone support when needed. I missed seeing them and being with them.    

I am also the support-carer for my mum, who is elderly, visually impaired and living with dementia. Although she was in my bubble, I felt very guilty I could not offer her the same level of support than prior to my diagnosis both physically and emotionally.  

Where Now?    

Not long after, and out of the blue, I received a message from an old work contact who told me that Maggie’s were running a Where Now? group.  They suggested I rang Maggie’s up and told me how lovely they were.      

I was apprehensive about ringing.  I thought there were more people out there who needed it; that Maggie’s is only for the really poorly and that I should try and cope.      

I did ring though and as soon as I spoke to Helen it felt such a relief.     

I  called with the aim of getting off the line quickly: I didn’t want to take up anyone else’s time. But Helen was just amazing – she kept me on the call for a little longer and got me talking.  It was like turning on a tap.       

Helen made me feel straightaway that I wasn’t alone with my illness.  I thought finally I’ve found somewhere I can get some help. I’d been through a lot of the treatment, but I was struggling with a lot of emotions I hadn’t expected.    

Lockdown and hospital appointments

But lockdown was quite isolating. I would attend radiotherapy appointments on my own. In the waiting room I wouldn’t see anyone else. Staff were in full PPE, it was hard not seeing people’s faces but I was incredibly grateful to them for giving me treatment and care during that difficult time.     

It was quite a lonely journey.  I didn’t receive any contact from my nurse for months, which I struggled with but I thought that must be normal.

Looking back, with a clearer head, I know that she could have been moved, or been off work during those very busy times.      

I began feeling very isolated in July. I lost a lot of confidence, and came close to what felt like depression.   

Starting the Where Now course

The course began online. The first zoom call was just this huge wave of relief.

There were eight or nine of us, all women, all at a similar stage with our cancer. We were all from different ages, backgrounds and just different people. We were all emotional within five minutes of someone talking.       

That first call made me feel like the things I had been feeling were normal.

Maggie’s had given us the platform to talk, to feel safe, and to be confident in what we were saying. I was able to normalise things and get better, move forward. After so long feeling like I couldn’t, Maggie’s made me feel that I could.

Helen and I kept in touch by telephone, again she was amazing. I insisted I didn’t need to talk that often, but she said she would ring me once a week. I’m so glad she did.

It was such a relief to speak to somebody who had an understanding of the issues that a cancer diagnosis can bring.  I was able to talk through the feelings I had. That really helped during the second lockdown.       

I’ve made a friend through the group: we walk together. We are able to share our thoughts and experiences about what it’s like to have cancer. We don’t have to worry about being a bore. We can talk about what we want.

Maggie’s has given us the opportunity to build the relationship – it’s such a place of warmth and calm.   

Feeling let down

People in the group had a really positive experience of breast care nurses ringing every week, and of the hospital teams keeping in touch with them. That wasn’t my experience.   

 I felt that I slipped through the cracks. I rang and left a message - but no one came back to me. I felt let down. 

I had my operation in one hospital and then moved trusts for the follow-up. I felt like I got lost along the way. I never heard from my nurse again.

The only time I’ve had contact from the breast care support team was in September for a holistic assessment about the treatment through the consultant.       

I think I was unlucky. And, you know, it’s easy to look back and say, you should have rung again, or you should have asked more. I didn’t have the confidence, I didn’t think I could. I thought everyone else was busy, and I needed to get on with it myself.      

With three weeks of daily radiotherapy, travelling in and out every day, I used to struggle, sometimes, to manage. I’d feel very isolated. I was just rock bottom by the time Helen got to speak to me. I was getting deeper and deeper into this depression, and a lack of confidence. I felt quite desperate. 

Helen and home 

I live in a little village near Ilkley, just below the Dales. I try and walk every day, it’s really beautiful where I live.       

I'm a Police Officer in a semi-rural force. It’s been my job for 14 years. I work as a Community Beat Manager. It’s incredibly rewarding. 

I love my job, and to stop working was really hard.  I didn’t realise how much my job was a part of me.       

At the time, after all the treatment, I was thinking, ‘Can I go back to being a fully-fledged Police Officer?’.  I am on the road to recovery but it is harder than I imagined and I still have doubts.      

There were times during treatment where I would say to myself, ‘I’m a Police Officer I shouldn’t be like this, I should be brave.’  I wasn’t.  My Sergeant and Inspector at the time were extremely supportive. It made a huge difference to worries about work and the future.     

When Maggie’s came along it was a saving grace. I think I would have been off work a lot longer. I was pushing and pushing myselfthinking about what I should be doing and not recovering ‘quickly enough’.  

Maggie’s helped me learn how to be kind to ourselves and navigate the way ahead in the time that I needed. With their help I got to the point of ‘Yes, I think I can’.    

Extra support

I had one-to-one sessions with Emma the Psychologist, and relaxation sessions through Zoom. I’d feel so much better after those sessions and I still access them when I can.  

When cancer comes along, there’s this naïve part of you that thinks everyone will be nice, adapt, recognise it. I felt let down by a couple of people who I thought would be supportive but for their own reasons they were unable to acknowledge my illness or offer support. I understand that now. Cancer is such an emotive and scary thing that not everyone can deal with. It can make you realise how insignificant you are at times.       

Living alone during the lockdowns has been the hard part of cancer during covid.     

Maggie’s just feels that it would be a place of warmth, care, reassurance, support and peace. And that’s just what I needed. Nothing I said would be judged.
I could be myself completely.     

I just felt at home with Maggie’s, somewhere that I could feel – even though I never been to the actual centre – home, and that it would always be there.       

Maggie’s saved the day for me.  So if you live alone, and are going through something similar, I’d say, without hesitation – just make the call. 

We're here for you

If you, your family or friends need support during this time, please call us on 0300 123 180, email enquiries@maggies.org or book a time to visit us and if you're already visiting the hospital, just come in.

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