Tuesday 14 Sep 2021
Maggie's Barts – London
In 2018, Huei was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer. On her last day of treatment she found Maggie's and it lifted her cancer experience. She tells us how joining the art sessions helped her to connect with others and reassured her she wasn't alone.
When I discovered a lump in my breast, it was summer in 2018. It couldn’t have hit me at a worse time.
Several months earlier my son had started manifesting his mental illness of bipolar with psychosis, which was deeply painful and hard to cope with.
I was diagnosed with stage one breast cancer.
I had moved to London 30 years ago and had some good friends but no family other than my son.
Being divorced, I had no support from my in-laws either.
Despite my business-like approach to cancer treatments, I was in a dark and lonely place.
I went through the lumpectomy and radiotherapy in a stoic manner – just getting it done.
My sister came from Los Angeles and stayed about 10 days at the time of the operation, which was a great comfort and help.
At least the protocol was clear – I just had to do it.
For the month my radiotherapy lasted, I just went in and out of Bart’s Hospital feeling numb.
By then it was autumn, dark outside, with the rain and the nights coming earlier. I was so focused and so tunnel visioned about getting things sorted and dealing with what I had to deal with.
It wasn’t until the last day of my radiotherapy I saw this massive Maggie’s poster that was in the waiting area the whole time – in Maggie's orange. It must be about four feet by five feet high.
When I came out into the quadrant at Bart's, I saw the beautiful Maggie’s building and I went in.
There were some people milling around inside, and I was greeted by a friendly smiling staff member and offered some tea. That was my introduction to Maggie’s on the very last day of my radiotherapy.
I am a visual person. The beautiful design of the building, soft filtered light, big kitchen table, sculptural comfortable chairs, hand-made ceramic platters, a casual colorful blanket draped on a chair – all those things were a real treat for me that managed to pierce through the gray dismal world I was occupying at the time.
It was a visual and sensory treat for me to be there.
And the two beautiful kettles – they're not just kettles, they're beautiful kettles – and the abundance of teas!
My cancer experience up until then had been in a minor key of dark greys, whereas I felt that Maggie's was very much in a major key that lifted me.
The beauty of the place was immediately inviting and healing for me. My heart was gladdened just to be in the space knowing that somebody has laid on this environment for soothing and supporting people like me going through a difficult time with cancer.
When I was in that tunnel vision of diagnosis and treatment, I was sensorily cut off. I'm not registering the tube rides to and from Bart’s, I'm not registering anything but my work, which was to get my therapy done, and feed myself then go back to bed.
I was very low but like a brave little soldier I carried on.
So when I came across Maggie's it was just so beautiful, and so generous and so friendly.
There were abundant teas, flowers on the table, small easy to eat fruit, cheese, biscuits in the cookie jar and more. It made me feel like a VIP!
Michael, the centre head was another fabulous factor at Maggie’s. He related to everyone and made all feel welcome and cared for.
Although I’m a little sad he’s no longer at Maggie’s Barts, Victoria has taken over where he left off and done just as good a job as Michael did.
I was given a schedule of what there was to do – known as the programme.
Immediately I was attracted to the art session on Wednesdays.
I did Where Now for eight weeks, but it was the art group that really spoke to me. And there I made many friends. We all gathered on Wednesdays for a two-hour session of about an hour and a half of making art, and then half an hour of talking together.
We discussed many different issues, including my son's illness. It wasn't just about the cancer, it was about life and what challenges there were.
And at the same time I started going to the charity Mind, and they were giving me group and one-on-one therapy.
So it was the was the lovely camaraderie at Maggie's, and the most supportive services of Mind that got me through a very difficult time.
I just love Maggie's dynamism and the unapologetic focus on the importance of a top-notch environment. It was a very important part of my healing.
Maggie’s made me feel that I wasn’t alone.
The space was just so healing, the camaraderie, the love, and also just the quiet – you can hear people's pencils scratching on paper and appreciating each other's artwork.
If a fraught person came in, the group was quite able to absorb some of that jagged energy and help that person with the help of Poppy, who was our brilliant therapist.
She was unintrusive, gave us a safe space and time, and a safe environment for us to just feel protected.
I think that kind of protection was like a warm blanket.
I adored the light-filled top floor space at Maggie’s. You can look out and see a small garden with beautiful plantings.
We liked each others’ company so much that after our art sessions, we went downstairs and had lunch together.
I think my time at Maggie’s really cushioned me from that end of treatment fall because I was able to talk about things, like the shock of what it felt like when I first heard the diagnosis.
We talked about everything, and laughed and cried. I think that was just so helpful.
For me, it felt as though I was cut off from the neck down.
You don't want to look at your scar, you don't want to look at anything and you don't want to feel anything.
The exercise classes at Maggie’s allowed me to get back into contact with my body.
I have come to understand very much that helping others is actually helping yourself.
We helped each other at Maggie’s. By helping other people, I felt good and that helped me.
That became a big part of why I came back so often.
It was being provided that space of beauty and generosity, care and intelligence that was just the best.
And that's why I love Maggie's. That space and the place that envelops you and gives you the time. I think I can't say enough nice things about Maggie's.
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