Mary on taking control of her cancer treatment

Thursday 21 September 2023

Maggie's Barts – London

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2021, I would have told you that all I wanted was to get to the end of treatment and throw the whole experience in the bin. But that is no longer the case.

Having cancer gave me new friends, taught me things and has given me opportunities to do some amazing things.

I’ve become more in tune with myself and I’ve had a lot of laughs – yes, it’s possible to laugh at cancer.

I wanted to do everything I could to limit what cancer could take from me and minimise my emotional distress.

It has not been easy but I feel like I've taken from cancer, rather than cancer has taken from me, and I never expected that. 

There were moments when I thought I wasn’t going to get through to the end of my treatment.

In spite of that I learnt a lot that I want to pass on to others who are having cancer treatment, to help them get through it. It comes down to three important things that I remember with an acronym: SEA. 

S: Self-care

With cancer comes a ton of appointments. Even before I began treatment, I had fertility treatment, which was a turbulent time.

It’s easy to get consumed by treatment, so try to do something you love when you are able. Once I started treatment, instead of rushing and putting others before myself, I started to do nice things for myself after appointments.

I'd see my oncologist and I would treat myself to something nice. For me that’s going to the theatre, playing a round of golf, going to a gallery. It always made me feel good.

It can be a benchmark which brings side effects to the surface and it enables you to be in tune with yourself.

You’ll also be creating happy memories for yourself when you reflect on your treatment journey.

E: Exercise

I’m not saying you have to go to a gym. But low impact, gentle things like yoga, walking and Tai Chi helped me to avoid fatigue.

Exercise is what brought me to Maggie’s. I looked on the website and saw a Tai Chi class coming up. I thought ‘I can do that, that’s gentle’.

I went along and the rest is history; I've been a regular ever since.

I was in awe of the architeture and everyone was really welcoming. I’d never done Tai Chi before but it clicked, I just seemed to ‘get it’ and I felt great after the session. 

Tiring my body out with gentle exercise meant that I slept really well and I even felt refreshed.

It felt frustrating not being able to do what I used to do, at the same level of intensity.

There were times when I just wanted to stop trying to do things and do nothing. It seemed like an easier route than discovering I couldn’t do something.

“But Maggie’s became a safe haven for me to make adjustments so I could still enjoy the activities I did before treatment. It allowed me to manage my side effects, improve my balance and my mobility.”

I knew that this was a safe place for me to fail, pick myself up and try again.

A: Advocacy

Advocacy is all about ensuring you receive the right care.

Yes you have cancer, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have any involvement in the decision process about your treatment. Ultimately, it’s your health and your body.

When I went along to the young women's support group, I gave myself space to be vulnerable. It's been really nice having people that understand and it helped me understand myself better.

If you're not happy with something, or you need to know something, say so. No one is a mind reader; people can’t address what you don’t tell them.

However, advocating for yourself doesn't come easy to everyone. This is where your friends and family can step in. There are so many things they can do like taking notes, making lists of questions to ask and speaking up when things need to.

To people who are supporting someone who has cancer, I’d say try asking “is there anything I can do for you practically?” Offer to pick their kids up or cook them a meal.

“I want my reflections on having cancer help others to live as normal and fulfilling a life as possible while going through treatment.”

You’re alive. Some days might be harder than others but ultimately you are still you. Cancer just happens to be a thing that has happened.

Thanks to Maggie’s, I definitely feel like I've taken from cancer rather than cancer has taken from me.

Coming to Maggie’s gave me control of my cancer experience.

Here with you

If you, your family or friends need support during this time, please call us on 0300 123 180, email or book a time to visit us.

If you're already visiting the hospital, just come in.

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