Nancy on finding reasons to celebrate after cancer

Tuesday 13 December 2022

Maggie's Southampton

Throughout my life, I have always had to be strong. I always thought that I was. But cancer completely changed how I see strength.

I moved to the UK from the Philippines with my son and my then husband. I came over to build a future for me and my son. But then my marriage broke down after 20 years. 

I wanted to be strong. I didn’t want it to be a failure. But eventually, I realised that it was just that: a failure, and I needed to move on. I moved to Southampton where I took a job as a nurse.

I had come to the UK to make a life for us, but now life was even tougher. 

Cancelling my 50th birthday

One day I found a lump in my breast. It wasn’t painful, but it didn’t go away.

I made an appointment that afternoon with my GP. Very soon after came a whirlwind of tests - a mammogram, a scan and a biopsy all on the same day.

My doctor told me very casually that the results would come in a week, but that I should “expect the worst”.

I came back after a week with no optimism, but the words “I’m afraid you have breast cancer” were still shocking to hear. I was just about to turn 50 and I had cancer.

First up in my treatment was surgery. I asked how long until I could have it, knowing that my birthday was coming up quickly.

I had been planning a big party; instead, I asked if the surgery could be done before my birthday. I wanted it before I turned 50, as quickly as possible.

The party could wait. As long as they would keep me alive, it was ok.

Feeling lost

Once my surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy were over, I felt lost and scared. 

It felt no one was looking after me anymore. If something happened to me, what would I do? Would anyone know?

I never worried about dying until after my treatment ended. I would wake up in the middle of the night scared to close my eyes again.

You don’t have instructions when you finish treatment so I tried try to go back to my usual routine.

I wanted to be strong, get better, get back to work. But I realised quickly that I couldn’t do things as I used to. I found myself gasping for breath just trying to vacuum the house.

Coming to Maggie's

When I first came into Maggie’s, Gilly, the Centre Head at Southampton came and asked if I was OK. I burst into tears and couldn’t answer. I hadn't really realised until then that I wasn’t OK.

I started opening up, letting myself cry and talk. I realised that I was angry at how cancer had left me: exhausted and finding life a struggle. 

I came to a support group and met other people with cancer for the first time. Many of them had partners who could help them when they were in pain, and I felt jealous. Until one of the other ladies told me that she was recently divorced too. I felt so relieved that I wasn’t on my own.

In Maggie’s, you can talk on a completely different level; it’s very deep. You get out of the door feeling relieved and you are able to sleep.

I started to wake up in the morning much more relaxed. I was so thankful that somebody was listening.

Not only does Maggie's understand cancer, they understand you as a person. They treat you as you: unique.

Being a nurse in Maggie's

I didn’t want anyone in Maggie’s to know that I am a nurse. I don't want others to feel that if you're a nurse you get special treatment. I want to be an ordinary human being with cancer and be treated the way the others are treated. 

When I come to Maggie’s, I will change out of my uniform before I come through the door. I worry that people may feel awkward speaking to me. You need to feel comfortable when you're coming into Maggie's.

But I’ve never felt awkward at Maggie's. It feels like home. I don't have family in the UK, so to have another place that feels like home is so special.

It doesn’t matter if you're just sitting in the corner. You can do whatever you want. Talk, ask questions, or not.

I cancelled my 50th birthday party because I wanted to concentrate on my treatment instead. I figured I could celebrate any time. In fact, I celebrate every day now.

Every day I wake up and open my eyes is like my birthday. Sometimes I buy myself a cake and share it with my friends, just because I am happy to be alive.

We’re here for you

If you or someone you love has cancer, Maggie’s is here with you. 

Come and see us at your nearest Maggie’s, call us on 0300 123 180 or email us at

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