Hi, I’m Tracey, this is my breast cancer story and my testimony to the wonderful charity Keeping Abreast.
In December 2015, I found a lump in my right breast and so I worriedly made an appointment at my doctor’s to get it checked out. I was reassured that it was an infection, but then, soon after, in January 2016, I was back to be seen and had the dreadful news of a breast cancer diagnosis.
I was devastated, I was in shock, the anxiety of what this meant crippled me, but I had to plough on to find out what I would be facing. In the same day, I underwent the scary and painful biopsies and they found a second lump; I was in pieces. After taking in the dreadful news, I returned to hospital and was told that my tumours were slow-growing but that I needed a mastectomy. I couldn’t believe it.
Shortly after, in the February, I had a sentinel node biopsy, followed by my mastectomy and reconstruction surgery in March when a third lump was found. I found this all very traumatic and remember to this day the shock I felt on how I looked after surgery. The recovery was long and painful, but with the help from Keeping Abreast and the wonderful people I have met I have got through it.
How Keeping Abreast helped me
I first knew of Keeping Abreast in that dreadful appointment when I was told that I needed a mastectomy, that life-changing day, the day that filled me with fear of what was to be. The nurse and doctor gave me a KA “pink pack” with lots of information to take away and read, and my husband Paul took on the role of helping me digest it all. I contacted Keeping Abreast following that meeting seeking some support from others who knew what I was going through. They were so welcoming and supportive, it really helped to hear their experiences and receive information in a non-medical way, and helped me get my head around it all.
They gave me a wonderful book that I keep to this day full of ladies’ reconstruction stories and pictures of surgery results; this helped me no end as it gave me more of an idea of what to expect when having my own reconstruction. They also kindly gave me a mastectomy bra voucher, something I hadn’t thought about at that time, so that I could purchase a new bra that would help me in my recovery.
I also received a beautiful heart-shaped cushion to help me after surgery to ease the pain and discomfort; they are shaped and sized just right to help to gain some comfort and help to ease the pressure following surgery. This was a godsend to me and was a big comfort in many ways, the charity has invested more and more in the aftercare of patients and now have the ‘Comfort and Care’ bags holding lots of useful products; they really provide not only the support that is much-needed, but they also show care and love from others who have been through it.
It wasn’t until after my surgery and at the beginning of my recovery that I attended one of the KA support groups, where I met and made friends with many other ladies who had been through what I had, as well as ladies who were newly diagnosed with breast cancer and others who had already had a mastectomy and were looking at reconstruction options moving forwards
The groups really helped me to talk, to open up and deal with it, talking with other ladies who understand how things affect you following diagnosis and surgery and, indeed, the need for long-term medication for prevention of recurrence.
My husband Paul was with me throughout this awful journey, always by my side. He came to all the appointments and to the KA support groups to listen to the professional speakers and meet other partners who were there supporting their other halves. He made life-long friends too which helped him immensely with what we had both been through. We are so grateful to Keeping Abreast for giving us the support and the opportunity to meet others, so we decided to volunteer to help other people going through what we had and to help fundraise for the charity, as without vital funding they couldn’t continue to help others the way they helped us.
The ‘More Than Just Fashion’ Show
Every two years Keeping Abreast holds a two-night event, a fashion show, but it is so much more than that! All the ladies who take part have been through a breast cancer journey, so are all in the same boat. The event is huge in Norwich, the biggest event the charity does to help raise money, but also to support women following their breast cancer experiences. Both Paul and I volunteered, I was a model and Paul helped with setting up during the days and evenings. Being part of the show was a once-in-a- lifetime experience, I met some wonderful people who are now a big part of my life, and I can’t tell you how it boosted my confidence and self-esteem, and how it helped me feel feminine again. It was great that both Paul and I could be part of it together, I know Paul found helping out such a positive thing to do and very therapeutic.
Supporting others as I had been supported
A couple of years ago, Keeping Abreast produced a promotional video and they were looking for ladies to be filmed. So I was brave and put myself forwards and took part in the filming, revealing my ‘I Am, I Have, I Will’ which was the theme of the film. It was great to give a positive message in the video to support others facing breast reconstruction in the future; there is life after diagnosis and surgery, and I wanted to share that. It took me way out of my comfort zone but, again, it was a chance to have a confidence boost.
Since then I volunteer at my local support group and I’ve now become a committee member, as well as helping to fundraise at various events. I read a passage at the last carol service, which is a beautiful evening and a great fundraising community event they hold each year. I even worked in the office for a period of time, helping them with administration and preparation for activities. It was lovely to be part of the central staff team in the office, and it was eye-opening to see the professional operational side of the charity, it was lovely being able to help further.
Thank you Keeping Abreast, love Tracey x