Mum Kathy, from Dunmurry, was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 34 and used the Cancer Focus NI counselling service, which she says is a real lifeline.
“My whole world fell apart when I was diagnosed with an aggressive stage 2 ductal carcinoma (breast cancer in the milk ducts).
“When I got the news I was really not prepared to talk about my diagnosis with anyone. Maybe, I thought, if I don’t speak about it then it’s not really real?
“After the initial surgery, six doses of chemo, a double mastectomy, reconstruction surgery and three surgeries to improve the reconstruction, I finally ‘hit a brick wall’ as the saying goes.
“I was left with irreversible side effects from treatment and multiple surgeries and ran out of steam. I have some nerve damage, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue and was depressed and anxious after everything I’d been through.
“I felt I had nowhere to turn and my GP advised me to talk to someone and try and make some sense of everything. That’s when I was introduced to a counsellor at Cancer Focus NI, who was my lifeline.
“I had no idea what to expect, if speaking to a counsellor would benefit me at all, would I feel comfortable speaking about something really personal (like a cancer diagnosis) to a complete stranger? My questions were all answered in an instant. I felt really at home.
“I started speaking to my lifeline every few weeks. I had no idea what experiences or feelings were going to surface at any time. My lifeline allowed me the time, the secure, safe setting and the confidence to share anything with her.
“Some sessions I surprised myself what was coming out of my mouth. I was saying things out loud for the first time instead of pretending what had happened was not real and that I could just dust myself off and get on with my life. I realised more than ever that I needed help.
“A five or ten minute conversation with my oncologist or surgeon was all medical. No one asked how you really were. Counselling gave me the ‘how are you?’, not ‘how is your illness?’.
“Having someone there to listen was a vital part of my recovery. I learned that I wasn’t going a bit nuts – all my feelings like guilt, anger, fear, hurt were all completely normal.
“I had a few more surgeries while receiving counselling. I had a suspicious lump removed from my womb the same day my mum was having a hysterectomy for womb cancer. I then also had a hysterectomy a few months later.
“My counsellor suggest that I also try another Cancer Focus NI service, Writing my Cancer Journey, which is an extension of the counselling I’d received. I love it too because I found that writing things down helped process what I’d been through and helped me work through my own experience.
“I have absolutely no idea where I’d be without my lifeline. That is exactly what the counselling service is to many, many people – a lifeline. You would never throw someone who couldn’t swim into the sea without a life jacket and you can’t be thrown into cancer without someone to keep you afloat.
“Your journey isn’t over when your treatment stops. For a lot of people their new journey is only beginning – an unsure, a bit frightening and a really confusing new journey. My lifeline has helped me every step of the way and has been to me a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Your Christmas gift of £20 today, or whatever you can afford, to support a 1-hour counselling session, could help your neighbours, friends or family should they ever find themselves in Kathy’s position.
With your support today, another local person could receive the care of one of our counsellors this Christmas and into 2021.