The Breast Cancer Haven
Denise Ryall, 70, explains how Breast Cancer Haven supported her through her breast cancer diagnosis and beyond
When Denise Ryall, 70, first noticed a blemish on her breast in May 2007, she didn’t think it was anything to worry about. “It was just a tiny pimple and I always thought finding a lump was the first sign of something serious,” she says. “I didn’t have anything like
that and was also very healthy, so I wasn’t too concerned.”However, when she discovered some puckering of the skin around it after a couple of weeks, she decided to get it checked out. “It didn’t feel right, so I went to see the doctor. He thought it was just a cyst but gave me a fast-track referral to the hospital to make sure.”
Denise was given a variety of tests, including an ultrasound, a mammogram and a biopsy.
“I popped in to the hospital in the midst of a busy day, thinking it would just be a cyst. However, the doctor called me back in after an hour and said they were 99 per cent sure it was breast cancer. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. In between popping to Sainsbury’s and going to work, I was diagnosed with breast cancer!” She called her husband, Don, at work, who immediately came to meet her. “I was incredibly upset and kept worrying about how I would break the news to my family – including my two children and four grandchildren – as I didn’t want to be a burden.”
Denise was booked in for a lumpectomy, which she had two weeks later. “I just wanted to get the cancer out and get on with my life, and after the operation I didn’t feel too bad. But two weeks later, I was told the cancer had spread to some of my lymph glands and they would have to operate again to remove them. I was devastated.” The surgery was successful but took its toll. “I really struggled as it was a big operation and they had to put a drain in to remove some of the fluids in my body. It knocked me back quite a bit.” She was then started on eight rounds of chemotherapy, followed by six rounds of radiotherapy. “I went into it again thinking, ‘Right, let’s get this out the way, cross it all off and get on with my life.’ However, the treatment made me very weak. If your blood cell count isn’t quite up to scratch – which mine wasn’t at times – the chemotherapy has to be put off for another month, which really drags it out. At times, I could just about manage to walk from one room to the other, and I also lost all my hair. I was prepared for this, though and chose to shave it all off in advance and chose two nice wigs to try to gain back a bit of control.”
“When my treatment finished, I thought I was going to be jumping for joy and ready to pick up where I left off, but I just went down like a rock”
Following her radiotherapy treatment, Denise was put on exemestane tablets for five years to help to prevent the cancer from returning. “I tried three other tablets first but they didn’t suit me at all because there can be quite a lot of side effects. The tablets can cause problems with your joints, which I have definitely noticed.”
Fortunately, Denise had the support of Breast Cancer Haven – which provides free emotional, practical and physical support to anyone dealing with breast cancer – to help her with the sometimes gruelling side effects of her treatment. “One of my friends also had breast cancer and took me under her wing, suggesting we visit our local Breast Cancer Haven centre in Hereford together. I was a bit sick and didn’t travel well and thought it might all be a bit much, but from the moment I got there, I felt incredibly nurtured and cared for. When you’re at the hospital, you obviously have limited time with the staff and it’s all very clinical, so it was really nice to be able to talk to the people at the Haven – both staff and fellow visitors – who understand what you’re going through and care about you.
“I was offered a variety of different therapies I had never tried before – including different types of massage, reflexology and acupuncture – and started a yoga class, which I really enjoyed. It was also lovely just to have somewhere to go every week as I was unable to work.”
Denise is now cancer-free but has continued to access Breast Cancer Haven’s services. “When my treatment ended in 2013, I thought I was going to be jumping for joy and
ready to pick up where I left off, but I just went down like a rock. I felt so depressed and helpless, so I accessed some counselling sessions at the centre, which were much needed and really helped. I also go to the Haven for regular acupuncture sessions – which
I now pay for – to help with my anxiety, and I attended a weekly yoga class for nine years, which I have now swapped for t’ai chi as it is gentler on my joints.“I’ve formed close bonds with many of the girls in my classes. There are also new people coming in all the time who may be at a stage I was at and feel worried, and I can share my experience and put their mind at rest while we’re sat in the kitchen having a cup of tea. It’s just a great place to be as you’re made to feel so valued, like you really belong.”
TOTAL RAISED: £73,766
The money raised in The Candis Big Give will help the charity to provide its free personalised support programme to more people affected by breast cancer. The programme includes advice on practical things such as work and money, combating stress and exhaustion and healthy eating, plus emotional support. It is intended to empower women to develop the tools and skills they need to manage the effects of their treatment, rebuild their self-esteem and improve their well-being and quality of life. Breast Cancer Haven provides free emotional, practical and physical support to anyone suffering from breast cancer at its seven centres in the UK. Anyone can attend a centre – there are no geographical restrictions and there is no need for a doctor’s referral. breastcancerhaven.org.uk