Breast Cancer Haven
“It’s been so cathartic for me here”
Kimberley Dight, 50 from Fulham, London, tells us how The Haven helped her healing process following aggressive treatment for breast cancer
For most women, being attacked and injured at work would be a horrendous ordeal, but the experience may have saved Kim Dight’s life. She says, “While working as a uniformed transport police officer on the London Underground, I was assaulted by a large man and sustained injuries to my ribs and collarbone. Because my ribs had been displaced, part of my physiotherapy was to massage my ribs back on to my sternum – that’s when I found a lump in my breast. I half-heartedly mentioned it to my physiotherapist but I wasn’t examined and I put it to the back of my mind because I was studying for my sergeant exams. A couple of months later, while being examined by the police occupational health practitioner in order to return to full duties, I asked her to have a quick look at the lump on my left breast. I was still in a lot of pain and wasn’t sure if it was from my injuries or from the lump, which was quite profound by this stage. Her jaw dropped and she sent me straight to my GP. Deep down I knew what it was, I’d felt ill for a while and had been picking up infections.
I’m an Eastern European Jew and there’s a high level of breast cancer in Ashkenazi Jews. My grandma died of ovarian cancer, my aunt died of breast cancer, two second-cousins have had it and a cousin on my mother’s side has had a mastectomy – needless to say, it’s in the family.
I went to see my GP and was immediately referred for a biopsy. That same day I was told I had an aggressive form of breast cancer. As I had three tumours in one breast, the consultant suggested I have a double mastectomy and hysterectomy, but it just seemed so extreme. I told them that I wanted to go away on holiday to gather my thoughts. While I was away I made up my mind to get through this and was supported by friends and family.
My son, Curtis, was travelling around China and Europe and I didn’t want to worry him or make him feel he had to come home, I just wanted to be better for when he returned of his own accord.
Once back I asked for a second opinion and was sent to see Professor Ian Smith who was
the consultant medical oncologist at the Royal Marsden Hospital in Chelsea. He confirmed my cancer was both aggressive and invasive and wanted to start me on chemotherapy. He was keen for me to take part in a clinical trial and so I joined the Berenice trial, which is the study of Perjeta (Pertuzumab) in combination with Herceptin (Trastuzumab) and chemotherapy in patients with HER2-triple positive breast cancer.
Chemo was scheduled every three weeks for eight cycles and the mastectomy was to take place after my treatment had finished. While the drugs did shrink the tumours, they also left me very ill. My body didn’t tolerate the chemotherapy either – I contracted neutropenic sepsis and was hospitalised for a week. I only managed seven sessions of chemo because I developed C-difficile, which is a serious bacterial infection in the digestive system.
While I’d been having chemo, I started to have alternative therapies like reflexology in the day unit. It was there the therapist suggested I visit Breast Cancer Haven, a centre that offers support to women undergoing treatment.
As I’m quite a private person who likes to deal with things in my own way, I wasn’t really
sure that this was the type of place for me, but I made an appointment at the centre in Fulham and I was hooked! I met women of all ages during different phases of their treatments and it was meeting these women that made me realise I didn’t have to deal with this alone.
Initially you have a one-to-one session with a nurse to discuss your diagnosis, treatment and any concerns before they work out the best support plan for you. Each patient gets ten hours of free therapies and two hours with the nurse. Treatments include acupuncture, nutritional therapy, massage, homeopathy and life-work coaching. They even offer make-up lessons to help you when you’ve lost your hair.
I really appreciate the time I’ve spent talking with the other women there – sharing our experiences has been so cathartic for me. Going there and accepting help marks the moment when I began to accept what had happened to me and when my healing process began – it was while I was attending The Haven that I made the decision to have a double mastectomy.
Now I’ve finished my treatment I have to pay for any therapy I have at The Haven, but I still often pop in for a cup of tea. I’ve had a couple of meltdowns recently, when I’ve found dealing with the breast cancer hard to handle, and it’s the place I head to when I want to talk to someone. The staff say they have noticed a change in me; I’m calmer and softer and more accepting of help, and I think I would have to agree. I may not physically be what I once was, but I do like the new me.
THE FACTS – The Haven
- Each year 60,000 women and approximately 400 men in the UK are diagnosed with breast cancer.
- Medical treatment has many side effects like exhaustion, pain and nausea, which therapists at Breast Cancer Haven can help alleviate.
- Counselling and support groups are also available to help with the emotional impact of breast cancer.
- There are currently five centres around the UK, with the sixth set to open in 2017. They aim to have ten centres by 2025.
- Visit breastcancerhaven.org.uk to find out more information.
BIG GIVE UPDATE
With the £51,695 raised, Breast Cancer Haven will be able to offer more people free support programmes designed around their particular concerns and symptoms. This includes 12 one-to-one appointments with healthcare professionals and over a time period that suits them.