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Lisa Byrne on how charities in Yorkshire support cancer sufferers

PUBLISHED: 00:00 27 July 2016

Lisa Byrne

Lisa Byrne

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Unwavering support made all the difference to my recovery from a dreadful disease

Juilian Fellowes and Esther Ranzten gave their support to the work of the Breast Cancer Haven during the Chelsea Flower Show Photo John WattsJuilian Fellowes and Esther Ranzten gave their support to the work of the Breast Cancer Haven during the Chelsea Flower Show Photo John Watts

One evening back in March 2013, I was lazing on the sofa watching a gripping episode of Coronation Street and drinking tea when my cocker spaniel Diggerley started to behave out of character. He wouldn’t leave my side even when I tried to push him away as I was worried about spilling hot tea on him. Suddenly Diggerley jumped on top of me and started whacking the left hand side of my chest with his paw. This caused a shot of intense pain which I automatically went to touch and realised with dread that he’d hit a lump in my left breast.

My husband was sitting beside me, but I didn’t say anything to him as his mum had died of breast cancer a few years earlier, and I didn’t want him to worry unnecessarily. However, within a few days of smothering anxiety, I was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer and so began the journey no one wants to take – but unfortunately many of us do.

What surprised me most while going through treatment was how fantastically kind we are at looking after each other. From my world-renowned oncologist Prof Jayant Vaidya to the catering staff making endless cups of tea during chemo, and my hair stylist friend who had a specially-made wig flown in from Brazil! Everyone was utterly amazing. And this unwavering support has continued long after treatment ended and we’ve moved back to Yorkshire.

Like many women advised to take the drug tamoxifen following chemotherapy and radiotherapy, I found it a huge struggle. Although it’s a life-saving miracle pill, tamoxifen brings on early menopause, which unlike normal menopause which is a slow drip, drip effect of hormonal changes, is more like a gushing waterfall. People with oestrogen positive breast cancer – the most common type – are unable to take HRT as it affects hormone levels. I thought I’d feel total joy after getting through an operation, chemo and radiotherapy but instead I’m ashamed to say I felt total apathy and unenthusiastic about life, which my doctor cited as being caused by the abrupt, menopause-reducing serotonin levels.

During one tearful meeting with Harrogate homeopath Claire O’Brien, when I finally admitted to not feeling myself at all, she advised me to contact Leeds-based breast cancer charity The Haven. This has been a fantastic step forward. The trust has given me a selection of complementary therapies that have really helped curb my meagre energy levels. One therapist, Rebecca Hunter, gives up her time to treat patients to give therapeutic acupuncture sessions, which I find to be a total godsend.

Over in York, the much loved St Leonard’s Hospice also offers a range of alternative treatments to relieve the negative effects of cancer treatment on the body and mind. I used to love my weekly aromatherapy massage sessions with practitioner Shirley Fairley, though rather than relaxing and nodding off, I’d spend the entire session chatting away. Sometimes that is all you need, someone to talk to who understands.

We all know someone affected by cancer. In my home village of Bilbrough an adored local mother, Tanith Butters, passed away from breast cancer at the age of 35, leaving a husband and two children. Now her stoic family and friends host an annual black-tie ball which has managed to raise a staggering £100,000 for Breakthrough Breast Cancer (for details go to tansparty.co.uk). These kinds of events are taking place every week in a bid to raise funds to fight against this dreadful disease.

For anyone going through this awful illness my advice is to never feel embarrassed about asking for help as there’s so much available. We have such an amazing array of cancer charities in Yorkshire that are extremely active. Everyone’s experience of this disease is unique to them and it’s so important to not let the illness define you – though at times it is very hard. There’s no cure for cancer but during our lifetime this may just change, which is why we should all actively support the amazing work our county’s cancer fighting charities do.

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