I recently went on a weekend away- very nice it was too! A night in a hotel and two days of slap up meals! But this was a weekend with a difference- it was organised by Breast Cancer Care and was a forum for younger women affected by breast cancer.
Once I was booked on I was really nervous- what if everyone was really serious and depressing? What if no one wanted to speak to me? What if they were all really young and was in fact an older woman?
I had this whole scenario worked out in my head that there would be high school style cliques. The straight forward lumpectomy girls hanging out together, the bald ones sticking together, the wiggy ones in a tight circle and a group of hard core stage fourers that no one would mess with! Where would I fit in? Would I be accepted into any of these groups?
As it turned out of course all the 29 other women were perfectly normal (much like me) and it was soon clear that breast cancer was not all we shared in common. There seemed to be a high number of teachers for a start- are we susceptible to breast cancer or are we just more inclined to attend courses held in hotels? You decide.
It was really interesting to hear different experiences, many of which made me feel lucky. The others talked of friendship and relationship issues, problems with work, continuing side affects from the treatment and a lack of control over how their diagnosis was handled. I have to say that this was a real eye opener- I haven't had any friends drop me because they couldn't face dealing with me and cancer (well if they did drop me then `i haven't noticed so I'm certainly not missing them!) If anything my relationship is stronger now. I have no arm pain and have full use of my arm and shoulder. (A patch remains numb but who needs armpit sensitivity?) It seems I have put hot flushes past me quicker than I could have hoped to as well! I've talked a lot about how grateful I am that I had my two boys before this thing hit but the younger women's forum bought this home again. I am definitely one of the lucky ones.
Twitter played its part as it seems to do these days- I met a couple of lovely ladies who I'd been following for a few months- it was great to put a face to the tweets and was oddly reassuring to know that there was going to be someone that I knew there (well sort of).
It was funny to look around the room and see all the different stages of hair regrowth- I had a thin covering of hair at the time and most women seemed to want that stage back again; they hated their new thick, curly hair and wanted a short crop back- this makes me think that I have a difficult stage ahead of me! But looking around that room I saw many people I hoped to look just like really soon!
The major issue these younger women seemed to have was with their medical team not communicating openly with them- something I initially thought I hadn't experienced myself- it wasn't until I started to recall where I got all my information from and realised it was of course not from the medical team at all but from a friend who'd already experienced all this herself. This has really made me think about how important it is to team up with someone who has unfortunately been there and done that- their experience can certainly ease your fear of the unknown. I'm really grateful that I had someone to talk me through step by step what I was likely to expect.
It was great to get tips from the other women at the forum too- from deodorant choices and shampoo to serums, pillows and Tamoxifen brands. One lady even told me about a charity that would happily send me on a holiday!
I learnt loads about reconstructive surgery and am now looking forward to getting my new boob- even though I expect it to be a bit Frankensteinish! The part I took most away from was the psychologist who came to talk to us about moving on- he had so much to say that was fascinating and I think it was really well timed for me- I was at a point where I was ready and willing to move on and he made me feel better about many of the emotions I'd been experiencing- to be honest it's not the actual emotions that are the problem- it's the flitting between them all that can make life difficult!
One of the things I was always in danger of doing was over sharing- I knew my splurge-like mouth could get me into trouble! There was a sex and relationships seminar that I attended and even I could feel myself willing my mouth to shut and stay closed- honestly what is my problem? Why do I feel the need to share everything? This was of course true of the evening's socialising; once I had a drink in me I couldn't help telling my table at dinner how wonderfully normal I thought everyone was and telling them about my high school clique fears. We then preceded to play Top Trumps with our cancer symptoms, treatments and procedures... 'Just a lumpectomy? Pah, I've had a full mastectomy!' 'Just the one? I've had both off!' 'You did't even have chemo? Ugh, Call yourself a cancer patient? You don't even know you're born!' 'Radiotherapy... well that's just a walk in the park!' It was funny in a dark way but you might have had to have been there!
So I took a lot away from the weekend... information, shared experiences, new friendships, a better understanding of my own recovery, a sense of being lucky in many many ways and a respectable score at Top Trumps!
I am hugely grateful to Breast Cancer Care for their organisation of this event. I found it unexpectedly useful and entertaining- and I wasn't the only one- I think everyone enjoyed themselves and plan to keep in touch- there's even a reunion planned already!
So I guess what I'm trying to say is... if you're going to donate to a breast cancer charity then make sure it is Breast Cancer Care- they're fab!