In August 2014, Barbara was diagnosed with breast cancer. She found out about Breast Friends York at the beginning of her cancer journey and says the group helped her through the world of appointments, treatments, and medical terminology she had been thrown into. Now, six years later, Barbara is Secretary and a trustee of the group! Here she tells us more about what they do and how cancer treatment empowered her to celebrate a milestone birthday a little differently.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in August 2014. I had a lumpectomy, but unfortunately also needed further surgery – a mastectomy with immediate reconstruction, followed by six rounds of chemotherapy and Herceptin (an injection every three weeks for a year).
Between those two operations, I found out about Breast Friends York. Being a Medical Secretary at the time didn’t make the world of appointments, treatments and medical terminology any less scary, but Breast Friends did. Now, six years down the line, I’ve become Secretary and a trustee of the group.
In 2018, I turned 50 and, rather than being sad about ‘getting old’ like others sometimes are, I was determined to celebrate my surgery and treatment as, without them, I might not be here now. Despite never being a confident runner or wanting to join a running club, I joined GoodGym York in 2017 – a group that runs to complete community tasks across the city – and reached the milestone of completing 50 good deeds in January 2018, which meant I could wear the wonderful ‘cape of good deeds’… I really did feel like a superhero!
I loved it so much; I decided to plan various other 50-related challenges throughout the rest of the year. This included collecting 50 hugs from friends (all photographed), running and volunteering at 50 parkruns, and visiting 50 different cafes – that one was easy peasy! One of my big challenges was completing 50km in 24 hours at the Cancer Research UK Relay for Life York event in September. With the fantastic support of the Breast Friends team, despite awful weather and very little sleep, I reached my target by walking and running, with the whole team joining me for my last lap.
It would be wonderful to be able to enjoy those hugs again and take part in the activities that I enjoyed so much when I was ‘getting back to normal’, but understand that these things aren’t possible at the moment. However, ever the optimist, I look forward to the future when we can return to some form of normality, hug each other, and come together as a group again.
I now take Tamoxifen tablets and have annual mammograms. I’m feeling fit and healthy; a million miles away from how I felt during the 5km parkrun I did during my chemotherapy!
More about Breast Friends York
Breast Friends York, a registered charity since November 2017, was started by Zoe Bounds in April 2014 along with a friend who had been diagnosed with breast cancer the year before Zoe. The two came together in response to a lack of non-medical based support for patients with a breast cancer diagnosis in the York area. They both realised the importance of peer support and agreed they were in a position to provide that support for others going through what they’d experienced. Zoe is the Chair of Breast Friends York.
The group is open to anyone in York and surrounding areas with a breast cancer diagnosis, regardless of how recent or how long ago that might be. Typically, we meet once a month in the evening for a coffee, cake, and chat. Sometimes we’re joined by complementary therapist or guest speaker. We have a public Facebook page as well as a private group for our members, where we can offer help, support, and where members can ask questions with the confidence either the Breast Friends team or another member will be able to answer.
We hold regular sewing workshops, where we create heart-shaped pillows and drain bags to be given out to patients at York Hospital undergoing breast cancer surgery. Throughout the year, we host lingerie evenings in partnership with a well-known retailer, offering specialist lingerie and fittings for those who have had breast surgery. We offer a variety of activities such as yoga, a running club, hoop/aerial skills classes, and even a monthly lunch club at a local restaurant. To help fund everything, we run various fundraising events throughout the year, including craft sales at the York Fossgate Festival and York Pride.
Since COVID-19, we have moved our monthly meet-ups online via Zoom. At the beginning of the lockdown, we held them weekly, and even produced two yoga videos for our members to use at home! Unfortunately, our other activities have had to cease, along with the fundraising events we had planned for the year. Individual members and members of our wonderful Supportive Sewers are continuing to make our heart pillows and drain bags at home to keep the hospitals topped up with supplies. To make up for cancelled fundraising events, some of our members have been putting their skills to the test. One of our talented members has been making face masks in return for donations to Breast Friends York (over 150 masks so far!), with another crafting personalised hand sanitiser bottles.
For the foreseeable future, our meetings will be held online, but we hope to be back to face-to-face meet-ups as soon as it’s safe for us to do so. We will continue to keep in touch with and support our members via the Facebook group, as well as answering any queries we receive by email, telephone, or via our website.