"They understand from inside out and would do anything to help"
Donna is building up her life again after months of aggressive treatments for cervical cancer, with a little help from her friends at St Helena. Having previously volunteered as a complementary therapist at the Tendring Centre in Clacton, Donna self-referred to St Helena after her diagnosis, knowing the team would know how to support her in getting the help she needed to deal with what was to come. This is Donna’s story…
I had always ignored smear test request letters, and in early 2017 I ignored heavy bleeding too. What prevented me going was embarrassment, total embarrassment. Just the thought of lying there. I couldn’t even make an appointment.
After I’d been bleeding for two weeks, I thought I’ll leave it for another week and then make a doctor’s appointment... oh maybe I’ll leave it a month, perhaps two months. Four months just went by. I went to work one day and couldn’t physically stand up. Friends convinced me to go to my GP. The next few weeks were a blur of hospital appointments and I was very quickly diagnosed with an advanced tumour which would need aggressive treatment. To say I was terrified would be an understatement.
When I was first diagnosed, one of the first things that came into my head was how surreal it was that I used to volunteer with St Helena doing manicures or making cups of tea. And then I thought, there are people there who will accept me for who I am and what I’m going through. Within days of being diagnosed I went to the Tendring Centre and had a good cry at reception.
"I rang St Helena’s SinglePoint in the middle of the night which was like having a glimmer of light in the darkness."
They gave me some phone numbers and I took every leaflet off the stand. Within no time at all I was being given support on the phone and face to face. My counsellor was able to put my fears into perspective and offered invaluable support.
During my months of treatment, I sometimes rang St Helena’s SinglePoint in the middle of the night which was like having a glimmer of light in the darkness. I also have amazing friends and family who genuinely got me through a terrible time day in, day out, when I didn’t want to carry on.
Treatment takes its toll both mentally and physically. I called my tumour ET because it was almost like an alien was inside me taking over everything, controlling taste, nausea, sweating. I wasn’t eating, although I managed to get chocolate down! Every day I wanted to say, I appreciate everything you are doing to save my life but I just don’t want to do it anymore. Every day while hooked to the chemo machine, I thought I’m just going to say I don’t want to do this anymore. I don’t want to feel like this anymore. At the time I thought there was no way I can do this anymore. But I did.
Standing as a survivor
I’m in the process of writing a poem about my dance with cancer. There’s a bit of a nag in it really; please for the sake of five minutes have a smear test! The sickness, the days spent dragging myself on my hands and knees because I couldn’t walk. I don’t want anyone to go through that.
I took part in Relay For Life where you are part of a team walking for 24 hours and at the end I broke down in tears of joy, because I was standing there as a survivor with hundreds of people cheering us.
Cancer leaves its mark and I was referred to St Helena’s Day Therapies groups and to have complementary therapies. I struggle with the physical after effects of internal radiotherapy and the fear of cancer returning is always on my mind. I felt the treatment killed everything good in my body, but it is as if St Helena is there to replace it.
I just want to be positive now, however scared I am. I’m never asleep before 4am and it takes me a while to get going in the morning, get my hips going, and the treatments have had nasty side effects; but there are people at St Helena who can help me cope with things like that.
I now have coping mechanisms and I’m learning relaxation techniques and mindfulness. I really want to switch off and I get so angry with myself sometimes for not being able to cope. In the beginning I would lie awake thinking there is no future for me, I’m going to die. But mindfulness helps me relax and cope with the constant fear of cancer returning.
"I don’t know how they completely understand how I’m feeling, but they do."
St Helena is holding me together. I don’t know how they completely understand how I’m feeling, but they do. They treat me as though I’m the only person wanting help and support. They understand from inside out and would do anything to help. They are amazing people.
And I have made friends with the people who go to groups. I’ve been doing needlework with a lady I met at group and she’s almost like a nan to me now. She’s in her 80s and texts me to see how I am! St Helena has helped me make friends, friends that understand.
Last summer when I had to spend an emergency week in hospital, people I had met through St Helena were in touch offering help. I look forward to attending these special groups with the most special people. When I pull into the car park I breathe a sigh of relief thinking I can be me now. It’s definitely my space. It helps just to talk. It builds up and it’s good to let it out.
It’s made me appreciate the here and now. I can walk along the seafront and stop and look at a poppy growing and appreciate that I can now physically sit and look at a poppy if I want to. Last year I didn’t want to, I didn’t want to be walking, I didn’t want the next day to happen. I do now.
The real Donna
I don’t really look too far to the future, perhaps I should. I’ve still got the fears of ET coming back, but hopefully I’ll be healthy and happy.
It’s important to me to make other people aware of what St Helena can do. People still think it’s for one reason; to go to and die. It’s not. There are people laughing, people eating cupcakes, people crying with emotion because they are happy to be part of it. And if there are people dying, they are being supported.
I feel totally me, the real Donna when I come here. Someone at the group said to me once ‘it’s still me but I’m a different me’. And I always think that; I’m still me, I’m still Donna the clown who tries to make people laugh, but now every day I think of me differently. But so what if it’s a different me? I’m getting to like the me now.
Cancer is the worst group to be a member of, but St Helena is the best group to be part of.
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