Back in 2012, at the age of 36, Joanne was diagnosed with breast cancer. She underwent a lumpectomy, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, oophorectomy and was given a drug called Anastrozole for ten years. Here, she tells us why she began a support group and what Hope House has done for her local community.
Even with a supportive family, close friends and three small children, my breast cancer diagnosis made me feel isolated. I wanted to ask questions and talk to others in a similar situation. I was 36 and expected to meet others like me but most people I came across were a lot older. They were amazing people but I wanted to see how others in my position had dealt with this, especially concerning my children. I could cope with anything thrown at me; I just didn’t want my children to have to cope with it. During chemo, I used to daydream; I even planned a place called Hope House where people could come together for support.
In January 2014, Bosom Family Support held its first meeting. A local piano school kindly donated £600 for me to get the group going, and we met in a local Village Hall, each with a cup of tea and a slice of cake, ready for a chat. Ten of us met that first night, shedding tears of all kinds as we told our stories one by one. This was the start of our support group.
Reflecting on the session, I knew we couldn’t emotionally process that much crying every time, so we introduced activities. We did everything from Easter bonnet parades, flower arranging and book folding to golf, decoupage and art classes – never forgetting the tea and cake! To date, we have supported around 80 ladies. Some people stay for years, some people come and go as they need us, some people move on after our support and the group simply isn’t for others.
Since then, we’ve gone on to support a group for children called Liferafts. It’s based on the same ideas as Bosom Family Support but specifically for children whose parents have or have had cancer. Over the years, our meetings have become more about friendship. We’ve gone on bus trips, had afternoon tea, and even formed a choir.
The constant throughout everything was that support was there for the many challenges that people face after a diagnosis of cancer. When the hospital appointments stop, our comfort blanket is removed, I see our group as one that fills a gap. We are not medically trained, nor experts in cancer, but we have an understanding; we know that it is not only an emotional battle but a physical battle as our lives return to this new normal. For someone to be able to say “I get that”, “I understand” or “that happened to me, too” makes us instantly feel less alone. As a group, we have experienced highs and massive lows, and the support that this group has given to one another, especially during those lows, has just been incredible.
That daydream of Hope House was never far from the back of my mind and, last September, we successfully opened our doors to welcome even more people from the local community. Hope House is always buzzing with different activities held there; the cuppa and chat, the treatment room, the counselling room and the children’s room. It is a warm, welcoming and friendly place to visit. It’s a hub where we can help all members of the family after a cancer diagnosis – cancer doesn’t just affect the patient.
Like many others, our world came to a standstill back in March and I really struggled to think of how we could continue to help others. We did the online quizzes, discos, but knew those having active treatment for their cancer would be struggling as they had to shield at the same time.
We came up with the idea to deliver a nutritious meal to families once a week so they had one less thing to worry about. At the beginning, we thought we could run it for around four weeks, but we’re now into August and have provided over 2800 portions of food to approximately 73 families. We’ve had fantastic support from The Wortley Hotel, local Lions Groups, Rotary Groups and other local businesses and are now able to fund the meals until the end of September.
More recently, we’ve been able to reopen the doors at Hope House to resume counselling and are planning a phased return to normal from September. We can’t wait to get back to providing support to anyone in our local community affected by cancer because we know that no one should face cancer alone.
For a map of cancer support groups in the Humber, Coast and Vale area, click here to head to our directory.