I recently attended a ‘Younger Women Together‘ event in Bristol run by Breast Cancer Care, a charity that provides a range of services to support those affected by breast cancer, their friends and family. The event is aimed at women aged 20-45 who have been diagnosed with primary breast cancer in the last 3 years. I’d heard about the event earlier on this year at the beginning of my diagnosis and had pencilled it in my diary for November thinking I’d like to go. After a call with the charity’s support line one day, the lady I spoke to emphasised how good the event is for younger women and urged me to go so I registered to attend.
At that time, my treatment plan consisted of radiotherapy after surgery and I thought that by November I’d be back in the swing of work and getting back on with life. Little did I know I’d just be completing my final chemotherapy session shortly before the event.
As the timing was so close to my final treatment I questioned whether attending was the right thing to do. It was a fair distance away, I knew I’d feel tired and would also be around lots of people. I’ve barely been further than about a 15 miles these last few months and I was quite nervous about driving there. This event is run all over the country in locations such as Edinburgh, Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham, but I couldn’t be sure when the next one would be that was relatively close to me. I really wanted to go and knew I’d learn a lot and was hoping to connect with other women my age who had similar experiences.
Because I live more than 2 hours away from the venue, Breast Cancer Care kindly covered the cost of my hotel stay for the night before the event and the following night. It took me nearly 2.5 hours to get there in the end after taking a couple of wrong turnings!
Breast Cancer Care helpfully posted an item on their forum which enabled the ladies who were attending to connect with each other before the event. They also organised a dinner for those of us who had travelled the night before.
I was apprehensive to say the least to be going for dinner with a group of strangers. As soon as we all joined each other on the table we began chatting away with ease about where we were in our stages of treatment and how we were all getting on. There were 9 of us on that first evening, and whilst I wished we hadn’t been meeting under such circumstances, they were all really lovely. I felt relief and comfort being amongst other women who knew exactly what I had been experiencing and feeling. We were all really tired that evening and retired early to our rooms to get some much needed rest.
I was glad to have met the group of ladies I did the night before as we’d formed an initial bond that stayed for the duration of the weekend. The following day all the remaining women arrived at the hotel – there must have been well over 50 in total. I was surprised there were so many, and began chatting to some new arrivals over the morning refreshment break. It was hard listening to others’ stories and experiences, but with our shared connection in common it was easy to open up and talk.
The event was run across 2 days and the programme consisted of various information sessions including: a medical update – management of breast cancer in younger women, healthy eating, diet myths and wellbeing sessions (laugher yoga and mindfulness). There were separate break out groups to choose from on both days covering breast surgery and reconstruction, coping with menopausal symptoms, relationships and communication, fertility after treatment, lymphoedema and intimacy and sexuality.
There were plenty of breaks throughout giving us all the opportunity to chat over a cup of tea. The event closed with a talk from a lady called Kelly who spoke of her own personal experience of breast cancer and the path that it has taken her on. It was very painful to listen to her tell her story and of how it made her feel about herself. She appeared on Gok Wan’s ‘How to Look Good Naked’ programme when she felt at her lowest and I was astounded by her courage and bravery to do such a thing – she looked absolutely stunning. She has since become a post surgery lingerie model and is a public speaker for Breast Cancer Care. Her spirit and attitude was truly inspirational and there wasn’t a single dry eye in the room after she’d finished her session. I felt uplifted and motivated by her talk and encouraged to know that there can be so much to life following a breast cancer diagnosis.
One of the ladies I met recommended joining the Younger Breast Cancer Network UK Facebook group. If you are a younger woman facing breast cancer I would definitely recommend joining – it’s a secret group so posts and comments won’t show up on your feed – you just need to send a message asking to be added to the group. There are also sub groups you can request to join such as fertility, pregnancy, research, end of life, moving on as well as 10 regional groups.
By the end of the two days I was maxed out on hearing about breast cancer. Whilst all the sessions were really useful and informative they were quite hard going and emotional at times. All the Breast Cancer Care staff were absolutely brilliant, they really couldn’t do enough for us and I would like to thank them and the charity for putting on such a great event and enabling me to attend. I would also like to thank the ladies I connected with that weekend – Kerry, Nicky, Sara, Cate, Criona, Amanda, Jo, Yvonne and Kerry – I look forward to staying in touch.