Hilary was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer in September 2017. This means that the cancer has spread outside the pelvis into the abdominal cavity or to the lymph nodes.
“It was an incredibly scary diagnosis to receive,” Hilary recalls, “but what really put me in a spin was that it was the same cancer my mother died from.”
Hilary had major surgery, followed by six months of chemotherapy. After her first round of treatment, she met volunteer befrienders from our Bournemouth Support Centre at a seminar, who told her about the support she could access there.
“Living with cancer made me feel very isolated and lonely, so I initially just went along to the Support Centre for a coffee and a chat,” Hilary recalls. “It quickly became a regular occurrence because I found it so easy to talk to everyone there. The team was always ready to pop the kettle on and listen without hesitation, and talking to other people with cancer was incredibly comforting. I found that even though we all had different cancers at different stages, we had many of the same fears and concerns and that helped to ease the feelings of loneliness.”
Hilary says just walking into the Support Centre was a huge help for her:
“There’s a big noticeboard where people share their experiences of cancer and any advice they might have. I remember seeing some tips on dealing with mouth ulcers, like the sort of sweets that are helpful. It’s little things like that, that make a big difference.”
“Unfortunately, eight months after my chemotherapy finished I was told that the cancer had come back and that I’d need another six months of treatment,” Hilary says. “Shortly after that it returned and I had to go through yet another round of chemotherapy. Three months after that I was told it had come back again and that I’d need a course of radiotherapy. It was at this time that I received a terminal diagnosis.”
Having to come on and off treatment was an intensely difficult time for Hilary, both physically and mentally.
“My cancer returning was always such a blow, but what kept me going was knowing there were people at the Support Centre who were there for me and who would support me unconditionally,” she says. “For me, the Support Centre felt like an oasis of calm, away from all the hospital appointments, treatment and blood tests.”
One of the many therapies Hilary was offered was Reiki. It’s a Japanese technique to reduce stress and aid relaxation that also promotes healing. It’s administered by ‘laying on hands’ and is based on the idea that an unseen life force energy flows through us and is what causes us to be alive. The lower our life force energy, the more likely we are to feel stress.
“I was sceptical at first,” Hilary says, but came to love it! My therapist, Laura, always gave me a big hug (pre Covid-19) and made me feel so special. It gave me such a sense of calm and helped me immensely. Wessex Cancer Trust offers so much and I can’t believe it’s all free.”
When Covid-19 hit in March 2020, we had to temporarily close our Support Centres. Knowing you would need us more than ever, we worked hard to develop our services so we could support your remotely Our four Support Centre managers were at the heart of this – quickly setting up telephone helplines, moving our services online and developing useful information and resources.
“Steffi had only been manager of the Bournemouth Support Centre for two weeks before it had to close. It must have been so hard for her, but as a qualified counsellor and someone who herself has had cancer, she understood how anxious her clients were feeling and that not being able to meet up with others would be incredibly tough. Everyone worked so hard to keep us connected and I still get emails all the time keeping me up-to-date with what’s going on. Steffi and her wonderful team of befrienders and therapists have been outstanding at being there for all of us during a really uncertain time. Wendy, a volunteer befriender at the Centre, has been marvellous and often phones to see how I’m doing.”
Hilary began a course of counselling on Zoom. “At first it was daunting because it was my first time using Zoom and it felt a little odd talking to someone I didn’t know from my living room”, she says, “but we soon got to know each other and it helped hugely to change my train of thought with everything that was going on.”
She then joined the Centre’s Zoom coffee catch-ups where she could chat with others living with cancer and the friends she had already made at the Centre. “A lot of the time we didn’t talk about cancer,” she recalls. “We just had a good natter and put the world to rights. Being able to make you feel ‘normal’ and not a sick person is a special gift, and the team at Wessex Cancer Trust does it so well.”
Our Bournemouth team’s dedication to going out of their way to improve the lives of others was recognised with a ‘Proud to Care’ award in November 2021. Click here to read the full article.
Our Bournemouth cancer Support Centre has recently moved. Click here for details.