As part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we’re raising awareness about the impact of secondary breast cancer, and what support is available for patients who receive a cancer diagnosis.
We’ve been speaking to Naomi, who is currently going through her cancer journey at the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre.
Naomi was diagnosed with breast cancer on 19th November 2020. The following month, she was told she had De Novo metastatic breast, meaning when the breast cancer was detected it had already spread. At the time of writing, Naomi was responding well to treatment options available to her and at her previous two scans, there had been no evidence of further spread. Only approximately 6% of patients with breast cancer are diagnosed De Novo metastatic.
Following her diagnosis, Naomi joined Beatson Cancer Charity’s ‘Living with Uncertainty’ programme. This programme was introduced to help those who are experiencing a level of distress in relation to the uncertainty associated with a cancer diagnosis, and the impact on the person’s ability to live life in a way that is both meaningful and satisfying.
Prior to joining the group, Naomi was reluctant to share her feelings and worries with others as she felt she had to appear strong and positive. Before participating, Naomi told us she felt she had placed all emphasis on the physical side of the cancer and had therefore neglected her mental health in trying to process her diagnosis.
Following completion of the 6-week Living with Uncertainty group programme, Naomi described the importance of the safe space that these groups provided for her. She said she felt it was an easy environment to talk in and felt very comfortable with no fear.
She really liked the eclectic, mixed nature of the group including patients with different cancer types and at mixed stages of their journey, as well as hearing the different ways it impacted the other participants.
Naomi said: “It felt like a switch was turned on in my brain after the first session - it just felt right.
“Empathy and care were at the centre of the group, it felt like a warm cuddle with Lauren and Kirsty each week. They were the perfect people to run the group, who made me feel safe and understood, as did the other participants.
“I never felt nervous and really felt able to be open and even cry naturally. At the end of each group, I felt like I was really taking care of myself and doing something really important for me.
“I’m very thankful for the care and support I have continued to receive from The Beatson as I continue to adjust to my ‘new normal’ of living with this disease.”
An estimated 35,000 people are living with secondary breast cancer in the UK. While it cannot be cured, there are treatments that can help control certain forms of the cancer for some time and relieve symptoms to help people live well for as long as possible.
Gillian Hailstones, director of care services, said: “Being given a diagnosis of secondary breast cancer is the very thing no woman wants to hear. Once you have been given that news it is easy to feel completely overwhelmed and unsure of what you should be thinking or how you should be feeling.
“It is crucial therefore that woman get the emotional and psychological help and support they need. This allows them to start taking control of their situation and finding a way to focus on the areas of their life they have the power to influence and change.
“A first step in this process is identifying what is most important to them, what they value the most and our Living With Uncertainty programme is designed to help with exactly that. It helps participants to connect to and focus on what matters most to them while also equipping them with strategies and techniques to manage those difficult and overwhelming thoughts and feelings that can become all consuming.
“With additional support from our Wellbeing Team who can offer a range of therapies and services including relaxation, meditation and mindfulness sessions, as well as our Specialist Health and Work team who can assist and support with decisions around work and home life, woman can start to find a way to move forward from the shock of their diagnosis.”
You can find out more about our Living with Uncertainty programme here.