When I was first diagnosed, it never crossed my mind that cancer would bring a parade of incredible new women into my life. I knew a fair number of great women already, and I was – and continue to be – grateful for them. My existing friends and family took care of me, wrapped me in their kindness and love, and it helped enormously. But there were things they couldn’t do, things they didn’t know. Having been through breast cancer herself, my mum was able to answer some of my questions, but she hadn’t had chemotherapy, hadn’t done it all with two young children, hadn’t been plunged into surgical menopause in her thirties.
But there are women who have. And I was lucky enough to find them. I found them in the amazing Facebook group Younger Breast Cancer Network (YBCN). I found them at Breast Cancer Care’s Younger Women Together event. I found them through this blog.
There’s Rachel. I saw her this week. She lives seven miles from me and was also diagnosed during pregnancy, four months after I was. We share an oncologist and our treatment plans were similar in many ways. Rachel finished active treatment the day before I saw her. Her hair is about half an inch long all over and she looks stunning. Her baby boy is a happy and healthy eight-month-old. In September, she’s modelling for Breast Cancer Care’s annual fundraising fashion show and in October she’s running a half marathon to raise money for Cancer Research UK.
There’s Emily. I reached out to Emily online after she posted a photo of a Jon McGregor book on her chemo tray table. I found out that she’s a short story writer. She didn’t tell me but it gradually became apparent that she’s a pretty successful one; the kind who wins prizes. She won a copy of Jon McGregor’s latest novel, Reservoir 13, in a Twitter competition, and she posted it to me while I was in hospital having my double mastectomy, ahead of its publication. The kindness of this gesture is etched on my memory.
There’s Jackie. Jackie’s another writer. She’s published a memoir, Tea & Chemo, the proceeds of which go to breast cancer charities, and a novel, Glass Houses. I asked her for some advice about publishing a while back, and she sent me a long and thoughtful email packed with useful information. She’s also shown a lot of kindness and compassion towards me in regards to my sister’s stroke, and has shared the story of her own daughter’s stroke.
There are others. Carie, who lay on the floor beside me during a laughter yoga workshop while tears of joy ran into our ears. Bethan, who I recognised at the Younger Women Together event and later realised I knew from my course at university but hadn’t seen for fifteen years. Amy, who lit up that same event with her green hair and her warmth, and who later set up a group for us to share our journeys back to fitness. Marianne, who has said so many kind things about my writing that have lifted my spirits, and who sent me a book, which is the quickest way to my heart. Adi, who had her mastectomy surgery a day after me and became my much-needed recovery buddy. Laura, who lives locally and who I’ve run into twice at the supermarket, where we’ve chatted over our trolleys about this shitty disease.
These women are fierce and I’m proud to know them. They fundraise, they fight, they raise children, they work, they live. I would never have met them if it wasn’t for the breast cancer that unites us. And while I don’t think I’ll ever be pleased I had it, I’m certainly pleased I have them. They’ve shown me so many things: that there’s no right or wrong way to handle this; that there is life (so much life) after a diagnosis; that there is beauty in courage and in weakness. I want to thank them for their kindness and their time. I want to wish them well. I want to let them know that I think of them often, that their stories are in my heart, that I am here if they need me.