Life is FAB cover - Copy

This story first appeared in Mwaah Magazine, based West Essex/East Herts & Uttlesford, in Autumn 2012

By Wendy Pike

It’s something that happens to someone else isn’t it? You probably even know someone who has had it, is having treatment for it, or has just been diagnosed. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in the UK. For those of you still feeling confident this is a disease that happens to other people and knowing you should check your breasts, yet never quite finding the time to do so, sadly the UK statistics are soberingly shocking:

  • Lifetime risk for women is one in eight.
  • 50,000 new cases diagnosed each year. 300 are men.
  • It’s the second biggest cause of death from cancer in women.

Whilst it isn’t my intention is to put the frighteners on you to such a degree you have sleepless nights, I do want you to wake you up to the fact it takes only a few seconds to make those regular checks which could potentially save your life because, to borrow a former National Lottery slogan, it could be you – really. And early detection is still the best defence.

If you have the misfortune to win ‘the unlucky lottery,’ like I did in February 2010, and become a member of the diagnosed-with-breast-cancer-sisterhood, by living or working in this area you actually have a massive advantage. There is a plenitude of excellent support and advice services in the neighbourhood.

Carole Bugg from Bishops Stortford was diagnosed with breast cancer in May 2011. In June, Carole had surgery and in the autumn six sessions of chemotherapy followed. “I automatically thought, you’ve got to look for a lump but mine showed itself as a crease mark.

“You have to look out for changes. If you find anything you’re not sure about, see your doctor – you’re not wasting anybody’s time.”

Since finishing her medical treatment, Carole has benefited from relaxation therapies offered by the Helen Rollason Cancer Support Centre, at The Rivers Hospital in Sawbridgeworth.

“We are so lucky to have the Helen Rollason Centre.

“After cancer treatment you want to get back to normality but in a way you do still need to de-stress. It’s a really nice place to go to and it’s such a calming environment. It’s a great opportunity to relax and have a back massage or reflexology treatment.”

The Helen Rollason Charity has centres in Sawbridgeworth, Chelmsford and Edmonton, offering support to people living with cancer and counselling for patients’ families, carers and friends.

A cancer support group runs from the Helen Rollason centre at The Rivers, meeting monthly at the hospital. Guest speaker Jo Painter, a Lifestyle Coach, is due at the next meeting.

For more information visit

When Carol Coombe from Harlow was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2010 she was adamant she didn’t want to ‘do support groups’. After going through chemotherapy she was cajoled into going to a Fabulous and Beautiful meeting at St Margaret’s Hospital in Epping. It’s not strictly a support group but to her surprise Carol found meeting others in similar circumstances, enjoyable and helpful.

“Everybody was so positive and I felt I was giving something back – supporting others as well as being supported myself.

“I was so scared about my up-coming operation but to the other girls who had already had their surgery, that was old news. They were more worried about losing their hair with chemo but I’d done that and it was easy – ish.”

Ladies with any kind of cancer can attend up to three Fabulous and Beautiful (FAB) sessions where they can be pampered by professional volunteer beauty therapists. Meetings are held on the first Monday of every month from 11am to 2pm in Birchwood House at St Margaret’s Hospital. Places are free but must be booked ahead.

FAB has published a fund-raising booklet called Life is FAB. It aims to spread the breast cancer awareness message, offer encouragement and help to others undergoing treatment and raise the charity’s profile.

Life is FAB features fifteen local ladies who share their experiences and views on living with diagnosis. It’s very much a celebration of life with a nod to the harsh reality that not every tussle with this disease has a happy outcome.

To order a copy of Life is FAB, book a FAB session or to check out FAB’s calendar of fundraising events call the Breast Cancer Clinical Trials office on 01279 444 455 ext 5062. Alternatively, write to The Breast Cancer Clinical Trials office, St Margaret’s Hospital, Epping, Essex, CM16 6TN, enclosing a cheque for £10 payable to PAH NHS Charitable Fund for your copy of Life is FAB.

Amanda Barr from Sawbridgeworth was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2001. Since then, in her spare time, she has become a dedicated charity fundraiser.

“At the time it was devastating because I had a young family and I was worried for them. But in a weird way so much good has come out of a negative. I live my life to the max now and I love doing charity work.”

There are many ways to support the NHS charitable fund which operates the FAB programme and Breast Cancer Clinical Trials. From a ladies’ pamper evening that Amanda is helping to organise and a car boot sale, to a half marathon and a £100 per ticket ball – there are numerous events in the pipeline.

If you’re a lady who lunches, a new, informal, girls-only group for those with cancer, could be for you. Brafternoon holds meetings with guest speakers on the second Tuesday of the month from 12 – 2pm at Manor of Groves Hotel in Sawbridgeworth.  More details at

Hopefully by now you’ve got your diaries out and are making note of something from this plethora of opportunity which caught your eye. If not, it’s time to get them out. And your diaries! (To pencil in those important checks so you remember them regularly.) Really. Don’t delay, check yourself out today – you know what I mean.   And if you have any concerns, see your GP straightaway.

Breast Cancer Care runs a free, confidential helpline on 0808 800 6000 from 9am – 5pm Monday to Friday and from 10am to 3pm on Saturdays.