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Watching TV show Neighbours saved my life….and Macmillan nurses helped me stay strong

PUBLISHED: 15:00 25 September 2019

Pauline Smith (right) with grandaughter Ella  Picture: Archant

Pauline Smith (right) with grandaughter Ella Picture: Archant

Archant

With the Macmillan Coffee Morning (September 27) on the horizon, Pauline Smith, 72, of Hadleigh reveals her cancer journey and the importance of the support offered by the charity.

The breast cancer storyline of Terese Willis in Neighbours led Pauline Smith from Hadleigh, Suffolk, to discover she too had the disease  Picture: Channel 5The breast cancer storyline of Terese Willis in Neighbours led Pauline Smith from Hadleigh, Suffolk, to discover she too had the disease Picture: Channel 5

"I was happily getting on with my day - taking time out to watch Neighbours - when a storyline struck a chord with me. A character, Terese, said her boob was hurting after a fall. I'd recently had a fall myself, so during the ad break I checked mine too. I found a lump. A few months prior to this I'd had a mammogram in one of those white vans you find in supermarket car parks and had got the all-clear, so I made an appointment with my GP. The doctor told me it was cancerous. I was shocked.

My options were either a full mastectomy or to just have the lump removed - the least intrusive choice and ultimately the one I made.

The first operation came in July 2017. Honestly, the staff insisted I did up my blue robe so as not to show any bits off, but you see more at the beach! I had another operation soon after to clear around the lump, taking out all the lymph nodes in my right arm.

The came chemotherapy every three weeks. Don't believe all the stories you might hear. I didn't get a sore mouth. My nails didn't fall out. But I didn't enjoy having to take my temperature all the time and became quite paranoid. I missed lots of foods I could no longer eat. Everything had to be untouched by others and certain fish and cheeses were not allowed. I was told I'd go off my food and feel, and be sick. But quite the opposite. I really couldn't stop eating. I was amazed at how much I was putting into my belly. I didn't have nausea at all but that shows how we all react so differently.

I did get terrible fatigue, not being able to get up, which still occurs today. If I tidy up or go to the shops it takes a few hours to recover. Since treatment I have only one pace and that's very slow!

After chemo there was radiotherapy every day for three weeks. I remember the worst thing, apart from the fatigue, was losing my hair - and no, I'm not vain. But when my daughter came over one day with the grandkids and I asked if they were OK with me not wearing my hat, they told me "it's still you grandma". Naturally it brought me to tears - I usually hide them quite well.

Eventually I got to ring that famous bell (apparently they want to get rid of it which would be a tragedy). Ringing that bell is a sense of achievement. I was applauded by the other patients and it was nice not only for me, but for them, hopefully knowing they will get there some day too. That's how I felt whenever hearing that bell while waiting for radiotherapy.

Throughout the journey Macmillan were fantastic. They are with you every step of the way and are always at the end of the phone to answer any questions. I had a lot of these throughout my treatment and, even during the night, they were always helpful. Rachel Clifton, my Macmillan chemotherapy key worker (I still see her six monthly) has been great. I felt stupid with some of the questions I was asking her, but she always had an answer for me. There was just so much support from everyone.

The John Le Vay centre at Ipswich Hospital was also very helpful and has various courses free of charge, including reflexology (very relaxing).

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For extra support I joined a group called BRIC on Facebook, which is helpful, as we've all been through the same experience. And there's another group locally called Someone Like Me, where they put you in touch with someone who's been through the same as you, but who is now clear of cancer. You can share memories and advice. Anyone going through cancer treatment would benefit from this.

Now my hair has grown back. It's not as curly as it was. And my nails are intact. I'm just missing two front teeth but hey ho, if that's the price I have to pay.

Going through my treatment I kept a note in the front of a book - You Can Do It, You Will Do It - to boost my morale. After beating cancer, I really do feel like I can do anything.

Macmillan offers advice, support and help from trained professionals. On Friday, September 27, schools, shops, businesses and more will open their doors for a coffee morning raising awareness and money for this vital service. Look out for the green and yellow signs, logos and balloons wherever you live in Suffolk and pop in to buy a slice of cake and enjoy a cup of tea!

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