A North Devon woman who was diagnosed with breast cancer aged just 29 says a new cancer and wellbeing centre in North Devon would be an ‘absolute asset’.
Lisa Wallis, who founded the charity ChemoHero, said when her cancer journey started five years ago, she felt very isolated.
The mother-of-one knew noone her own age who had cancer and her nearest support link, Force in Exeter, was over an hour away.
“I couldn’t have faced that during my chemotherapy; a journey I didn’t want to make any more after the three consecutive weeks of radiotherapy, and a dreaded reminder after my mastectomy of what I’d lost last time I travelled to that area,” said Lisa.
“When I was re-diagnosed two years ago there still was no local support, however I met another young lady a year ahead of me in treatment, and from this special friendship we developed a local online community which now has over 50 ladies in it from North Devon.
“We meet at a local coffee shop where we chat, but the most pressing conversations cannot take place there - the ones involving our fertility, our change in body image, our deepest thoughts and worries about death - because the coffee shop isn’t the right environment.
“As a group of younger ladies, balancing our lives after treatment with full time jobs to continue to pay mortgages, for some of us looking after their partners and children, and then as quick as finishing chemotherapy spinning back on the wheel of life after such a shock diagnosis looking after yourself can get harder as there is no support where we are able to release all those’after issues’ caused by cancer and so they bubble away inside of you.”
Lisa is speaking out in support of the Over and Above appeal to build a new £1.5million centre where groups like this can meet in privacy for support.
Lisa said: “I used to think people were joking with the expression ‘scanxiety’; however I’ve learnt this is an actual fear.
“I personally go into survival mode one and a half weeks before a scan.
“I fear for my life; is this the appointment they see the cancer? How am I going to break the news to everyone I love? How am I going to deal with it all? What’s my little boy going to do without his mummy?
“Yet I have nowhere safe to collect these thoughts, not even our online support group can help because it’s all of our worst fears.
“This is why a North Devon well-being centre is so highly needed – a sanctuary you can head to where you’re surrounded by information or people who understand where you are in life.
“A place where you can meet others or join a group and speak about the taboo subjects because there is a trained group counsellor to talk to.
“A place where you can just ‘be’ with no demand expected of you.”
Lisa remembers when her cancer was diagnosed a second time, she was able to sit with her husband and mother at the Force centre in Exeter with a cup of tea and digest the news.
There was also a volunteer there, who Lisa said was a ‘a gentle voice and a person who had time to listen’.
“She was a person to let us say what we had been through, what we were feeling and someone who helped us to gather our thoughts so that we felt safe to get into the car and travel home again,” said Lisa.
“In North Devon we have no support like this within our hospital grounds.
“I believe such a centre that could offer this support would be an absolute asset to cancer patients in North Devon.”
While fighting her own battle with cancer Lisa set up her charity ChemoHero to help chemotherapy patients in North Devon.
With her husband Rob, seven-year-old son Stanley and a team of volunteers, she has given out nearly 200 boxes of kindness – a filled box of useful items and treats to every new patient at the Seamoor Chemotherapy Unit.
Lisa added: “I find when visiting those who have received our boxes of kindness that it is also the partners of those with cancer who suddenly break down to my husband about how they are feeling, only to find at the end our visit with them that they also feel a sense of relief, as they realise all these emotions they’ve let out are completely normal.
“Cancer can be incredibly isolating, not only for the patients, but for our families as well.
“They’ve often gone through a long period of time having nobody to communicate just how they are feeling.
“I believe a North Devon Cancer and Wellbeing Centre would provide a central hub of support for so many patients with long term health issues and their relatives.”
Find out more about the appeal on the Over and Above website.
To find out more about the Over and Above charity, visit www.overandabove.org.uk, the charity’s Facebook page, contact the fundraising team on 01271 311772, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.