‘We focus on singing and laughing’

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There are plenty of cheers and hugs for Carla Seaton as she tells her friends and singing companions her wonderful news.

After a year of treatment and distressing operations, Carla has learned that she is clear of cancer and doesn’t need another check-up for six months.

Peter Long conducting the Wessex Cancer Trust choir during rehearsals at Portsmouth Watersports Centre. Picture: Steve Reid Blitz Photography (132454-074)

Peter Long conducting the Wessex Cancer Trust choir during rehearsals at Portsmouth Watersports Centre. Picture: Steve Reid Blitz Photography (132454-074)

And members of the Quay of Sea Voices are keen to share this special moment and show the 38-year-old mum how thrilled they are.

Gathered at Friday night practice in a room at Portsmouth Watersports Centre, they fuss around a beaming Carla (pictured on the front of Family Life) before getting back to business.

Minutes later they’re stood side by side doing voice exercises before launching into hit tune Sing.

‘Sing it stronger, sing together, make this moment last forever, old and young shouting love tonight’ they belt out, and Gary Barlow’s lyrics couldn’t be more inspirational.

This choir has been put together by Wessex Cancer Trust and each member is either a cancer patient, relative, carer or nurse.

They all have their own stories. Some are getting better, others are going through a tense time as they wait for their own results.

But they’re all delighted about Carla’s news.

‘I thought about how it might be for other people if I came in and told them like this,’ says the Portsmouth single mum, who was diagnosed with breast cancer last year.

‘In the end I didn’t tell them to say ‘‘I’ll be okay’’, I was letting them know that there’s hope and that there’s every chance they’ll be okay too.

‘Because in the end we’re all there for each other.’

The trust set up the singing group in April with the idea of boosting the wellbeing of patients.

Run by tenor and coach Simon Long, it is free for people with cancer, carers, families and friends.

‘When we’re singing, endorphins are released in the body and they give us a great sense of wellbeing,’ he says. ‘And it also gives people with cancer and their carers and families a chance to get out and do something together.’

He stresses that the Friday night sessions are fun singing lessons and for everyone – whether they want to stand at the back or take a solo role.

But the group have come on in leaps and bounds since April, with some people who have never sung publicly doing solos, and the choir gearing up for public performances in the autumn and winter.

But Carla, who takes a break from the singing to tell her story, says it’s all about friendship too.

‘We have a really good laugh and it’s something to look forward to,’ she explains as the voices ring out from the practice room overlooking a peaceful Langstone Harbour.

Carla had been going through the toughest of times when she joined the choir.

Because there is a high incidence of breast cancer in her family, she was having regular mammograms and last year the examination picked up something unusual.

Carla, who is a student at Portsmouth University and mum to 11-year-old Mia, had an operation and cancer cells were found although thankfully they hadn’t spread and she could be treated.

But she eventually made the traumatic decision of having a double mastectomy as there was a high chance of the cancer returning.

‘It wasn’t an easy decision but I have a daughter and that’s the most important thing. I want to see her grow up and meet my grandchildren.’

Undergoing operations, including the final 10-hour procedure, which included a breast reconstruction, has been extremely tough.

‘I was trying to take everything in and look after Mia. I’m only coming to terms with it now,’ says Carla.

She says Mia, who stayed with her dad while Carla was in hospital, has been supportive beyond her years.

And when mum and daughter heard the good news, they did a little dance in the hospital and then went to Frankie and Benny’s to celebrate.

Carla joined the choir because she loved singing and thought the companionship would be helpful, and other members agree.

Peter Watson, 63, has bowel cancer and joined with wife Sue who has also suffered from the disease.

He’s going through a tense time following chemotherapy, waiting to hear if his cancer has been cleared.

But Peter, from Portsmouth, says he looks to others for inspiration. ‘I look at my wife and think ‘she was okay’ and then I hear news like Carla’s. It gives you that bit of hope.’

Steve Duffy, a 63-year-old former helicopter pilot from Portsmouth, has been diagnosed with prostate cancer and attends the singing lessons with brother Frank, a former BA captain who also has cancer.

Steve’s cancer was caught early and he is very hopeful, but the choir is helping him through a tough time.

‘It’s great, there are so many different people here. We all have different stories but those are coming out slowly, because we’ve been focusing on singing and having a laugh.’

Carla hopes she can support her friends as well as enjoy her singing.

‘I’m loving this, but it’s not just about me, we’ve all suffered. It’s great to be with people who understand.’

QUAY OF SEA VOICES

Quay of Sea Voices meet every Friday evening during term time at 7pm at Portsmouth Watersports Centre in Eastern Road.

The group will be performing at Wessex Cancer Trust’s Christmas Carol Service at Portsmouth Anglican Cathedral, Old Portsmouth on Tuesday, December 17 at 7pm. Tickets are £8. They will also be taking part in other Portsmouth concerts. The choir is also looking for a volunteer accompanist.

For information on events, joining or volunteering services, visit http://wessexcancer.org/support-services/wessex-cancer-trust-choirs/ or contact Wessex Cancer Trust grants and patient support manager Nichola Jacobs on (023) 8067 2200.

Those interested can also email nichola@wessexcancer.org or reach Quay of Sea Voices coach Simon Long at simon@tenore.co.uk.

Wessex Cancer Trust supports patients and their families in Hampshire, Dorset, Wiltshire, the Isle of Wight and the Channel Islands.

It has centres in areas including Southampton and Winchester and is planning to open new bases in Portsmouth and Bournemouth by the end of the year.

A fundraising barn dance is being held at Best Western Royal Beach Hotel, Southsea on Saturday, January 25. To book this or the carol concert go to linkedupfundraising.co.uk/events, call (023) 9236 0212 or email clare@linkedupfundraising.co.uk.