Dealing with the news that you have breast cancer is devastating at any time.
But for Suzie Railson, it came at the worst possible point in her life following the breakdown of her marriage.
The support network most people have just wasn’t there – until she discovered the Wessex Cancer Support Centre in Cosham.
Volunteers and staff at the centre have provided a shoulder to cry on during arguably the most difficult period in her life.
Suzie, 59, first found out she had cancer in August, 2015.
‘I found a lump by pure accident,’ she recalls.
‘It was a massive shock. I didn’t say anything to anybody. I rang the GP the next morning. I think I just knew.’
The doctor told Suzie it didn’t look good and that she needed to go for a scan. She was referred to hospital.
‘I had left my husband two weeks before that,’ she explains.
‘So the circumstances were a bit strange. Life back then became a whirlwind of people to see, things to do and things to talk about.’
Suzie had a mammogram and a scan on the same day.
She says: ‘It was quite scary. I was by myself, which on reflection was very silly but I didn’t have a family support network.’
The doctor told Suzie it looked like cancer, but that the biopsy results would confirm it.
She says: ‘The waiting was horrific. Two weeks later I went back with my friend. I went in to see the consultant and I knew straight away it was bad news because there was a nurse there as well.
‘They told me my worst fears – that we were talking about stage three breast cancer. ‘
Suzie was also told that the type of cancer she had was triple negative, which meant she was unable to take hormone-blocking drugs to stop the cancer cells from coming back.
‘That means there’s nothing you can do apart from have your treatment and hope for the best,’ she says.
Three weeks later, she had a lumpectomy and had 10 lymph nodes removed as well. What eventually followed was a course of chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
Suzie moved to Hampshire to live with a friend following the breakdown of her marriage and has now settled here. She says: ‘I coped quite well. I don’t know how I coped, but I just go with the flow. My friend came with me to the appointments. She is amazing. We’ve known each other for 37 years. She’s like my sister.
‘I lost a lot of family support when I left my husband. I have estranged children and grandchildren that I don’t see.’
Suzie finished her treatment in May last year and is now in remission. However, her body has struggled to cope.
The chemotherapy affected her bone structure and she now suffers from osteopenia. She also has pain in both her arms.
‘I have learnt to deal with a whole different body,’ she says.
‘I’m a different person now. I can’t do an awful lot of things that I used to be able to do.
‘Everything is different now, including my outlook on life. I feel like I have been through a bereavement.
‘My whole life has changed and my whole being is very different. I feel very vulnerable. I cry an awful lot.
‘The whole journey from the moment of diagnosis to finishing treatment a year later is surreal because you lose control of your life.’
Now living alone, Suzie often goes days without seeing people.
But one thing that does keep her going is her regular visits to the Wessex Cancer Support Centre in Cosham.
She goes there at least once a week where she receives free counselling.
She says: ‘I knew I needed help. This was my turning point. Here, I am able to sit in a room and not be judged. I can be myself.
‘They are wonderful people. The girls that come and do the treatments are all volunteers. It’s amazing.’
Suzie still has regular tests to see if the cancer has returned – and that makes it harder to move on.
But there is good news – her 22-year-old student daughter is now in regular contact with her and they also see each other.
Now Suzie wants to raise wareness of breast cancer and the centre that has helped her.
‘I wouldn’t be in such a good place now if I didn’t have the support of the Wessex Cancer Support Centre.
‘They are there for me. I hope to gain an awful lot now that I have come out the other end.’
The NHS says that the first symptom of breast cancer most women notice is a lump or an area of thickened tissue in their breast.
Most breast lumps (90 per cent) aren’t cancerous, but it’s always best to have them checked by your doctor.
You should see your GP if you notice any of the following:
A new lump or area of thickened tissue in either breast that was not there before.
A change in the size or shape of one or both breasts.
Bloodstained discharge from either of your nipples .
A lump or swelling in either of your armpits.
Dimpling on the skin of your breasts.
A rash on or around your nipple.
A change in the appearance of your nipple, such as becoming sunken into your breast.
At the Cancer Support Centre in Cosham, clients affected by cancer are able to access emotional and physical care. Counselling and complementary therapies are offered, while visitors can also speak to other people going through a similar experience and get support.
Drop in between 10-4pm, Mon-Thurs. Call (023) 9232 6511 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.