I’m 46 and live with my partner Jeff and my two children– a son of 19 and a daughter of 15. I’ve been a primary school teacher since I was 22. In April this year I was randomly called for a mammogram as part of trials being held in Leeds to consider lowering the breast cancer screening age. It was pure chance that I was called and I’d had no symptoms of breast cancer – no lump, no difficulties, no pain – nothing, so didn’t expect anything to come of it. When I got called back for an appointment after the mammogram I didn’t have a clue what it was about and it was a complete shock to suddenly be having biopsies and to be told that I have breast cancer.

A week and a half after my diagnosis I went to see my consultant surgeon who told me that the cancer was too widespread for them not to remove the whole breast. This was a terrible shock – I knew a number of people who’d had lumpectomies and I had hoped for the same outcome. Learning that I would lose one of my breasts was really difficult to take in and I opted to have my mastectomy with a reconstruction at the same time, which involved taking a muscle from my back. I had a 6 week wait for my surgery and used this time to visit Israel and the Western Wall and say the Shema whilst trying to come to terms with the road ahead. The surgery itself was really tough. I’d had a hysterectomy the year before which had been difficult, but this felt far worse, particularly as I didn’t know what the pathology results would be like and what my long term prognosis would be.

I’m very lucky to have a good personal support network, but it’s difficult for someone that’s not had a cancer diagnosis to know what your needs are. I hadn’t heard of The Haven at all before my diagnosis and it was my breast cancer nurse who introduced me to it shortly before my surgery. At first I didn’t feel ready to get involved, but after my surgery I realised I needed to chat to people about my experience. Since then I’ve been coming to The Haven most weeks for support and treatment, or to just meet and chat with other women. I’ve tried a number of the therapies here including aromatherapy massage which has helped me to accept the changes that my body has undergone, and I’ve had some hypnotherapy, a number of counselling sessions, and have been to some relaxation classes.

For me the most important thing about The Haven’s free serviceis talking to other women and openly sharing similar sorts of feelings and fears. The Haven’s a home-from-home kind of place and is there for you when you’re ready for it. I know when I come here that I’m in a place where there’s a lot of compassion and understanding.