Saturday, 16 June 2018

Weekly Discussion Summary ~ Self-esteem

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In this week's discussion, we looked at our self-esteem and asked ourselves how it had changed after our diagnosis with breast cancer

Self-esteem is commonly seen as being about self-perception. And self-perception at least partly depends upon how others see us, how we fit in, and how comfortable we feel in our intimate and social relationships.

A diagnosis of primary and secondary breast cancer can shatter our self-esteem. We can feel physically disfigured by harsh treatments like surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy and we are battered by the emotional storm of cancer.

As we know, 'chemo-brain effects' and our problems with cognitive skills can last for many years. Yet we all know how important it is to be cognitively able in social, personal and work settings. Slips in memory and lapses in concentration and attention seriously undermine our confidence.

We are changed by breast cancer and it is natural to compare who we are now to who we were before we were diagnosed. We can sometimes be upset because we are not the same; the changes were enforced, not chosen. Trying to come to terms with the new ‘normal’ is hard and takes effort. When we have problems identifying with ourselves, our self-esteem is affected, we are trying to make sense of who we are.

Social isolation can follow because we find it hard to communicate, we find people don’t really ‘get it.' Some of our relationships break, others are supportive, but can be stressful. Our partners have to come to term with our changing self-esteem.

One of the biggest effects of breast cancer is on our intimate relationships. Menopausal symptoms can lead to difficulty in being physically and emotionally intimate.

Is it possible to reverse the effects of breast cancer on self-esteem?

We were not sure.The answer is not easy. Do the coping styles we used before our diagnosis help us? Or are we too tired, too fatigued, in pain, and too much in fear of cancer coming back or progressing? We can become resilient after trauma, but we do not easily find the resources - we are running on empty.

Our discussion, which included women with primary and secondary breast cancer, highlighted the myriad and unique ways we lose and find our self-esteem. Some of us felt we had never had self-esteem, or had lost it completely as a result of breast cancer. For others, the impact of weight gain and surgery had profoundly impacted on our sense of womanhood and our ability to be sexually intimate. Some of us described how we had found self-esteem in other areas of our lives, like work, or through new interests and outlets. Others described discovering self-esteem through changed values, for example we no longer cared what others thought because we were dealing with secondary breast cancer, and this knowledge had freed us (as well as terrified us). For a few, the crisis of breast cancer had led to a complete transformation of our 'selves', or, the discovery of a new appreciation of who we were - in all our vitality.

In terms of research, Naz explained that one of the biggest limitations in breast cancer research is the lack of prospective studies: those that can compare factors like self-esteem before and after a diagnosis of breast cancer. Most research is retrospective - it looks into the past through the eyes of the present, and this brings with it a huge element of bias.

Self-esteem after a diagnosis of breast cancer, we learned, becomes about how we can learn to nourish our battered bodies and our minds, how we hug and love ourselves, how we find beauty and strength in our flaws. Self-esteem doesn’t define us, we do. And we are amazing.

If you are a woman living in the UK with a breast cancer diagnosis and you would like to join our private group please send us a private message via the facebook page

Saturday, 9 June 2018

Weekly Discussion Summary - Anxiety

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The See-Saw of Fear

In this week’s discussion we talked about anxiety - a feeling of worry, nervousness or unease about something with an uncertain outcome.

A diagnosis of breast cancer brings with it huge fears and uncertainty: women with primary breast cancer are faced with the fear of recurrence; women with secondary breast cancer are faced with the fear of progression. Regular checks and scans remind us of our vulnerability, every ache and pain causes worry that ‘it’s back’ or has spread further.

The threat to life that cancer represents is ever present and anxiety becomes the background music of our lives. Anyone who has struggled with anxiety knows how debilitating it can be, and if we are someone who has always struggled with anxiety, our mental state becomes one of heightened anxiety. It is exhausting.

Sometimes we recognise and face our feelings, sometimes we cut off from them and yet we experience a subconscious reaction to a perceived threat, whether real or imagined. Anxiety is as real as a post-traumatic stress and as we know, a breast cancer diagnosis is a traumatic event in our lives.

Many of us had experienced anxiety all our lives. For some, the discussion itself highlighted how anxious we feel. Some of us could accurately describe the physical sensations of anxiety within our bodies. Some described pushing away anxiety with distractions, such as keeping busy. Some tried to embrace the worry and accept it, whilst striving to let it be.

A few of us described panic attacks, others a continuous underlying feeling that something awful about to happen. Physical symptoms included heart palpitations, shortness of breath, sweating and nausea. Some of us worry about every little thing. Others no longer ‘sweat the small stuff.’ Most of us experience extreme anxiety around the times of scans and anniversaries. For some, anxiety is so high that it interferes not only with our hopes and dreams but day to day activities. Our advice to anyone in this position is to seek professional help.

Naz explained the way the brain adapts to persistent fear, preparing the body to expect danger and meet it, triggering the primitive flight or fight response - to run, to fight, or perhaps freeze. We are, by default, vigilant. She used the image of a see-saw to explain the way the cognitive and emotional brain systems interact. At one end of the see-saw, in an anxious state, the emotional system dominates and weighs us down. At the other end of the see-saw, the cognitive system lets go in order to prevent becoming overwhelmed. Resilience can strengthen the cognitive system to gain weight as it moves towards calm and rational thought, allowing the see-saw to swing back into balance. This is not about numbing, controlling or avoiding, but a robustness which promotes neural plasticity and supports good communication between the cognitive and the emotional brain systems. Resilience helps us to bring flexibility to the see-saw. It is a key adaptive factor in coping, indeed to survival, and Naz’s research is highlighting the possibility of building a ‘cognitive vaccine’ to protect against the damaging effects of anxiety.

We shared our coping strategies: mindfulness and meditation, deep breathing, practising realigning thinking by keeping an emotional diary, simplifying our life by reducing responsibilities where possible, taking time for ourselves and practising self-compassion and self-soothing. Hobbies, exercising and being outdoors and in nature can also help. One suggestion was to focus the attention on something else – drinking a cool glass of water through a straw with closed eyes. Another was to embrace our anxiety as one would comfort a fretful child.

A question was whether breast cancer had caused or heightened our anxiety because we face our mortality or whether, because it leads to a change in our values, an increased sense of what’s important to us in our lives. Letting go of things that are no longer important and discovering who are in the aftermath brings another set of challenges.

We are changed by cancer. We can never ‘get over’ it. We can learn to live alongside it in some sort of harmony, with the see-saw constantly moving, but gently tilting back towards equilibrium as we practice self-care.

If you are a woman living in the UK with a breast cancer diagnosis who would like to join our private group, please message the centre

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Volunteers Week 1-7 June 2018 ~ BRiC Members

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It's #VolunteersWeek, and we've been sharing the many and varied ways our members volunteer their time and efforts to help others.
First up are Sarah-Jane, Suzannah and Jocelyn who run a breast reconstruction group to support women who are thinking of reconstruction following cancer diagnosis. The group, Keeping Abreast Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, meets at Lister Hospital Stevenage every 6 weeks.
It really helps women who are considering their options and they can see results for others who have gone through a similar thing.
#VolunteersWeek #BRiCMembers

"'s enriched my life no end..."
This week, we are celebrating #VolunteersWeek

"I volunteer doing home checks for animal rescues with the animal team in London. I have 5 rescue dogs and cats from Romania and I love giving up some time to help home other rescue dogs 🐶 I’ve made so many new friends."

It's #VolunteersWeek and we are thrilled to showcase the many ways our members, all women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, give something back to their communities.
Today we hear from Beverley about volunteering in her local hospice! Do give her a big cheer!
#VolunteersWeek #BRiCMembers

#VolunteersWeek ~ Sarajane
"I am a volunteer junkie and have been all my life, I get so much from it. I volunteer with the RAF Air Cadets, Cricket Without Boundaries (using cricket to spread HIV & AIDS messages in Uganda) and with the local wildlife trust. I do get tired but it is so worth it 😊"
Well done Sarajane! #BRiCMembers

‘I can't wait and want to give something back.'

This #VolunteersWeek we’re sharing the stories of some our wonderful members, like Lisa, who support others.

#VolunteersWeek ~Jasmin
"I’m a volunteer speaker, reviewer and fund raiser for Breast Cancer Care - I’ve been involved in the Fashion show for 5 years, I’ve modelled bras and trained bra fitters, was at the launch of the FAB1 pink Rolls Royce and interviewed for Vita magazine.
I’m also a member of the London and S. East Volunteer Forum for Macmillan, and I’m a reviewer, a voice and a fund raiser. I was lucky enough to be invited to Buckingham Palace by Macmillan earlier this year where I met HRH Prince Charles.
I volunteer at Race for Life for Cancer Research where I give talks on the stage, Marshall at events or help my friend on her burger van where we make a large donation to CRUK.
Volunteering kept me going through the toughest days and has given me a reason for having that dreadful disease. It makes me happy if I can bring comfort to others by sharing my experience."

"I would not have been able to get through my diagnosis and treatment without the support of my fellow volunteer guiders" ~ Kim
This week is #VolunteersWeek and we are celebrating the invaluable contribution made by our members to volunteering. This time it's Kim's turn to take centre stage!
Find out more about Vounteers Week here:…/what-is-volunteers-week/

"I’m a volunteer for CoppaFeel which is a breast cancer awareness charity. We educate people on the signs and symptoms of breast cancer. Our message is that early detection and self checking/awareness is so important 😊"

In our last post for #VolunteersWeek, here's our very own Anita talking about volunteering for a local community cafe:
"I volunteer for my local community cafe. We support young people with learning difficulties and disabilities in serving the public which helps their confidence and self-esteem.
I work in the cafe one day a week and I am also an admin for the Facebook page. I have retired and this gives me a feeling of belonging to a 'work' family and the pleasure of seeing the smiles of happy customers and staff is very fulfilling."

Friday, 1 June 2018

Volunteers Week 1-7 June 2018 ~ The BRiC Team

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"Always, always, we go on. Slowly. Quietly. Never giving up."

To mark #VolunteersWeek, please give a HUGE cheer to our BRiC admin team, Anita, Caroline, Jan, Jenny, our Deputies, Tamsin and Vicky and to Naz who Heads the BRiC Centre.

Together, we strive to support women with primary and secondary breast cancer - by running our centre and our amazing group, by offering support, kindness and wisdom, by writing blogs, by considering relevant research, by sharing engaging articles, by having guided discussions and by providing a safe, kind environment for our members, fostering our resilience.

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Weekly Discussion Summary ~ Goal Setting

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"....if we can set small, attainable goals, which we then achieve, we can increase our resilience."

This week, in our discussion, we talked about goal-setting and set ourselves at least one but no more than two goals that we wanted to achieve over the course of the next week.

Naz told us that paradoxically, it is small goals that are the ones that are the often the most unattainable.


Not because they are too 'big' to attain, but because they are too small (and achievable), they tend to end up in the back seat, because there is always tomorrow........

and the next day....

and the day after....

Because we can always come back to them, and we want to plan and focus on the bigger goals, we work hard towards achieving them.

Naz told us that research shows that the brain's response to the achievement of smaller, frequent goals is far greater than the reward that is processed from achieving big (hard to attain) goals.

Naz explained that the feedback from attaining smaller goals leads to greater connectivity between those regions in the brain that play a huge role in something called 'reward processing' - generating satisfaction, a sense of achievement and accomplishment - which in turn improves our well-being. As smaller goals are easier to attain, and can be planned more frequently, the accumulative effect on the brain is a booster, and reinforcer, for more positive reinforcement leading to greater reward being processed by the brain. This, in turn makes us feel better about ourselves.

Simply put, if we can set small, attainable goals, which we then achieve, we can increase our resilience.

So go on, set yourself one or two goals and join us in sharing your progress.

If you are a woman living in the UK with a breast cancer diagnosis and you would like to join our private group please send us a private message via

Monday, 14 May 2018

Weekly Discussion Summary ~ Cancer Anniversaries

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"Cancer is not only a date in our past, it is an experience we must take forwards with us. Whether we like it or not we must find a way to live with the uncertainty that becomes the background music to our lives. We take with us the myriad emotions of cancer - fear, helplessness, loss, despair, anger - whose voices become louder and louder when we are at our most fragile."

Instead of the usual summary,  Tamsin decided to turn the Sunday discussion on cancer anniversaries into an open letter blog for the Huffington Post. I am sure you will agree that the result is a very powerful and moving piece.

If you are a woman living in the UK with a breast cancer diagnosis and you would like to join our private group please send us a private message via Facebook


Saturday, 5 May 2018

Weekly Discussion Summary ~ Chemo Brain Top Trumps!

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If only we could forget about chemo-brain.....

In our discussion this week, we played "Chemo-brain Top Trumps" and shared our brain lapses and tried to out-do each other!

Chemo-brain is one of our most engaging discussion topics because it feels so real, so alive, so forgetful. If only we could ever forget about forgetting.....

Oh, the joys of forgetting! But no, it's there, every day, just when we want to emphasise something important, just when we want to focus and concentrate on a line of argument, just when we want to name something, remember a name, or flag up an important point....

Chemo-brain, it emerged, affects us all, irrespective of whether we have primary or secondary breast cancer. Those of us who have not had chemotherapy also experience chemo-brain. We shared how often we run into a room to collect something, and yes, we've forgotten what it was as soon as we enter the room. We lose track of where we've put our keys, leave messages for ourselves or just occasionally, we might call our partner the wrong name! Whether our lapses are small or are large, they arise because of our inability to hold something (yes, it can be small) in our working memory. It can be funny, but usually it is hard, sometimes upsetting and very undermining of our confidence.

Why does chemo-brain happen?

Naz explained that chemo-brain happens after diagnosis and before treatment even begins. Most of the studies show that there are reductions in gray and white matter in the brain in areas that support cognitive functions such as working memory, attention and concentration. This is due to the impact of trauma, and the because the worries and fears that occupy our working memory take precedence, our brains end up having to work harder in the long run. We find that we take longer, we make more errors, we feel sluggish, and our cognitive functions are slow. The effects of chemo-brain are amplified through chemotherapy induced cognitive decline, as we have discussed before, and it's thought hormones may also impact on cognitive functioning.

Our discussion highlighted stress and fatigue make chemo-brain much, much worse and we feel we can become SO incoherent that we lose the ability to speak.

There's no doubt that chemo-brain was prevalent for all of us. Particularly hard is the lack of understanding from our families who unintentionally undermine us when our lapses stop being funny and start being annoying (as I'm writing this, my daughter has declined my suggestion that she write down the name of a book because "she has a memory"). We find it hard to talk about our chemo-brain at work and some of us shared that we feared being seen as less competent. Perhaps hardest of all, is the lack of wide recognition and support available to us which is why sharing and talking - and laughing when we can - is so important for our resilience.

If you are a woman living in the UK with a breast cancer diagnosis and you would like to join our private group please send us a private message via facebook: