Friday 30 October 2020

The amazing Vicky (late deputy head): BRiC for Breast Cancer Awareness

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We never tire of sharing the moving message Vicky Wilkes left for us all.

Vicky did so much for BRiC. She was one of the very first members and deputy head. She led our first few October projects and as we forge ahead with new ones each year, her voice is our guidance. Vicky died from secondary breast cancer on 20th August 2019.

'My relationship with cancer started in 2006 at age 31, but it was when I reached 40 that it got terribly serious and I knew my time here would be shorter than expected.

I had imagined growing old surrounded by my family, seeing my children through their school years, into adulthood, getting married and having their own children. It hurts so much to know I won't get to see these milestones but more importantly that I won't be here for them when they deserve to have their mum there on the special days of their lives. How can I leave these two children without a mum?

Each day is a gift and the only moment any of us really have is now. I don't want to go, I don't want to leave my family and friends, but I have no choice, I have done my best but it's out of my hands.

The one, worst, horrible, bad thing about this dying lark is that I have hated causing sadness. I really hope my children can be resilient and bounce back to be the amazing adults I think they can be.

I look at life through different eyes. I wish people would stop sweating the small stuff and appreciate life and how truly amazing it is. It's ok to find something annoying but then you need to quickly get over it and be thankful it's a minor issue.

As the great Stephen Hawking said.. "Remember to look up at the stars and not
down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.”

So when you do go outside and look at those stars in our universe, take a deep breath, appreciate your existence and that you are able to do these things.

Think about those things that happen to you, that you put a lot of weight into, but which are sleep, bad hair day, don't like how you look, got nothing to wear, house is a mess...just let all that shit go! My body is wrecked, my mind is wrecked, but I see even those things as pretty insignificant because what I really cared about was how long I had left here, would I see my next birthday, my children's birthdays, Christmas.... I needed to keep going, I needed another day with my family and friends and then I needed another and then another, I needed to be here.

Appreciate your body, embrace it but don't obsess over it and look after your mind, as that will look after you. Be grateful for the days when you are not dealing with anything serious and yes it's annoying but it will go away.

Stop the stress of buying stuff you don't need, with money you don't have, to impress people you don't like!

I learned from everyone who joined me on this precious ride that is life. I have laughed and cried with you and we are all part of each others lives which has helped shape the people we are! Thank you, all of you family, friends, nurses and doctors who did their best for me.

You've given me much support and pleasure. I'm glad to have known some of you for many years and just wish I had more time with others of you I've not known for so long.

For goodness sake people, enjoy life, take risks, be kind always, love, be curious about everything, look at the diversity of the world around's incredible, travel, be a badass, smile, be gentle and forgive whenever you can.

Thank you all, now go and toast life with more alcohol than is good for you on this occasion, laugh, smile and have an amazing time.

Much love and thanks!
Peace out! X"
- Vicky


Tuesday 27 October 2020

Gina's story: BRiC for Breast Cancer Awareness

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I finished radiotherapy just as lockdown started, my oncology check up was a 30 second call to see if I was ok, there was a huge nothing, no support nothing, just news of other cancer patients not getting their chemo or radio this caused a lot of guilt in me, covid has meant not dealing with the emotional impact.

- Gina


Sunday 25 October 2020

Debbie: BRiC for Breast Cancer Awareness

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Hi everyone, I wanted to say thank you for the overwhelming support I was offered yesterday (by BRiC members.) I reached out and the response was incredible.

In any circumstances, a diagnosis can be an isolating and frightening thing. However, with Covid too, I feel we are all living in extraordinarily difficult circumstances.

My situation with secondaries has changed quickly and as a result I feel/felt disempowered and very lost. I slipped into being a patient and not me. I really miss my monthly support group, contact with Macmillan has only just been reinstated and while everyone at the hospital is lovely, I do not feel part of the process.

Yesterday many of you offered such compassion and support. I was also offered excellent information that means I can have some agency and know better what questions to ask. I am so very grateful.
I'm still on rocky ground but picking my way forward instead of feeling frozen to the spot.

This is such a wonderful space, thank you all for being wonderfully you xx
- Debbie


Friday 23 October 2020

Bal's story: BRiC for Breast Cancer Awareness

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All my treatment finished 5 years ago, reaching this milestone, I should be jumping up with joy but instead this has created a form of numbness inside me, a constant reminder of all the detrimental effects it has had on my healing process and that of my family.

My follow up mammogram and ultra scan appointments for September have been cancelled and rescheduled for next month.

These uncertainties push my anxiety levels at an all time high!

- Bal, dressed in pink, on Wear It Pink day


Thursday 22 October 2020

Things we wish we'd known: BRiC's Collective Voice

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BRiC provides insightful nuggets of advice that we wish someone had told us at the time than we had to learn through experience.

“I think knowing makes me better able to cope. Not knowing leads to nasty surprises, a lot of fear and sometimes thinking that you're going mad.”

The shock
“I think initially it took me a while to accept or understand that you go into shock upon diagnosis as soon as I realised I could start to get my head round it.”

That everything in your life is about to change
“I wish someone had told me how this would change me and my life forever. That I will forever fear a recurrence and that nobody outside of this community will understand that. I wish I had known that support was vital, that I needed to take care of myself. I'm glad to be here, and I'm grateful. But life has never been the same.”

“Life for me also is not the same....I have had to tell them that I will not be allowed to return to my post due to the physical limitations. It’s really tough.”

“I wish someone had been forthright about having to make permanent adaptations post treatment and how quality of life will be, not may be, affected going forward.”

That the fear of recurrence – it never goes away
“I wish I knew how everyone else around me would move on when treatment was over and get back to ‘normal’ while I still feel mired in fear and fatigue. I wish I’d known how hard it would be to explain to those who haven’t had cancer that the fear never goes, that you can’t just ‘get over it’. That every ache, pain, scan, test is terrifying and that being told ‘don’t worry about it’ is frustrating and diminishes how real the fear is.”

"that once you have secondaries this fear does not go away. Scans are more frequent and any hint of progression throws life back up in the air as you run through another line of treatment. Ongoing scanxiety is all too real"

That I will have a meltdown after active treatment
“At the end of active treatment i had a complete emotional meltdown and seriously considered suicide. I felt i couldn't tell the medical team who had worked so hard to get me to that time. When i did break down during Herceptin treatment i was told these feelings are common at the end of active treatment and especially after sepsis (which i'd been hospitalised with weeks before). I was furious that i wasn't warned to look out for this, i spent weeks in emotional agony terrified to ask for help.”

“my breast surgeon told me at my first appointment when diagnosed don't worry I'm confident we can cure you. Well yes you cut the cancer out but now the fun really starts and I wasn't prepared for that”

“I wish someone had told me that after treatment finished I wouldn’t be able to forget about it as if it had never happened.”

That end of active treatment was the beginning of my journey

“I wish someone had told me the truth when I walked away from my final radiotherapy: the truth that this was the beginning of the journey rather than the end. I would also like to have known how dismissive some friends and family would be about any continuing worries. Almost all greeted me with 'well that's done, how lucky it was caught early, all better now.' I would like to have been informed about secondary breast cancer, and I wish someone had told me how lonely the fear would feel”

“I remember my family took me out to dinner to celebrate. I couldn't eat and spent the evening fighting back tears. Then I stayed in bed for several days, exhausted to the core.”

What Chemobrain is

“I wish I knew about chemobrain and forgetfulness, memory loss, difficulty concentrating and paying attention, and how this can affect my self confidence and self-esteem for a long time. I wish I was told that I can be feeling like a zombie and that it will be hard to go back to work.”

“I wish I had been warned about the negative cognitive effects of chemotherapy long after treatment has finished and what to do to improve brain function recovery.”

That I need time to grieve my losses
“I wish someone had told me a breast cancer diagnosis means you have to give yourself time and space to grieve your losses. You lose breasts, hair, feeling healthy and carefree, your femininity, the woman you used to be beforehand, your sanity and all in one fell swoop. Nothing will ever be the same again so, be kind to yourself."

“I wish someone had told me that the psychological impact on my hair would be bigger than the impact of the mastectomy. As you say knowledge is power (or as Foucault would say power (those who set the agenda) is knowledge”

“I wish I had known that I would grieve losses that I had no idea of.”

“I wish someone had told me that my hair loss after the first chemo was so dramatic I wish someone had told me the angst will go and I will be fine”

That hormone therapy can affect your sexuality

“I wish someone had told me about the lack of sex and intimacy lack of libido.”

“I wish someone had told me that I would fear sex and that it would be painful because of lack of estrogen due to Tamoxifen.”

“I wish somebody had told me about how Letrozole on top of ovarian radiation would cause vaginal atrophy making sex painful and ….. eradication of a healthy libido. It’s keeping me alive and of course I’m grateful for that but it’s the fact the impact of the drug on my body has never been discussed. I wish somebody had told me that worrying is an utter waste of time because life is short”

“Then no mention of the impact of the hormone therapy. I do wish the doctors had been honest, realistic.”

That treatment after-effects are harsh

“I wish someone had told me about the after- effects of treatment also. The pain from bones and joints, damaged intestines severe neuropathy, developed arthritis in my hands from anastrozole, and the psychological effects. I was always a happy person, now I have become a bit more serious, developed depression, thinking about the future and reoccurrence, was told I have only an 18% chance of being alive in ten years. I sometimes wonder was it all worth it. But life goes on and we have to change and face new challenges “

“I wish that I was told about how Tamoxifen and AIs would affect you cognitively, reduce your libido and make intimacy painful and difficult. “

“I wish I'd been told that radiotherapy doesn't just make the breast firm, it can also cause distortion and feel painful to touch.”

“I wish someone had told me about post mastectomy pain and nerve pain straight after surgery. It was a shock and frightening the different pains and sensations I had. Now I’m left with pain that no one seems to think is bad enough to worry about because I manage without painkillers. It has a huge effect on me emotionally though.”

That I could suffer chronic fatigue

“that I would have to alter my working patterns in order to manage the chronic fatigue.”

“I wish I had known how much the fatigue would challenge me in the long term. I am still suffering with it 9 years later and when I get tired I get weepy and irrational which I hate.”

“Fatigue meant l eventually had to give up my teaching job.....just didn’t have the same stamina either.”

What secondary breast cancer is

“I wish someone had told me the stats on primary BC developing in to secondary BC, and what signs to look out for. I thought when I had “beaten” it, that that would be it....then less than a year later.....BAM.

“I wish that secondaries were more talked about and less of a taboo conversation...”
That I would experience menopause

“I wish I knew that I would experience menopause and what to expect .... this has been so hard for me.

That the positivity cloak can be too heavy to wear

“I wish someone had told me about how much pressure there would be to be 'positive' (not just realistic and rational) and that there are so many possible reasons that 'it was my fault' (which it ain't).”

“I hate the implied pressure of “you must be positive, or else”! Or worse still the implied finger of blame “you brought this upon yourself by your lifestyle choices”! Yes I enjoyed cake/chocolates/a glass of wine/carried a little extra weight just like thousands of other women who DO NOT get diagnosed with cancer!”

“if I had a pound for every time I’d been told how positive I am, I’d be spending the rest of my life on the Riviera. The references to positivity are often used by well meaning people when they don’t know what else to say: ‘be postive’, ‘stay positive’, I don’t think the cancer really listens “

“the first moment i realised it was bad news was when the nurse in the ultrasound suite said something like "a positive attitude is so important" i wasn't feeling positive then and it made me feel like a failure.”

"So much better if told that need time to mourn - will pick self up again ... but also positivity and battling, etc. ultimately doesn't decide the outcome!”

That my medical team could have pre-warned me about side effects

“I wish the hospital were more honest about the permanent side effects and not just tell you about the side effects during active treatment.

“I wish the medical team were more upfront about recovery time, likelihood of complications post treatment eg Lymphoedema and cellulitis to name but two.”

“I specifically asked the medical team to tell me everything about the treatment and what could happen but all I got were booklets that suggested that the majority of patients would be back to “normal” circa 12/18 months post treatment what a load of wishful thinking that was.”

“I don't think I really wanted to know about what was coming in terms of treatment and after effects.....I would have spent too much time worrying about the possible impending problems.......saying that, I have been very lucky in that if I had a problem, I had a good unit/team at the hospital and online, so I could ring/ask questions and get answers almost immediately. That was a life saver. I put my trust in what they were telling me was going to be the most effective treatment”

That I would never feel the same again
“But most of all I really wished someone had pre warned me that I would never ever feel well again (as I had pre treatment) and that it would become my new normal”

“I wish I had known at diagnosis that the impact of treatment was not just the first months/year but so much more long-lasting.”

That cancer is NOT a battle to win or lose

“I hate the fight/battle language. Makes it seems that those who die of cancer are weak or failures in some.”

“I feel like that word has been thrown at me whenever I’ve tried to tell someone how I’m feeling. It makes me feel like I’m failing. When I felt so low last week and posted on this page it was so lovely not to hear it”

“I’ve found friends and family very hard to deal with and pretty much avoid them so I don’t have to try to explain myself.”

That support groups are invaluable

“Mentally you understand the physical side of the op, but the psychological side feels somewhat neglected. They keep saying there's support, but there's a long waiting list to access it”

“After my active treatment I found BRiC and with it the emotional support and understanding I need to keep me going.”

“Couldn’t have got this far without these kinds of support groups.”

“We need more timely info throughout our treatment and beyond - and an easy way of accessing it”

That the ‘new normal’ is hard to identify with
“that ‘normal’ doesn’t happen for many of us - then everyone around us thinks we’re just crap moaners ...”

“I have yet to come across one of those ‘back to normal in 12-18 months’ ladies. Good for her if she is out there but this is not achievable or real for the majority of us”

“I’d love to meet one just to find out why she’s so different to the rest of us mere mortals”

“When I saw him (my surgeon) last month about the continual pain, I was told I’ve got to stop worrying about cancer now and the pain will stop. Felt really told off.”

Sarah's story: BRiC for Breast Cancer Awareness

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I’ve cried tonight after work - I’m a primary school teacher and I don’t feel safe at all I’m exhausted

thankfully I’m off now for the rest of the week so having an orange twirl and a cuppa to celebrate.

- Sarah


Wednesday 21 October 2020

Sarah's story: BRiC for Breast Cancer Awareness

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 BRiC for Breast Cancer Awareness

Finished 9 months of treatment (chemo, surgery,rads) in April. Inability to take part in face to face moving forward groups or celebrate with friends has made me feel so down. Stupid thing I didn't even get to ring the bell.

- Sarah


Thursday 15 October 2020

Not just one day; BRiC for Breast Cancer Awareness

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Secondary breast cancer is not just one day, it is every day.

Secondary breast cancer is the focus for awareness-raising for only one day (13th) out of the thirty-one days of October. (Breast Cancer Awareness Month). Yet most people do not know what secondary breast cancer is.

Most people do not know that:
- secondary breast cancer doesn't mean getting breast cancer twice.
- secondary breast cancer is not a less serious breast cancer.
- secondary breast cancer is incurable.

Treatment aims to slow down the spread of disease, relieve symptoms and give the best quality of life, for as long as possible. Some people live years, but only if they can access the best treatment possible, as early as possible. Delays due to Covid, or for any other reason, are unacceptable.

We sometimes read that it is not primary breast cancer that kills, but secondary breast cancer. The problem is, this way of thinking makes it appear that secondary breast cancer is a completely separate disease. It is not.

Women with secondary breast cancer were once women with primary breast cancer (unless they were diagnosed with secondary breast cancer at the same time as their diagnosis with primary breast cancer). Secondary breast cancer is breast cancer which has spread to other parts of the body. It is sometimes described as 'stage 4 breast cancer', 'advanced breast cancer' or 'metastatic breast cancer'.

It is thought that around 30% of women diagnosed with primary breast cancer go on to develop secondary breast cancer. Sometimes their disease cruelly returns years after the initial diagnosis. This is a very frightening possibility for those of us diagnosed with primary breast cancer, so frightening that a lot of us try to avoid facing our fear that our cancer might come back.

But sweeping secondary breast cancer under the pink carpet does a disservice to us all. Especially to women living with secondary breast cancer.

As secondary breast cancer receives even less attention for funding, it is imperative that our psychological needs are met and our voices are heard. Women with secondary breast cancer need women with primary breast cancer to support and advocate for them; women with primary breast cancer can be supported by, and can learn from other women with secondary breast cancer. Here at BRiC, we do not see primary and secondary breast cancer as separate entities, but instead, as being on a continuum, where a better understanding of both our common and specialised needs can foster greater mutual support and learning as well as advocacy for improved treatments.

Here at BRiC women with primary and secondary breast cancer have come together in unity. Together we are stronger.

Wednesday 14 October 2020

Resilience in Secondary Breast Cancer: BRiC's Collective Voice

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Why is resilience important in secondary breast cancer;and why BRiC as a group has not separated primary and secondary women with breast cancer.

“Secondary Breast cancer is not about dying, it is about living life to the full while you can”

The importance of resilience and how to become resilient is a constant theme in our group. Many of our members talked about how their resilience carries them through whether they have primary breast cancer or secondary breast cancer. Resilience helps us to “live with what we have and choose life”. For everybody, whether they are primary or secondary sisters, resilience is about not pretending things are ok, whilst getting on with life. We felt it was about acknowledging that we may feel overwhelmed, and giving space to those feelings, and that we can be angry and sad whilst also living life and taking joy. This theme of our resilience pulls us together. Resilience is “experiencing the emotion, living with it and going forwards”.

Several members noted that they felt abandoned by their BCN, that the BCN’s only supported primary breast cancer sisters : “ I got dropped by my primary nurse like I was toxic” “I never see a BCN now, when I had my primary they were at every consultation” One member looked for a SBC support group, but her nearest were 20-30 miles away. These members were tenacious and determined in seeking help for their feelings once the SBC had been diagnosed, and found help in local hospices and counsellors. Our BRiC group has the emphasis on resilience and these members sought support here, and found it.

Many primary breast cancer sisters discussed feeling scared by the idea of recurrence or secondaries but felt the inclusive group here has educated them about how secondaries may present, something that seemed sorely lacking when we are discharged from our oncologist and not given the warning signs to look out for, or even told about the possibility of secondaries. “Education about mets can be scary, but the mix of primary and secondary sisters gives us a chance to keep informed” and that it is “possible to live with a diagnosis of secondaries”. One member said “it can be scary to read secondary stories, but it has encouraged respect and admiration for those living with mets”. Some members said they have become better at tuning into their bodies” and have “less fear” because of our secondary sisters. There is a saying “knowledge is power” and our knowledge means we are less fearful.

Our diagnosis may differ from primary to secondary but we have a lot in common. We may feel overwhelmed, by our disease, by the treatment, by the impact on our lives. We all need a place to talk about our emotions and fears, be it about our disease, our treatment, our families, our work, or living our new normal.Worries and frustrations about body confidence, side effects and relationship concerns link us all, primary or secondary. We can all be ok one day and then find our resilience lacking the next. We are all scared about disease progression. Our diagnosis of breast cancer is always life changing, whatever the stage, or the treatment.

So, what do we all gain from our group, a group that does not separate between primary and secondary breast cancer - that sees both as on a continuum? Over half of our members are secondary breast cancer sisters, and when recurrence happens in 30% of cases, that high proportion demonstrates how much the secondary sisters get from the group. We have a space to be together, for our secondary sisters to not be “boxed into a corner” and made to feel they are contagious. The emphasis on resilience of this group has helped members find a safe place, a resilient place where we aren’t terrified any more. We are stronger together, like the spokes of an umbrella. We can raise a hand and say “I need a hug, I am struggling today” and there is one there. We don’t have to put our “I’m coping fine” masks on here, wobbles can be honest and heartfelt. We have new hope, of living longer than stats may tell us we will, of living better and with a new peace of mind. We have learnt that “here and now is the best time, as no one is guaranteed a future”. If we wish to face the truth about an uncertain future, the support and help is here. More people talk about secondary breast cancer now, which empowers us to speak out about our own fears and experiences. We have learnt tools from the group to support ourselves, to practice self care and living in the moment.

Breast cancer can put us on a lonely path, but together we can “inform, change perceptions and build resilience”. We are stronger together.

Tuesday 13 October 2020

Laura: BRiC for Breast Cancer Awareness

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Good morning Today is Secondary Breast Cancer Awareness Day and I can assure you, I’m very aware.

My first surgery to remove a primary breast cancer tumour was September 2001, my second surgery to remove a primary breast cancer tumour was September 2004 and the third time I was told, “I’m sorry, it’s not good news” was December 2007, aged 40 when I was given the devastating news that I had secondary breast cancer, also described as advanced, incurable, metastatic and Stage 4 where the cancer has spread to other organs and/or the bones and is no longer curable.
In the whole of October, there’s only one day dedicated to secondary breast cancer - October 13th; one day to acknowledge the only form of the disease that will kill you.
There’s a coloured version of this photograph but I’ve chosen to use the black and white version to emphasise the fact that not everything about October is pink.
In amongst all of the awareness raising during Pinktober, which is how many of us in the breast cancer community refer to it, take a moment to remember the 11,500 women and 85 men who die every year from secondary breast cancer. I’m smiling because I’m still here but I cry inside for the many, many friends I’ve lost to this disease; the people who didn’t get to see their children grow into adults as I’ve done, the people who were somebody’s daughter or son, the people whose cancer drugs stopped working.

31 people in the UK die every day from secondary breast cancer. It’s the biggest killer in the UK of women aged between 35 and 50. (Based on figures from 2017).
If you’ve read this far, thank you so much. I’ve got so many people to thank and so many things that I’m grateful for. Thank you to everybody in the breast cancer community space who campaigns for change whilst living with this disease daily. You are not forgotten. You are all amazing. You are unsung heroes. What you do now, others will benefit from in the future. This post today was inspired by


Monday 12 October 2020

Caroline: BRiC for Breast Cancer Awareness

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The last few months have been challenging to say the least. I have secondary breast cancer so have been shielding. In one sense, I have been fortunate that my chemotherapy treatment and scans have continued as normal but our support group is suspended and I feel total adrift. I feel guilty that my illness has meant the children weren’t able to see their friends to keep me safe. Now we can go out, I find I don’t want to. I feel angry when I see people flouting rules. And utterly sad that this might be as good as it gets for me with my diagnosis. All those plans to go away, visit new places while I am well enough - probably have all gone.

- Caroline

Saturday 10 October 2020

Pauline's story: BRiC for Breast Cancer Awareness

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 On World Mental Health Day

I have felt very irritable and teary for the last few days. The whole world seems to have gone to hell on a handcart. My depression and anxiety have gone through the roof at the latest covid news and I am actually feeling totally exasperated and physically sick to be totally honest! Sorry, but that's the truth.

- Pauline


Friday 9 October 2020

Jennifer's story: BRiC for Breast Cancer Awareness

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 As much I have enjoyed working from home I’m fed up of Teams meeting, dodgy wifi. Weight gain and low self esteem. Sometimes I don’t leave the house all week and apart from my hubby and son who I see once a week I miss the human contact.

- Jennifer

Wednesday 7 October 2020

Lis's story: BRiC for Breast Cancer Awareness

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When lockdown hit I was halfway through chemo. Every time the phone rang I was terrified it would be the hospital phoning to cancel my treatment. Fortunately my chemo went ahead as planned but it was hard having to attend alone. I then had a long delay before radiotherapy started and this left me feeling very low and vulnerable. The delay was due to reducing the number of patients in the dept. to keep it Covid safe. The moving forward course and other therapies I had planned were all cancelled. It has been hard and I’ve felt very low and isolated at times. Telephone appointments didn’t suit me and I often forgot what I needed to ask.


Tuesday 6 October 2020

Story of a front line #nurse: BRiC for Breast Cancer Awareness

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I finished treatment 6 years ago but the annual mammogram/check up is a date that never leaves my mind. My check up was cancelled 1 week before it was due - got myself into a right old tizz about it and the fact I was terrified of catching covid as a front line nurse. When I did have my review it was very weird attending on my own - the feeling of aloneness was indescribable. I was lucky - my treatment wasn’t cancelled but I feel that my mental health struggled during the 12 week delay for my review/ check up. Think I would have gone into meltdown had it been delayed further.

- Debs