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When she was diagnosed five years ago, Fran decided to approach her treatment with positivity. Now she looks back at the things that helped her through.
I was diagnosed when I was 64. I went to my GP with an uncomfortable feeling in my left breast. He said he couldn’t feel anything but that I should go for further checks just to be safe.
The scan showed I had invasive breast cancer. I was told I needed surgery and probably chemotherapy, which was a huge shock. Once we got in the car, my husband Chris and I had a good weep. But, as we drove home, I looked out of the window, saw the beautiful Dorset countryside, and decided I was going to deal with this whole thing in the most positive way I could.
I said to Chris, ‘There are going to be no what-ifs, we will Google nothing, we will take things a day at a time.’ And that’s what we did.
To begin with, everything carried on as normal. The only exception was that I decided to get even fitter, so I walked and stretched every day.
The surgery didn’t impact on daily life much - though I did have to take a break from golf and, as choreographer of the local pantomime, my demonstrations of the moves were a little lame.
Once I began having chemo (the oncologist said he was going to give me a stronger dose than usual for someone my age because of my fitness) I did have a few days where my energy was low. But still I walked every day; 563 miles in total.
I started to record how I felt and gave myself a figure for my ‘perk factor’. This helped me during the treatments, because I could look back at each new round and know which days to expect to feel a bit worse.
When I look back at my diary, one thing that keeps popping up is how wonderful the nurses, doctors and carers were.
I hadn’t written very much in the past, probably because my spelling is shocking and, at school, the spelling seemed more important than the message.
I later started writing poems (well, doggerel really) when I had to make emotional speeches, usually when someone was leaving work. It seemed a good way to avoid tears.
Then, there I was, lying under the rays of the radiotherapy machine, and I thought: how am going to thank these people? They are wonderful, but their job requires so much concentration and the time is short so I can just about get a ‘thank you’ in. I decided to write a poem and, as I breathed in and out, I began to compose.
When my treatment was finished, I met with a nurse to talk through how I had progressed and then handed her my first poem, which was called Radio Ga Ga. She read it and cried saying how lovely, thoughtful and moving it was. I was really humbled by her reaction.
Writing the poem had helped me start to deal with my feelings. I am not one for bottling up anyway, but this was different. I could really explore how I looked at the whole package that arrived in my head, as the cancer had in my body. I really was able to move forward through the process of writing.
The poems became a book called ‘Francesca and me’ (so named because it’s about Fran’s chest). The book sold really well and made over £10,000, which we donated to Dorchester County Hospital.
Probably the best thing to come out of the book is that people who read it, especially those who have had similar experiences to me, have said how much it has helped them. It certainly wasn’t what I expected when I wrote that first poem, but I do feel very glad that I could be of some help.
For people who find it hard to talk and to share what they are going through, writing can be useful.
Sometimes it's not easy to get going, but maybe you could imagine just writing for yourself. Focus on those thoughts that churn around in your head as you lie in bed, those things that you hide from, the things that have made you angry, the unfairness of it all. Until you give it a try, you won't know if it's for you - but it certainly helped me.
A few weeks ago, I had the results of my fifth mammogram, and they were all good.
I was told that, now that five years have passed, I won’t need another boob squashing for three years because the likelihood of a return is diminishing. That was a lovely feeling, and made me think back to how far I have come.
Going through this whole experience made me stronger, wiser, more positive and I certainly appreciate every single day.
I have remained friends with two girls who had chemo at the same time as me, and we all agree that we feel the same. Who we are now reflects a zest for and appreciation of life.
If, like Fran, you are interested in using creative writing as a tool to express yourself and help with difficult feelings, we have a guide to help you get started.