After receiving care and support from Breast Cancer Now following a primary diagnosis, Steph decided to get into fundraising.
I hoped it was just a cyst
On a spring day in 2008, I returned home after a walk. As I bent down to remove my trainers I felt a strange sensation in my left breast. My first thought was that I must check it. I guess I was lucky, because my mum taught me about examining my breasts at a very young age. When I did check them, I felt a lump immediately. Panic was my first reaction, then I tried to rationalise it, thinking it was probably a cyst, or at least hoping it was.
My GP saw me that day and, within a few days, I had an appointment for a mammogram and possibly an ultra-sound and biopsy. The doctor at the hospital put my mind at rest by saying he thought it wasn’t breast cancer, but a lump was found, a biopsy taken.
There were some bumps along the way. One doctor told me that as I was so fair-skinned I would probably burn badly during radiotherapy, but I didn’t. My doctor also thought that my breast looked so dry after the operation that I wouldn’t need a drain, but I woke the next morning with a pint of blood in my breast, which resulted in me having to go back to theatre to have it drained and have a drain fitted.
I felt overloaded with information
At my diagnosis, I was handed information from the breast care team to take home and read. At that point I felt overloaded with information, so I put it away in a drawer and only took it out a few days before my operation. I wish I would have looked at it sooner, because it eased my whirling mind and overactive imagination and for that I will always be grateful. That information was from Breast Cancer Now.
I was inspired by others
At my post-op visit to my doctor, I was sitting in the reception waiting to go in when I heard someone crying hysterically. Shortly after the door to the doctor’s office opened and out walked a lady in her sixties. My first thought was that the poor lady had just been diagnosed; however, following behind was a young lady in her 20s and she was holding all the information in her hands that I had held a few weeks before. I found out it was the young lady that had been diagnosed and the lady crying was her mum.
I decided then that I would do one fundraising event as a way of saying thank you for the help given to me and to help anyone, especially when they are that young, affected by breast cancer. It was an obvious decision to choose the charity that helped me so much, which was Breast Cancer Now.
11 years later, I’m still involved with this wonderful charity.
Pink week was born
I was walking up Sevenoaks High Street one day thinking about my next fundraising event and as I looked into one of the windows I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be great if I could get some of the shop owners to turn their windows pink’.
I started popping into shops and chatting to the owners, seeing how they would feel about raising awareness for a breast cancer charity.
By that time I considered myself a fundraiser, but I realised just how important awareness was too, so my aim was to raise awareness and hopefully the money would follow. Early on, however, people started talking about what they could do to raise money, so I turned it into a fundraiser and awareness week, which became Pink week.
To new fundraisers, I would say: make it fun, give it lots of enthusiasm and don’t make your events sad or overly clinical.
My community responded amazingly
In the beginning, I had no idea if people would join me on this journey, but they took to it straight away. I think the first time someone actually came to me to help was the biggest surprise. I had seen a photo on Facebook of a group of women in pink t-shirts saying ‘Sevenoaks Ladies Joggers supports Pink Week.’ I contacted the ladies, we decided to work together every year and this event now has about 150 women and men involved.
For a while, the local newspaper went pink and donated 5p from every paper sold. Shops change their windows and do special displays during the week. Competitions and raffles are held. One shop puts on a ladies' shopping evening, which usually raises a thousand pounds. The local bagel shop gives a percentage per bagel sold. The list is endless.
It wasn't all easy
There have been many challenges over the years. Burnout was one, I often tried to do too much. I also found it difficult to delegate - and, if I’m honest, I still do at times. I see how it needs to be done, which isn’t always the way helpers see it. I guess I’m a bit of a perfectionist. But probably the hardest thing is keeping people interested and coming up with new ideas and having the energy to achieve it.
It's hard to choose a highlight because there have been so many, but if I have to, it’s probably seeing Lorna - a lady with secondary breast cancer - meeting her hero Susan Lewis, after I managed to fit her into an event I was putting on at the very last minute.
Breast Cancer Now have always supported me
Breast Cancer Now were there for me from day one. They gave me the information and support at my diagnosis, which was second-to-none. From the time I contacted them about fundraising, they have welcomed me into the charity and made me a part of so many wonderful events and experiences, which has enabled me to do the work I do supporting others. I do this because of their dedication to supporting anyone with breast cancer.
To anyone else considering giving it a go, I would say: do it! Fundraising is the greatest fun and it’s a great way to get into your community to improve the lives of others. You will find that if you give loads of enthusiasm and fun, people will get behind you.
After seeing the young lady at her diagnosis, my goal has always been that those diagnosed receive the best support, care and information there is. Being there for the person affected is vital, so I will continue to fundraise so that you can continue to maintain those high standards.
If you want to fundraise for Breast Cancer Now, we are on hand to support you.