During treatment, Avril struggled to find the right local support services for her. Now, she’s using her background in tech to broaden choices for everyone affected by cancer.
I found a pea-sized lump
I found a lump in July 2015. It felt tiny, like a pea. My doctor referred me for a mammogram and ultrasound. The consultant radiologist then recommended an MRI and biopsy. Although my biopsy results came back benign, the consultant was still unhappy with my MRI scan, so I had a wire-guided lumpectomy. I was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) and invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC) and had a mastectomy and chemotherapy.
My world stopped when I was diagnosed
My first reaction to my diagnosis was, ‘are you joking?’ When I realised they weren’t, my world stopped. I felt shock and fear. Because my divorce had just come through, I genuinely felt like I couldn’t feel any lower. But I did. Nothing prepares you for hearing the words ‘you have breast cancer’. I don’t think anything will match hearing those words again.
I felt like I was in a perfect storm
On top of my divorce and diagnosis, I was out of work and moved back in with my parents. So, during treatment, I felt like I was in a perfect storm. I felt dejected and retreated from others. Eventually, I understood it was important to let myself have all the emotions I needed to have. I didn’t try to fight how I was feeling and let myself grieve for what I was going through.
I was inspired to help others affected by breast cancer
During treatment, I was struggling to find certain things I needed. I remember wanting to find a hat in a physical shop to keep my head warm after chemo. But when I searched online, I couldn’t find a local shop that stocked chemo hats! I felt really frustrated. I just wanted to place a pin in a map online, and for it to bring up all the local services that could help me. I knew if I was struggling to connect with support services near me, others must be struggling too.
After treatment, I decided to use my background in technology to create a digital platform called ‘Cancer Central’. It’s new and constantly growing, but it signposts to businesses, services, charities and communities that can help others affected by cancer. Connecting people to the great stuff out there that already exists.
It’s so important to find connections after cancer
Cancer Central is about connecting people to support in a smart way. By finding out a little about who you are, and where you are, it can broaden connections for you and give you more choice. The whole thing has been built by the community - different individuals and organisations. So, I like to say Cancer Central has been built through ‘Cominovation’ - a process that uses innovation, and the community, to help people affected by cancer.
My top three tips for moving forward
- Don’t feel guilty about struggling. Even the people who look like they aren’t struggling after treatment, struggle. Everyone has bad days, and there’s a life behind that social media profile and closed doors. You’re not alone, so try not to beat yourself up.
- Try not to compare. This tip came from my breast care nurse. After a breast cancer diagnosis, people struggle in their own way, so you can’t compare yourself to someone else, whose needs might be very different to yours.
- Attend Breast Cancer Now’s Moving Forward course. It was brilliant, and really helped me learn how to handle difficult things after treatment, like the fear of recurrence. It was a gamechanger.
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