Fran, from Dorset, tells us how writing helped her move forward after treatment, and gives her top tips for starting to write.
Fran and her chemotherapy buddies
I chose to have a mastectomy
I didn't feel a lump, but noticed that my breast was slightly different to normal, so called my GP. I'd always been good at going to routine mammograms, but nothing had appeared in my last one, about 18 months before. I was diagnosed with an invasive ductal carcinoma aged 62.
I was given the choice of a lumpectomy or mastectomy. My friend is a GP, so I could chat through my decision to her, and ended up having a mastectomy. After my surgery, I had my prosthesis fitted, which I soon named 'Francesca', as it was Fran's chest!
I began to track my energy levels
When I met my oncologist he said that as I was very fit, he would be able to give me a type of chemotherapy called FEC-T. I managed to keep up my walking throughout, which really helped with my recovery.
At the time my sister gave me a diary to track my energy levels after each cycle. I'd never written much before, but decided it might be good to look back on during my next cycle, to see how I felt on day three or four. I wrote down how many steps I walked each day and my 'perk factor', which really helped me plan ahead as I could judge how active I might feel on certain days after chemotherapy.
I wanted to thank my team
After my radiotherapy I wanted to thank the incredible team who'd helped me, but they don't have much time to chat as they're so focused when they're working. Instead I decided to write a poem, something I'd never done before.
When I gave it to the radiographer, she cried. She said, 'Thank you so much.' I was amazed, it had really affected her.
I didn't want to revisit the tough times
I thought about writing a book but then thought, 'No, this isn't me, I can't do it.' My Knit and Natter group tried to encourage me. But I didn't want to revisit all the tough times from treatment.
I mentioned this to my radiographer, who then asked, is that necessarily a bad thing, to revisit the past? 'Maybe not,' I thought. Then at least I wouldn't bury the emotions, but might move forward from my experience.
I had to face my demons
It could have been easy to leave it and lock it away in the past. But I believe everything in life has to be about going forward and facing your demons. I used to council kids who'd had a tough time and gave them the same advice. I thought, 'Right, let's do this.'
At first, I worried that everything I wrote was awful. But I shared it with friends who were so supportive, and eventually published a book of poetry about my experience. Through sales we managed to raise £5,000 for Dorchester Hospital, which was incredible.
Sharing experiences is essential
Fran and her husband
I gave a copy of my poems to the breast care nurses at the hospital, and they rang back and asked for copies to give to all newly diagnosed patients. I was so glad it could help others as well as me.
Throughout and beyond treatment I was lucky to have my chemo buddies to chat and listen to. Sharing our experiences helped us all deal with the emotions.
Since then I have read other people's blogs and stories about breast cancer. It makes me quite emotional to read what they say, but it does make me think – 'Right, that's a good way to deal with that aspect or that emotion.' I also feel so privileged to share in their life that they've put out there to the public.
It can be so hard to open up. But it's important to do so for every aspect of our lives, especially the more demanding times.
From Fran's poem, That day
Fran's top tips for writing about your experience
- Have a go privately at first – then you won't worry whether it's good or not.
- Try different ways of writing – for me it was poetry, but for others it can be prose or a diary, either detailed or simple.
- Ask for feedback – it can be scary, but share your work with loved ones. I read all of them to my husband, except for the one about him. When he finally read it, he said it made him cry, which was so touching.
- Don't be afraid of opening up – It won't hurt you, but will help you. Writing gave me strength, and I felt so proud once I'd created something.
- Do it for yourself – you don't have to share anything if you don't want to. It's worth writing just for the benefit it gives you, helping you understand how you feel and deal with any demons. You can still be proud of what you've achieved.
Read more personal stories and find inspiration for moving forward after treatment in BECCA, our free app.