What The Mulberry Centre means to me
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2011 and felt I was living in a crazy world. Suddenly I was whisked from place to place and my life became a series of x-rays, mammograms, ultra sound, blood tests, MRI scans − and it was full on, without let up. And a very good thing too. I was very lucky. I had wonderful treatment. The cancer hadn’t spread so I had months of treatment, but in a good cause. And it was an ordeal: chemotherapy, radiotherapy and then the operation to remove the lump and 12 lymph nodes. It was a nightmare, no doubt about it.
No matter how much people love you − and I am lucky here because I have a very supportive partner and wonderful friends − you still feel alone. You feel you can’t explain what is happening to you and your body. Not just the medical treatments, but the fact that you lose all autonomy. You belong to the experts. You are their creature.
My cancer nurse at West Mid suggested I go to The Mulberry Centre. My treatments were nearly over and I was feeling very lost. I was relieved that the cancer cells were gone, but I felt alone and disoriented. I didn’t know how to pick up the pieces and carry on with my life − a life I had enjoyed, that was busy and useful and interesting. She said − they can help you. So I went along and enrolled. This was around February of last year.
I have a fear of being taken over – and after months of intensive treatment, I really was afraid of losing still more independence. But no. There is no pressure there − someone greets you and makes you a cup of coffee and they are friendly, but not pushy. You don’t feel swept along. You feel in control, but you feel very safe. The atmosphere is very peaceful with easy chairs and gorgeous cushions − but there’s also a library with a lot of reference material in it − things on diets, fatigue and so on. Also, you can meet other patients at varying stages of treatment. We all chat and laugh a lot and share stories of this terrible illness.
I was asked if I wanted counselling and I really did feel that would help. I didn’t want the group therapy, though I am sure it helps people. I wanted one to one. My counsellor, Sam, was brilliant. She didn’t judge; she simply listened and guided me towards finding my own answers. In the six sessions, I talked to her about my illness, how lost I now felt, how people had reacted and I was able to cry and laugh − and at the end of the sessions, I felt ready to face things on my own. It was very emotional saying goodbye to Sam. I had grown very fond of her, but in the end, it’s a professional relationship and there has to be a parting. I know this because I was a teacher for many years and that is similar.
Counselling helped me a lot. It gave me direction, new goals. The world changes after cancer − you don’t feel the same about it. You feel more vulnerable because this terrible illness that we all dread − did actually happen. That alters everything you do, everything you plan, everything you believe in. So you have to find a new path for yourself, taking with you some of the things you had before, but also discarding some because they no longer apply. It’s a changed world and I am a changed person.
Now I am having massage therapy and that is good too. It is helping me to relax. And after many months of feeling very ugly and unsightly, it is wonderful to feel important and pampered. I really admire these experts who give their time and skill to help us. As for the team who run the Centre, they are always available on the phone. They understand the processes of recovery − or worse, non-recovery. They have the balance just right.
The Mulberry Centre must carry on. It is absolutely essential. The staff, the volunteers, the experts − all are kind, friendly and practical. There’s no oversentimental nonsense − it’s all done in a busy, co-operative way. I really enjoy being there. I don’t think you could find a better contender for this award. Quietly, unobtrusively, they work miracles.