GYM, not Gin!

A well known health club has given me a 2 week trial membership for £16! I have just been for my tour, paid my fee and from today I can use all of their facilities including the indoor and outdoor swimming pools, jacuzzi, sauna, gym and any fitness classes I wish to book on. I am really excited!

What would you like to get out of your trial with us Miss Murphy?” said the lovely employee showing me around. I suddenly went into dream world and pictured me chatting to a gorgeous man with protruding biceps, running effortlessly on the machine next to me. People do say the gym is a good place to meet people! However, the reality would be me pressing all of the wrong buttons on the gym equipment, pressing faster instead of slower. Trying to yell ‘help’ as my legs are about to buckle under me. Pouring with sweat and a face as red as a beetroot! Not to mention clenching my pelvic floor muscles within an inch of their life so as not to pee! This has all happened to me before by the way, but I wont let an embarrassing past history stop me from my mission of starting to get into shape!

Anyway, I’m not going to the gym to meet a man! I’m going to build my body strength. To tone my very flabby muscles. I’m not going there to consciously lose weight. I am very aware I need to shed a couple of stone but it is not my purpose in these 2 weeks. My cancer treatment has left me with a very tired body. The medication I continue to use, makes me feel like a person twice my age. Don’t get me wrong, I do physical activities. I’m a single mum to a very active young boy. We go on lots of adventures. But my body is still very tired. I need to wake it back up and this 2 week membership is hopefully going to give me the kick start I need.

I’m going to try a spin class. I’m going to do an introduction to Pilates. I’m going to do aqua aerobics. I’m going to row, cycle and dance my fluorescent leg warmers off! The empty, mirrored dance studio looked so appealing. I might even do a ‘Debbie special solo routine’ to the Flashdance soundtrack! I’m going to ache all over! But I do anyway, so bring it on!

I remember seeing a meme doing the rounds on social media that went something like “I might be slow, but I’m lapping everyone on the couch”. It used to upset me as I was that person on the couch. But I was doing what my body needed me to do and that was rest and recover. I think we get shamed into not doing what we think we should. We have to be ready and able to take those first steps and that is where I am now.

Well actually I’ve already taken the first step by joining the health club. I celebrated by eating my own weight in cheese! But hey, I’m going to work it all off in the gym tomorrow! The next step is booking onto a class for tomorrow morning. I also have to find my lycra that has been hiding away since the 1980’s!

I will keep you posted about my progress and no doubt embarrassing happenings! Wish me luck …………!

 

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Housing Discrimination, The Reality …….

This morning I woke up telepathic!

Over the past couple of days I have been looking at hundreds of rental properties online. I have wanted to move house for years, but the reality of being able to do so is very bleak. As a single parent in receipt of housing benefit, rental agencies will not even give you the time of day. It is an incredibly humiliating experience. I have often thought about the disgrace of  what is pure and simple discrimination and how to challenge it. So you can imagine my joy when turning on the national news this morning to see the reporting of this very unfair issue.

The lead up to fleeing an unhealthy relationship with a tiny baby was a very traumatic time. I was financially dependent on the man I was living with and had no money of my own. I had no experience of the benefit system before that time and my meetings with benefit advisors were conducted in secret. Once my claim for housing benefit was approved I had to begin the holy hell of finding a safe home for me and my little baby.

Holy hell is an understatement. “Sorry, no DSS”. “No housing benefit accepted”. I spent all the hours of the day phoning rental agencies and private landlords, pleading with them to hear me out. To just give me a chance. I just needed a home for my baby and then I would be able to get back to work as a Nurse. I would be off the housing benefit in no time. But no one wanted to know. Patronising voices on the other end of the phone didn’t stop me from begging. I was desperate.

The cost of private rentals are in excess of the amount of housing benefit allocated. The only properties that the amount of housing benefit would cover were those classed as ‘Social Housing’. I was placed on the ‘Common Housing Register’ and the average waiting time for a property in my area was 6 years! 6 years!!!!!! However, I was told that a quicker option would be to present homeless, go into a hostel/refuge from anything up to a year. My baby was 10 weeks old. My life was not supposed to be like that. Everything had gone so drastically wrong. I had no idea where to go or what to do.

So I lied. I lied to the next agency that had a property available which we could move into almost immediately. I got away with it and when my son was 6 months old we moved into our new home. However, the relief was short lived. The agency must have seen me coming a mile away. A vulnerable single mother who was so desperate to have a home! Within 3 months, the wall paper had all peeled off showing the extent of the damp at the property. The ceiling fell in in the living room. Fortunately, it was in the middle of the night otherwise I dread to think of what the outcome could have been. Debris was all over Rory’s toys.

Once again we were homeless and I was in despair. I was broken.

What happened next was nothing short of a miracle. A private landlady was sympathetic of our situation and agreed for us to rent her property. I cried and cried. It was in an area I didn’t know but it was a lovely little home, just right for Rory and I. It had a drive. It had a garden. I felt like I had won the lottery! Ironically, the person I wanted to be free from ended up becoming a guarantor for the property.  One day I will be totally free though. I cannot wait for that day.

In 5 years, I have not missed one single rental payment. I look after the property as if I owned it myself. I organise all of my bills and pay everything on time. I have an excellent credit score. I work as a full time mum. I manage all of the household, a child and voluntary work. I work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. My rent is guaranteed by the council and a guarantor and yet, I am still not worthy of a home for my son and I by most people.

Single parents are resilient. Single parents have unbelievable strength. Single parents manage the world and beyond! There is nothing a single parent cannot do.

Give us the same opportunities as everyone else.

Imagine you are sitting in the comfort of your home, with a rental property available. A mother phones enquiring about a potential home for her and her child. You immediately dismiss her because she is on housing benefit. That mother is in an abusive relationship and has taken the first steps to leave. Has gained the strength to leave. She has a lifeline and you have destroyed that due to your discrimination. And if it is a condition of your mortgage terms not to accept housing benefit, challenge your mortgage provider. Because at some point, if you don’t, then the law will. And thank god for that.

Some people just need the chance to get back on their feet without judgement. Without feeling that they are at the bottom of a scrap heap. If you are lucky enough to have more than one home, and have always said no to housing benefit tenants, let me know your reasons and I will try to change your mind. Please don’t discriminate.

I would love nothing more than to return to my homeland where my friends and family are. To support my parents through ill health. To have support for myself to return to work. To pursue training and leisure activities. But even though we are incredibly lucky to have a roof over our heads, we are trapped. I need to work to get a home. I need to move home before I can get work.

There is no doubt that single parents on housing benefit are discriminated against. You can all close your eyes to it because it doesn’t affect you. You can all have your opinion about how people shouldn’t just be given something for free. How everyone should work. Why should we give handouts etc. You can judge all you like but until you are in a situation where you are desperate for help, you will never understand.

Becoming a single parent and then a single parent with cancer has been horrendously challenging. But there has been nothing more devastating than not being able to provide my son with a home. Please help make housing accessible for people who need it.

Thanks for reading xxx

 

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Sticks and Stones ……..

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Kindness is one of the biggest values in life that I want to teach my six year old son.

He is already a very thoughtful little boy and his life to date has been somewhat different to most children  his age. I am so proud of him.

With tears rolling down my face, I remember a time where I didn’t think I would see my son grow up. I thought as long as I taught him how to be a kind human being, he would go far in life, and I would have no worries about him.

Being kind however, is not enough to get you through todays tough, cruel and unkind world. Being kind is not enough to get you through cruel words and cruel actions.

I remember a saying from my own youth: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”. Words devastate. Wounds can heal but words can have a lasting impression. A very traumatic, lasting impression.

My son has had a lot of upset in school. I have spoken to his teachers numerous times. I am my son’s ONLY advocate and therefore I will always communicate my son’s distress to the people I trustingly hand over my son to, hoping they will guard him from any physical/emotional harm in the school setting. So when my son comes home saying children have been mean to him and that he’s spent the whole of play time crying in a corner on his own, I need to make changes to protect my son. I will not have my son’s heart broken.

I need him to stand up for himself. I need to teach him how to stand up for himself. I never in a million years thought I would ever be roleplaying ‘mean situations’ with my son, but that is what we have ended up doing. For example, a while ago he was taunted and called a ‘baby’. I pretended I was Rory being called a baby. We discussed what a baby was and he was definitely not one of them! I explained they were just untrue words that someone has made up to be mean and hurtful.

We have gone through how to handle those heart breaking situations where groups of so-called friends don’t let you join in to play. But how do I explain to my son what he should do if someone becomes physical with him? I have always disagreed with the ‘if a child pushes you, push him back’ approach. That was until now. I don’t want my son to think violence is acceptable at all, but what I do want to install in him is that if he feels threatened in any shape of form, he can do what he feels necessary to protect himself from harm.

One of the reasons I take my son to Tae-Kwondo lessons is so that he learns the power and strength of his own body to fend off attackers. But most importantly, he is learning the power of his voice as an initial warning.

In Rory’s first year of school, so he was 4 years old at the time, I was mortified to be told that he had bitten another child on the face. Rory was disciplined according to the schools guidance which I went along with. Causing harm to a child was just not acceptable. But this was so out of character for my kind and sensitive little boy. Why on earth did he bite another child, and on the cheek of all places? It didn’t make sense to me. Until Rory finally told me what had happened. He was sat on the floor in a line after dinner, waiting to go out to play. Having school dinners was still a scary prospect for Rory back then and he used to take a little toy in his pocket for reassurance. A boy kept reaching over Rory to take his toy that was in his hand at the time. Rory must have felt threatened by the constant invasion of his space and reacted in the only way he thought he could. He was protecting himself. He got punished for protecting himself. I will not let that happen again.

As an adult, I have come across many mean people. This is unfortunate but a fact of life. I cannot teach Rory that everyone is going to be nice. We all know that is not true. But what I am trying to do is to equip him with the necessary tools to protect his emotional and physical well-being when situations arise. Of course I still want him to be the kind, thoughtful little boy he is, but I also need him to toughen up. It really saddens me to say this though.

As the youngest of three siblings, we grew up where everyone knew each other. No one would have ever dreamed of intimidating me due to the presence of my older brother and sister. Rory does not have those siblings. He has me.

I might sound like an over bearing, over protective mother, but the sole responsibility of a little life is overwhelming. Children need happy childhoods, and I will do my utmost to make sure my little boy has the one he deserves.

I don’t want Rory to accept people being mean to him. What I want is for him to understand that we have to learn to deal with it.  As much as I would like to talk to every child that is mean to mine, and their parents come to think of it, I can’t. Although i will if need be! There is nothing more precious to me than my boy. This is just another hard lesson in life. There will be many more to come i’m sure, that will keep me wide awake at night, worrying. Who said parenting was going to be easy!

Be kind. It costs nothing and can make all the difference to someone.

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“We are NOT a proper family”

Not long after my son started Primary school, he came home stating that we “were not a proper family”. Unbeknown to me, the class theme at that time was all about families. My little boy was very upset. He has only known life with me and him, with regular contact with his father. My son has 2 houses and that is the ‘norm’ for him. I say 2 houses as opposed to homes because in my son’s eyes, our house together is home, the other is ‘Dad’s house’. I find that sad and its something that we are working on.

I was distraught when my son, my baby, my whole world, declared that we were not a proper family. How could he think that? How could he have come home from school thinking that? What on earth were they teaching him about families?

One in four families are headed by single parent families in the UK. Surely his teachers must be aware of the diverse society we live in today! Surely they need to be mindful of different family types and be sensitive to the children who don’t fit into the ‘norm’.

I researched what books were available for young children regarding single-parent families and was shocked by how little was available. I came across one book that was about a bird living in two nests. This was supposed to replicate a child having two homes. My son has always been a bright little boy. He questions everything and wants truthful answers to his questions. A book about birds was not going to help his curiosity about family types! He has always wanted facts when it comes to real life. This does help me enormously, as I used to spend most of my time bullshitting the truth, as I thought I would be protecting him.

But in actual fact, by being truthful and honest, I was protecting him more. None more so than when we went through my breast cancer treatment as a single parent family. I couldn’t bullshit feeling and looking incredibly ill. But what I could do was explain things to my son in a manner that he would understand. I could cuddle him for hours and listen to his daily stories. I was there for him. I was still his mummy and no one loved him more than me! My son needed information, real information. And I’m sure he got through this huge disruption in his life by the information he received.

So with all of that in mind, it has always been my goal to write a series of children’s books based on family types. The series will be based on the character ‘Super Rory’! Super Rory lives with his mummy. Super Rory lives with his daddy. Super Rory lives with his 2 mummies. Super Rory lives with his 2 daddies. Super Rory lives with Nana and Grandad etc. (the list is endless). Once that series has been completed, the next series will be based on real-life family situations such as Super Rory’s mummy has cancer. Super Rory’s mummy is sad (with postnatal depression). Super Rory’s mummy/daddy is in prison. Super Rory goes to play at Charlies house (a deaf family). Super Rory’s family welcomes new neighbours (a refugee family) etc. (Once again, the list is endless).

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It will be based on my very own superhero character (Rory!!) who has shown me his ability to get through difficult situations, and his level of understanding of these difficult situation is a lot higher than I was giving him credit for. They are going to be ‘real’ books to normalise family types and the difficulties families face but with a child-friendly level of understanding. An endearing character that children will associate with. And most importantly, they will be simple and easy to read.

Transforming Cancer Care services and positively supporting single parent lifestyles are my 2 passions in life. I need these projects in my life! After an unsuccessful attempt at returning to work, I am even more determined to make a success out of these passions!

My aim is to have a series of books based on family types in all Uk primary schools, so no other child has to come home, like Rory, saying they don’t have a proper family. That is just unacceptable in today’s day and age. But there are over 25,000 primary schools! I need your help!

I have contacted a leading Single Parent charity to see if there are any opportunities to collaborate. I have been researching self-publishing. I have been looking into financial grants to help get it all off the ground. I haven’t got round to emailing one of the most well known single parent authors: JK Rowling! But it is a possibility! As is pitching to the Dragon’s Den crew!

I’m using the power of social media for any ideas on how to make this a reality. I have been talking and planning for far too long! Please contact me with any suggestions. Thank you x”

 

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Queen Quitter Pants!

So, after a weekend of soul searching, I decided to leave my Return To Nursing course. Some of you may have read my previous blog which included some of the difficulties I was experiencing. The comments I received, were wonderfully supportive and greatly received, but ultimately, I was fighting a losing battle.

Why was I putting myself and my son through such misery and stress?

Well the answer to that was simple. I desperately wanted to go back to my pre-cancer days. To be that person I once was. But the truth of the matter is, I will never be that person again.

I have realised through completion of half of the course that I do not want to be a nurse. I thought I did. I wanted to believe I did as that would have given me some future purpose in life. I wanted to fight through the universities lack of support, proving that difficult challenges do not phase me. I have got through much worse in life. But if this was truly the path I was supposed to take, nothing would have stopped me.

So I quit.

I quit with my head held high. I walked away.

Did I fail? Absolutely not. Nothing in this world is worth compromising my health again. I am sure that stress played a huge contributing factor to my cancer development.  Not only were my stress levels increasing rapidly, but my anxiety too.

It has been a weekend of battling through all of my thoughts. A weekend of reaching out to friends and family (something I am usually rubbish at!). A weekend of tears. I was frantic with worry that I was letting everyone down. But I was only letting myself down for continuing with something that was causing me great distress and having a negative impact on mine and Rory’s life.

What I hope I’m teaching Rory through all of this, is that I tried. I tried very hard. But its ok to stop trying and walk away if you need to. I have learnt from people this week that walking away takes strength. I did not fail by quitting. I would have failed if I had continued not being true to myself.

What mattered to me pre-cancer, does not have the same meaning to me after becoming a mother and having had cancer. I am a different person. And I am glad to be this new person. A person who doesn’t waste time doing things they don’t want to do. A person who will not tolerate being treated badly. A person who can change their mind!

I am incredibly lucky. I can now pursue the things in life that I am passionate about: transforming cancer care services and normalising different family types through children’s books!

I know better than anyone, that life can be so very short. Life is precious and we owe it to ourselves to be happy.

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Returning to work ….

I am a grumpy, stressed out, emotional mummy.

Returning to work was not supposed to be this way. “You will be supported” said the university through which I am doing a work placement for 4 months. “It is only part time, less than 15 hours a week, you’ll be fine” they said.

Well I am not fine!

Full of enthusiasm and excitement on my first 2 days, to then be in total despair by the end of day 3 when the school phoned to say I hadn’t collected my son. Now I am not entirely to blame as I did not receive the notifications that my son’s afterschool activity was not running on that day. However, I totally blame myself. My son was sat in the reception area of the school for nearly 45 minutes, waiting for his mum who just couldn’t get her shit together in the very first week of returning to work. “Don’t worry mum” said my 6 year old little darling. I have no idea what I would do without this amazing little boy in my life! He is so much wiser than his years and I sometimes wonder who is the parent and who is the child!

The expectations my placement have of me are clearly much higher than what I can achieve at this present time. This is a very unfair process to have to go through. Humiliating in fact. I was expecting support and guidance to build my confidence but instead it has had the opposite effect. This meaning, I have my head constantly in the books, researching and completing hours and hours of extra E-Learning.  Which in turn, means that my son is having a lot of screen time, overloading on sugar and missing out on quality time with his mummy. Although, he is more than happy to watch Horrid Henry (which is usually banned) and eat copious amounts of sweets whilst I just take 5 more minutes to finish up. 4 episodes later ……..

The reality of returning to work is enormous. Practically, I have one pair of hands. I cannot be in 2 places at once. Breakfast club starts at 8.20am, my placement starts at 8.30am! My son has never caused a fuss about going because he knows he has to. But I know he doesn’t want to go. He eats breakfast at home and every time we go to breakfast club he says that he will just have a sip of apple juice or water. I know then that he will just have to sit on the floor for the next 30 minutes before school starts. The guilt is too much sometimes. I watched him for the first couple of times. My heart bursting with pride as he went up to the counter, asked for a drink and then found an empty seat amongst the very busy tables of children he didn’t know. I would have been nervous! But Rory, as with everything, just gets on with it.

As a single parent, I cannot always do the placement times. Sometimes I need to start late and finish early. If my son is poorly or has an appointment, I need to be there for him. Even though my son’s father has parental responsibility, he has made it very clear that this responsibility does not extend to out of arranged child contact hours.

Just this week, I have become totally overwhelmed by the emotional toll that returning to work has taken. I missed out on seeing my son do his Tae-Kwondo grading. This upset me greatly. Usually the optimist, I have been ready to throw the towel in several times. My head is screaming out that “I can’t do this”, “You’re crap”, “You don’t know anything”, “You shouldn’t be doing this”. 

Why am I doing it? I ask myself this question over and over again. I’m not happy. I’m very stressed and missing out on precious time with my boy. But it is a means to an end. I am desperately trying to better mine and Rory’s life. To break free from the cycle of benefits. To break free from ‘recovering from cancer’. But I think that is one of my biggest issues. Being diagnosed with breast cancer 4 years ago and the gruelling treatment regime that followed, has had a huge impact on how I see myself and what I am capable of doing. My brain does not function the same. I find it difficult to recall and retain information. Perhaps I am just not ready. Has it all been a huge mistake?

On reflection, I have been to hell and back. I thought I was going to die when I had Breast Cancer. I thought my son was going to grow up without knowing his mummy. I have been to the deepest and darkest places no one could ever imagine. I have survived single parenting not only through cancer but through devastating and traumatic parental conflict, which continues frequently.

So for anyone who doesn’t think I’ve got it in me to return to work, you are wrong. It might take me somewhat longer, but I will get there. I am stubborn. I am determined. When I am knocked down, I get back up. I am a Murphy after all!

My parents, once again come to my rescue! My dad is coming next week, in-between his chemotherapy treatment cycles to help with Rory. Unfortunately he also has to come back the following week as I got my dates mixed up (no surprise there!). Must get the San Miguel in! My mum has already done her time with us!

I have the upmost respect for single parents doing it all alone. And those single parents who have more than one child, are my absolute hero’s! The support I have received from single parenting networks, has got me through this very difficult time.

This is not how I thought it would be. I had an unrealistic view of sailing through this short course, getting a job and living happily ever after. It is tough. But so is life. I will get there and when I do, Rory and I will be going on our first celebratory camp of the year!

Returning to work after any absence can be a daunting prospect. I have doubted myself numerous times. I have cried a lot. I have just wanted to crawl under my duvet and stay there. My anxiety is back with a vengeance. But no one is going to tell me I can’t do something. No one is going to tell me I am not good enough.

I CAN AND I WILL

Thank you for all of your support xxxxx

But the biggest thank you goes to Rory. He has hugged me, wiped my tears, understood, and is just the world’s best kid. Proud does not even come close! Thank you my amazing boy xxxxx

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Two Breasts, One Breast, No Breasts ……

If the word ‘Breasts’ offends you, read no further!
If the word ‘Breasts’ makes you feel uncomfortable, read no further!
I thought hard about whether I should write about ‘Breasts’ on this blog. Its a ‘Single Parent Adventure’ blog! A future resource for my little boy. Why on earth would I be writing about breasts?!
I remember during the early days of my breast cancer diagnosis, almost whispering the word breasts when telling people. Having that awkwardness, like it was something to be ashamed of. But never have I been ashamed of having breast cancer, the effect it has had on my body or the appearance of my body.
My initial diagnosis of Ductal Carcinoma in Situ, meant that following a single mastectomy, no further treatment would be needed. I would have breast reconstruction at a later date, and a reduction in size of the remaining breast. I did think that by the time I turned 40, I would have a lovely pair of pert boobs and I’d be the envy of all my friends! That was until devastation struck. My cancer invaded my lymph nodes and a gruelling regime of Chemotherapy, Radiotherapy and numerous other medical interventions were scheduled for the following 18 months.
Precious time was taken away from my son. I needed our lives to get back to some kind of normality as soon as possible. That is when I knew breast reconstruction was not for me. In comparison to a mastectomy which is a relatively uncomplicated surgery, breast reconstruction is a very lengthy surgery with a much longer recovery and many additional post-operative procedures.
My mind was made. No reconstruction. But I struggled enormously with having one breast. It was a constant reminder of what had happened. I just wanted it gone.
I was fortunate to have a very understanding surgeon who agreed to remove my remaining healthy breast. But so many women have had to fight for this choice. A very personal choice, one that is as equally important as having reconstruction, but denied to so many.
My surgery couldn’t come soon enough and the relief I felt afterwards was immense. I had no breasts and I was so very happy about it. That sounds like an incredibly strange thing to say to most people, but it is true. I didn’t look down at my very flat chest and wish I had two breasts. For me, it was the start, the start of healing, the start of the recovery, the start of repairing and the start of moving forward.
Breasts do not define a person. They certainly didn’t define me. One of my biggest accomplishments in life is that I breast fed my son, but I don’t feel upset in the slightest that my breasts are gone. My breast was cancerous. Toxic even. Disease grew so rapidly.
Any memories of a sexual context related to my breasts have been quickly erased. If I had been in a loving relationship at the time of my diagnosis and treatment, my decision for an elective mastectomy might have been different. But fortunately, I didn’t need to think about how anyone else would feel about me not having breasts. I did what was best for me, and me alone. My body. My decision.
During the early days of becoming flat, when my chest was still sensitive, I would find myself apologising to any house visitors for not having my ‘boobs’ in. I would wear scarves to hide my flatness. I would apologise for being me. I don’t really know why I did that!
Over the years, I have tried various bras and breast prosthetics. Bras irritate my very sensitive chest. I hate them. But my son Rory has a whale of a time sorting through them, pretending to be me! I don’t hide the fact I don’t have breasts from him. He knows! I try to show a very positive body image, showcasing that people come in all different shapes and sizes. He just knows me as Mum!
I am a woman. Not having breasts doesn’t make me any less of a woman. As for future relationships, if my lack of breasts is an issue, I will have an issue with brainless idiots!
There are so many women like me who live a confident and happy life without breasts. During cancer, many decisions are made for you but every person has the right to make their own choices. Elective mastectomy surgery is not a routine choice, reconstruction is. This needs to change. Hopefully, I can address this during my next Patient Leadership workshop which will be focusing on the Breast Care Pathway!
Cancer does not discriminate. I was certainly not too young to have breast cancer at 38 years old. Check your breasts regularly. And get shouting out the word ‘BREASTS’!