Sometimes it seems to concern people that I devote some of my time to supporting women affected by breast cancer. The concerns are well intentioned, people who fear that somehow I am being held back in terms of 'moving on' or that I am not getting on and living my own life. So I thought I'd try to explain a little of why I do what I do.
It usually starts with a phone call from one of the staff at the charity to see if I am free to take on a new 'client' along with a brief outline of her needs. Very rarely has it been necessary to say no, and then only because I had a large number of exisiting support relationships.
I dial the number, carefully witholding my own, at the agreed time and introduce myself to the new person. Often her voice trembles, she may dissolve into tears or she may stoically assert that she just has to get on with this. I listen, reassure her feelings are quite normal, answer her questions and offer a follow up call.
Sometimes calls are just a one off, a person with very specific questions to which she seeks answers. More often a support relationship will last several months, as the client journeys through chemotherapy and radiotherapy (neoadjuvant chemo is still the exception, so most of my clients have already had their surgery). We talk through side effects, travelling a path I know quite well, yet always with its own twists and turns. I notice the terror in the voice subside and usually an easy relationship forms, with banter and laughter as we move forward, more quickly than they ever imagined was possible through the treatment phase.
And then comes the point where we work towards an ending, treatment is past, the once terrified woman is moving forward and to prolong contact would, in the end, hold her back, force her to return to a bad place when now she needs to seek the sun, fly free and build her own future.
It's always bittersweet making that last close-out call. I am happy that this woman is through treatment and moving forward. But there's always a slight wrench in saying 'goodbye'.
What strikes me above all, is the incredible gratitude of these women... so appreciative that someone would give them time and space, so thankful for a listening ear and a reassuring word, so grateful for any nugget of advice or reassurance that they aren't bonkers...
"Thank you" they say to me, at the end of each call, at the close of each relationship.
"Thank you"... that makes it all worthwhile, helps me to weave it all into the tapestry of my life, assures me that I have, for me, made the correct choice.
This month my 'activity report' shows around seven hours, which is pretty average - the equivalent of one short working day... not much really, yet the rewards are immeasurable.