Meet the team - Denise

In this week's meet the team, it's the lovely Denise's turn to share her story about how and why she's involved with the charity. I too, like Dorothee and Ali, became a member of Annabel's Angels at the beginning of 2013 after meeting Annabel and the girls on the Macmillan forum in 2012 after we were all diagnosed with breast cancer.

After the initial feeling of terror and fear of dying I composed myself and gave myself a good talking to. With the help and support of a wonderful husband, great friends and family, I began the treatment journey that would absorb nearly a year of my life.

The old me was slowly disappearing and the new me has taken quite some time to get used to and is still evolving.

But out of this awful situation I found myself in, I made new friends with other ladies going through a very similar treatment plan experience to me on the Macmillan forum. So many offered support and comfort on the Macmillan chat forum.....we laughed, we cried, gave great advice and support and slowly grew new friendships online which we called “the class of 2012”.

The worst part online for me was seeing Annie40 as a title on a new thread and I had this awful feeling, which sadly was confirmed when I read that she had lost her battle with this awful disease. All I could think about was her husband, Simon, the children and her family and friends. Plus I was concerned as to how this would impact on all my lovely friends brought it home to us all the reality and confirmation that this disease is a killer.

But 2013 was a new year which started with the amazing creation of Annabel’s Angels.............and how proud I am to be an angel!

Ali started the ball rolling with the Race For Life idea and all of our teams running under the name of Annabel’s Angels. Then all the great work and vision that Simon wanted from Annabel’s Angels has paid off through lots and lots of hard work during 2013.

My contribution came from not only getting a team together for Race For Life in Folkestone, but lots of craft fairs and fundraising events to help raise as much money as possible for such a worthy cause.

My organisational skills came into play when Simon asked if I would catalogue all the auction lots for the Guinness World Record Charity Auction event that Annabel’s Angels had been invited to join, which took place at the end of November in Derby. What a challenge this was, especially as my chemo brain was really bad, I hadn’t created a spreadsheet in over 18 months and where were we going to get 150 auction lots from in such a short space of time? But I didn’t want to let Simon down, as this could be the biggest fundraising event of the year, I had to think logically about who to contact to ask for items to sell. My friends and family didn’t disappoint.....items started rolling in....phew. What an amazing event this was raising thousands of pounds for the 10 charities and causes.

Annabel's Angels meet the team

What do I want from 2014..........well in February I will be two years on from diagnosis.......the breast cancer treatment has left it’s toll on my body and I am hoping to have an operation in the new year to help with my lymphoedema in my right arm. I am taking my hubby on a dream holiday to Canada, which will be out of this world plus I will also continue fundraising throughout the year and support Annabel’s Angels in any way I can.

One thing being diagnosed has taught me is never to take anything for granted because at any moment in time things can change. So I promise to share my love of life with as many people I can and have lots of wonderful times ahead.

Thank you

Denise xxx




Meet the team - Ali

In this weeks episode of meet the team, we say hello to Alison Gordon, or Ali as many of us will know her.   

December is often a reflective time and as we approach the anniversary of Annabel’s death, I’d like to share how someone I’d never met in person had such a profound effect on my life and the incredible things we’ve achieved in this first year since the development of Annabel’s Angels in January.

When they said life begins at 40, I was pretty sure being diagnosed with Breast Cancer wasn't what they meant. Like most women I was busy juggling my life, kids, career, and friends.

Breast Cancer Awareness month came and went in its pink flurry and I'm ashamed to admit I didn't know what the signs and symptoms of breast cancer were. Could knowing this have made a difference? Quite possibly. So when I detected a lump in my breast after being injured in a martial arts lesson I wasn't unduly concerned. I mean I felt well, had no family history, exercised regularly and wasn't overweight, all of those factors surely meant it wouldn't be serious? Sounds terribly naïve now.

I can safely say, exercise saved my life, had I never been injured – maybe I’d never have detected the lump that was clearly deeply rooted and only thrust to the surface in a freak accident. That being said I still took another two weeks before I went to my Gp as my lack of awareness of symptoms of cancer and perhaps my selfless attitude, putting everything and everyone before me meant I was in no rush. I cannot urge anyone reading this to not make the same decisions as me and if you find anything unusual for you, act upon it promptly.

So from May 2012, my life changed, I started my ‘cancer career break,’ which was a bit of an extreme way to escape the huge pressures at work, working within Adults Social Care management I’d often dreamt of taking a year out and travelling in the months leading up to my diagnosis. Hmmm, 9 months out on a cancer journey is not quite the same. My treatment started in June 2012, including a mastectomy, followed by 6 cycles of chemotherapy that ended by Christmas 2012, radiotherapy followed into February 2013 and finally being prescribed hormonal therapy for the next 5 years.

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Being diagnosed with cancer can be a mine field, after the knee buckling shock and fog of the initial diagnosis lifts, you can be left with many unanswered questions and seemingly no one to turn to. Shortly after being diagnosed I discovered Macmillan Community Forum and initially started blogging as an outlet, before finding a breast cancer group. The women I met, my Macland mates, Annabel, Dorothee, Denise and many others really understood where you were coming from. We became the Class of 2012, as we’d all been diagnosed at similar times and could share, relate and help one another through the unsteady path of uncertainty that cancer brings. There are silver linings to a diagnosis, the support these new friends from all over the country can bring and are there with you through every milestone and every symptom.

However not everyone graduates from Boot Camp or Tanning, as Dorothee calls them.  Breast cancer still kills women, despite research and treatment now available.  Sadly our friend Annabel, amongst others didn’t graduate with us, however her good nature and caring qualities towards others has inspired many people in what has been an action packed year.

I'd like to reassure anyone that worries about being diagnosed with Breast Cancer , that although at the beginning it seems overwhelming and that things may never be the same, it hasn't ruined my life or prevented me from participating or living life to the full, sure there are challenges, and things to be worked through, but when isn’t there ?  I’m also aware that this is my subjective experience and many others may have a different experience.

In 2013, like Dorothee, I’ve set myself physical challenges, represented Annabel’s Angels at Race for Life 10K London and 5k in Derby, entered Moonwalk, returned to my beloved mixed martial arts and learnt to surf.

I returned to work full time and spent the summer travelling Europe. I think the sporting challenges perhaps are an act of defiance, a two finger salute to cancer, you will not interrupt my life further, and almost look what I can do now, and many people find new passions or seek adventures.

Life beyond cancer is at times daunting, of course nothing is guaranteed, and you have to work around fears of recurrence and learn to trust your body again. In many ways you have a greater appreciation of life and what matters most. It's also fair to say over time, things settle back into a new normal, and you can discover a new found confidence, that again varies and needs time. Repair, restore, recover – reboot are vital and there really is no time specific period this takes, it takes the time it needs to and like grief fluctuates.

In January 2013 I promised I would dedicate the coming year to Annabel and I was fuelled with determination to make a difference.

My initial aim – getting a clean bill of health and completing treatment. Followed swiftly with aims of challenging people’s perception of cancer, spreading awareness about the benefits of early detection, and helping others diagnosed to access peer support which isn’t readily available throughout the UK. As the year has progressed we’ve worked together to explore what’s available and fundraise to develop supportive services for people diagnosed with cancer in Annabel’s home town of Derby. We developed a peer support Facebook group available to anyone diagnosed as well as our community page.

I’ve also worked with London Health Improvement Board, Cancer Programme as an Exemplary Cancer Activist to begin to train others to raise awareness of early detection in London areas.  To say I’m passionate about change would be an understatement.

Looking back on 2013, I feel proud of our accomplishments and excited by our aims for the coming year. Do you dare to make a difference too? Can you help us to help others?