In the Pink gave me back my confidence
It should have been one of the happiest times in her life. But a few months before she was due to marry, primary school teacher Helen Filkins was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I’d nearly postponed my mammogram because I was so busy, but something in me nagged and said I needed to go,” says the mum of two from Barrow upon Soar, Leicestershire. The honeymoon was booked, the reception was paid for!
"My partner, Roger, and I cancelled everything. I didn’t want to get married without my hair, which I’d lose because of chemo.”
Helen, then 56, had a lumpectomy, followed by chemotherapy and radiotherapy. When her treatment finished in September 2016, she expected life to shift back to some sort of normal.
“Nobody talks about what happens after treatment for breast cancer, so I thought I’d be fine.
“Classrooms keep you busy and you’re always on your feet. Before my cancer treatment I enjoyed aqua aerobics, swimming and going to the gym.
“I went back to teaching on a phased return after my treatment, but I really struggled.
“I was on tablets to block oestrogen and they made me tired all the time and I felt my brain wasn’t working as fast as it had.
“Not great when you’re teaching 25 six-year-olds!
“It came to a head months later when we had a school sports day. I couldn’t stand for long, so I asked for a chair to sit on. I felt some people were judging me, as if I ‘should have been better now’ and somehow ‘over it’.
“I started to lose my confidence and decided to take early retirement.”
If she hoped that putting down her whiteboard marker for the final time would draw a line under her treatment, she was wrong.
“I felt lost, empty,” she explains. “I wanted to get physically fitter, so I went to Pilates and to a gym, but the instructors didn’t understand what breast cancer had done to me physically and mentally.
“I wanted to move on with the next phase of my life, but I didn’t know how. I was drifting.”
Through social media, Helen heard about In the Pink and joined the Loughborough programme in 2020.
“Because my treatment was four years earlier, I didn’t think I would be eligible to sign up. But I needn’t have worried, there were women whose treatment was recent, but others like me who had it years earlier.
“The programme was fantastic. It was a beacon of light for me. When I met the SCTE programme teacher for the first time, she understood my physical difficulties. It was a relief to talk to someone who just ‘got it’.
“I loved the tai chi, belly dancing, African drumming - all of it. I’m a bit of an introvert - despite being a teacher! - but it brought me out of myself. I realised I could try new things.
“In the Pink gave me back my confidence, direction and awareness of what my body could do.”
Helen has now set up not one, but two businesses, sharing her love of sewing and aromatherapy and has joined a voluntary group which supports older people in the community.
“I’m not tired any more. I’ve learned to ring fence my energy and I’m much better at setting boundaries.
“In the Pink helped me to see that I needed to fill some of the gaps in my life and because I’m more confident now, I’ve been able to do that.”
And the best bit? In September 2017, she and Roger walked down the aisle. “Roger, and my daughters, Bridgette and Alison, can all see the difference in me now. It’s beyond priceless.
“If I win the lottery, I’m giving some money to SCTE! I wish everyone knew about it and it was available to every woman who had treatment for breast cancer.”
Sue Young Cancer Support
Helen Webb House, 35 Westleigh Road,
Leicester LE3 0HH
Registered Charity Number 1124057
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