It’s the smallest of things that mean the most.
Helen Tomlinson never takes a cuddle with her children, May and Hughie, for granted.
The 41-year-old from Loughborough, Leicestershire, underwent surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy after being diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer in 2016.
May was four and Hughie was just 11-months-old when she and husband, Steve, were given the bombshell diagnosis from doctors that she had a triple negative form of the disease and it had spread to her lymph glands.
Helen said: “As a Mum, the only thing I thought about was the children and surviving so that I could see them grow up. So, after I finished my treatment, I was just grateful to be alive.
“It never crossed my mind that it would continue to affect me.
“My cancer was grade 3, which meant it was aggressive. It had spread to my lymph nodes, which had to be removed, and the surgery and radiotherapy for that was under my arm, which left me with limited and painful movement.
“Hughie was toddling by then and he’d put his hands up, asking me to pick him up, but I physically couldn’t because it hurt too much.
“He was so little and all he wanted me to do was hold him, especially if he had fallen over or was upset. It was heart-breaking to have to say ‘no’ and it was so hard to explain to him because he was so little.
“May was that bit older, so I could explain to her. But when we were walking together holding hands, she’d pull on my arm, as kids do, and I’d feel the tug of the scar tissue. It was like a constant reminder of ‘Mummy’s bad arm’.”
Through a friend, Helen heard about In the Pink, SCTE’s free, post-treatment rehabilitation programme.
“After cancer treatment, you wonder if you’ll ever be the same again. It’s not just your body that changes, I found it affected my confidence and I know for some women it makes them feel self-conscious.
“I’m not sporty, so I was a bit apprehensive about In the Pink and I honestly wasn’t sure it would be for me.
“But it changed my life. My posture is better, I feel stronger, fitter, healthier and more positive. I still do the exercises two years after completing the programme, because they help to reduce the risk of lymphoedema in my arm.
“I enjoyed all of it. It was upbeat and fun, and the Pilates really helped me, both physically and by boosting my mood. All the guest activities were great too, but I particularly remember the African drumming, which was really energising and gave us a great giggle as well.
“Looking back, after my cancer it would have been easy to think that the physical side-effects of my treatment were just the norm, and that was just how it was going to be. But I’m so grateful now that I didn’t and that I found In the Pink.”
Now, four years later, for Helen, it’s the smallest of things that mean the most. May is now eight and Hughie is four. “I can pick up my kids and give them a hug. It’s a simple thing but for any parent it is so important and precious. And I never take it for granted.”
Sue Young Cancer Support
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