In 2015, not long after I started working here, a lady called Karen literally shuffled through the front door at Sunflowers, looking very poorly, wearing a headscarf and using a walking aid.
Karen told me her story as I registered her for the service. Karen had stage 3 breast cancer and was going through chemotherapy treatment. In addition, she had been diagnosed with a BRCA gene alteration, meaning she had an increased risk of both breast and ovarian cancer. She was a single mum with three boys, at the time her youngest was 9.
The diagnosis had tipped her world upside down. She was half way through a degree but couldn’t go to university, she was a mum but couldn’t do all the things mums have to do, she was a dance teacher, but could no longer dance.
On top of everything, Karen had lost her mum to breast cancer, when she was a similar age, and so she was, for all the reasons above, very, very scared.Karen’s story, of how cancer had taken her mum from her too soon, and had come back to damage her too, was heartbreaking.
I was so glad I was able to offer her the support of Sunflowers, and she became a regular visitor accessing all sorts of different services. Karen would always refer to us as her “Sunflowers Family”. (❤️)Over the next 18 months I watched Karen’s journey, through chemotherapy, surgery after surgery, complications, loss, sadness, frustration, good news, bad news and a whole lot more.
When the time was right Karen started to exercise with Yoga and Tai Chi and also came to my Pilates classes. I’m not gonna lie I was a bit nervous about teaching a talented dancer, but it turned out to be an absolute delight to work with such a flexible and determined student.
We don’t like to use the word fight when talking about cancer these days, but Karen fought, and fought, to recover from cancer, to return to fitness and to get back to a full and active life. She took every opportunity to improve her mental and physical health, here at Sunflowers and at home, and worked hard on her recovery.
Even when she was mid recovery and not feeling great, Karen was determined to use her experience of cancer to help others. She came to me with an idea to set up a much needed support group for those affected by BRCA diagnosis, and still continues to facilitate the BRCA Liverpool support group at Sunflowers.
After a while Karen’s visits to Sunflowers started to become fewer and further between, as she became busier doing things that had nothing to do with cancer. Karen returned to the University degree she’d had to put on hold when she was diagnosed, and has since graduated. She stormed back on to the Salsa scene with her classes, events and even a fabulous Salsa fundraiser for Sunflowers.
We’re friends on Facebook and as I saw less of Karen in person at Sunflowers, I was delighted to see more of her, pictured on my newsfeed doing what she loves most, being a mum, DJing and dancing.When we were making the films for our #peopleofsunflowers Christmas campaign, Karen was simply too busy to come along. I love it when this happens.
At Sunflowers we like nothing better than helping people shift from cancer patient, to cancer survivor, too busy person having fun. Karen did find the time in her busy schedule to write us a testimonial.
She says, “cancer turns your life upside down and it takes all your strength to get through treatment… all I needed was to know that someone believed in me and cared. Sunflowers became my family, my strength and my reason to get out of bed.
They not only supported me but also my children. I will never forget the strength I found through their support and that is why I set up BRCA Liverpool and am a part of the new BC Circle starting 30th January 2018, because what they do is so very important. Please support Sunflowers… “