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In July 2017, Tania House, 51, from Southwick was getting ready for a family holiday to Majorca to celebrate her 50th birthday when her partner, Charlie, noticed a slight change to her nipple when she got out of the shower.
That day, Tania happened to have an appointment with her doctor for a pain in her hip caused by spinal stenosis – a condition that she has been living with since the age of 36. Confident that she had checked her breasts for lumps and not suffering from anything apart from an annoying itch, Tania decided to ask the doctor if it was anything to worry about. On examination, her GP was able to feel a small lump behind her nipple. Following a series of visits to her surgery and Worthing Hospital, Tania was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy to remove three small tumours in August 2017.
In September 2017 – whilst recovering from her mastectomy – Tania was shocked to find that an excruciating pain in her back signalled that the cancer had also spread to her spine. Early in January 2018, she received the devastating news that an operation on her spine to remove the cancer would be too dangerous to go through with due to where the tumour was located on her T9 vertebrae.
Here, Tania speaks openly about her diagnosis and the wide range of palliative care services she has been able to benefit from since her referral to St Barnabas House in December 2017.
“It all started with an itch. It wasn’t anything that bothered me because I just thought maybe it was my washing powder or perfume. As far as I was concerned, I thought I just had a rash. It never entered my mind that it could be breast cancer. My perception of looking for a lump is that I’m going to find a boulder but I couldn’t feel anything and I wasn’t unwell.
After my doctor discovered the lump under my nipple, he encouraged me to go on holiday and enjoy myself while I wait for the test results. It was a lovely holiday and I didn’t want anything to spoil my birthday, but all the time in the back of my mind I knew I had to come back and face it.
When I later found out that the cancer had spread to my back and the operation on my spinal cord was too risky, that’s where St Barnabas came in. My doctor had put me on a course of oral chemotherapy, but as well as the medication I needed emotional support and a place to go where I knew I could get away from everything.
Dot, a St Barnabas Community Palliative Care Nurse, was my first contact with St Barnabas House. She came to see me at home and was a massive help. I have four amazing children and a partner to support and within a week Dot had sorted out all of my benefits for me because I was having dreadful trouble trying to claim disability allowance. Even though I was ill, I still needed to pay the bills.
I was also referred to the hospice for physiotherapy once a week. I had lost a lot of movement as a result of an infection caused by my mastectomy; Leonie – the hospice physiotherapist – has been a huge help. Now I can lift my arm right up, which I couldn’t do when I first saw her.
Leonie has also given me a course of acupuncture as part of my physiotherapy treatment plan which has been incredible. The first session wiped me out but then I felt amazing – as well as easing my pain, I think it has helped release a lot of emotion which I had stored up.
I was then offered the chance to come along to the Day Hospice which I attend once a week. I absolutely love it. The team of staff and volunteers work incredibly hard. It’s just so nice to arrive and be greeted with a smile, knowing that you’re going to be looked after for the day. It’s like a little holiday every Thursday.
I’ve found that a lot of people I know think that a hospice is just for elderly people in the last few days of their life. At the Day Hospice, it couldn’t be more different. There’s people of all ages from all walks of life. Jools, the Activity Co-ordinator, makes sure there’s different things going on each week including live music, art projects, free haircuts and delicious meals. Recently we all went on a trip to an exhibition at Worthing Museum with the Artist-in-Residence which was brilliant.
I’ve made some really lovely friends since attending the Day Hospice. We have a great laugh together and I find it helps me to talk openly with other people who also have cancer. I always try to stay positive though. I don’t go to the hospice to think about death, I go there to be looked after and to give a bit of love to people myself.
Another of the things that I benefit from at the Day Hospice is the range of complementary therapies on offer. When you’ve got cancer, you can control the pain with painkillers, but it doesn’t always work. Therapeutic treatments help me an awful lot and I feel that without them I probably would have given up a long time ago. Indian head massage and reflexology are my favourite. I feel a million dollars when I come out of a session with the hospice’s Complementary Therapist. For someone with cancer that means an awful lot.
Don’t get me wrong, I have my down days where I wake up feeling dreadful and I don’t want to get out of bed. It can be a struggle battling cancer when you’re trying to maintain a normal life and looking after a family.
Whether I’m having a good day or a not so good day, St Barnabas House has given me a part of my life back where I feel I can be me. Just because I’m going to a hospice, it doesn’t mean I’m going there to die. I’m not ready yet.”