Real life: A community of courageous women fighting cancer
When Chantele Rashbrook was diagnosed with breast cancer, she became part of a community of courageous women whose support proved invaluable in her fight against the disease
Eight words. That was all it took to turn Chantele Rashbrook’s life upside down.
‘I’m really sorry, but you’ve got breast cancer,’ the doctor said gently, as Chantele sat opposite her in her office.
At first, the mum-of-two from Deal, Kent, struggled to comprehend what she was being told.
‘Are you sure?’ she asked, struggling to hold it together.
Chantele, 47, had found a small lump in her right breast two weeks before, in December 2011. She often got pains in her breasts before her period, and thought the lump was probably due to hormonal changes.
When she’d booked the appointment with the GP, it had been purely as a precaution.
She can’t recall much about the hours afterwards, only driving home in a daze. Her husband Phil, then 46, was working away in Grimsby as a Marine, and her children Charlie, then 13, and Lily, 11, were at school. Chantele waited until later that night to phone Phil and tell him.
‘We’ll fight this together,’ he promised.
Phil rushed home the next day, and they told the kids together. Understandably, they were scared.
‘Wipe those tears,’ Chantele told them gently. ‘Mummy’s going to beat this.’
But it was all a front for her family’s sake. Deep down, Chantele was anxious, her thoughts rarely drifting far from the cancer and what it could mean for her family.
Would she even get to see her children grow up?
In June 2012, she had a single mastectomy ahead of six rounds of chemotherapy.
As she’d been warned, the treatment took its toll, and Chantele became sick and weak. But she wore a special cold cap, offered by the hospital, which managed to save her thick, blonde hair.
A year after the radiotherapy, that followed, Chantele had a breast reconstruction. Although her recovery was painful at first, over the next few months, Chantele’s confidence grew. For the first time since the diagnosis, she felt whole again, like she could finally start to move on with her life.
She’d always loved running, and even managed to go on a few jogs. But, just as she thought she was in the clear, in April 2014, her world came crashing down again when Chantele found a lump in her neck. A scan revealed that the
‘When we were together, we weren’t just a bunch of women with cancer’
cancer had returned and was now in her lungs.
‘The doctor said I’d need more chemo,’ she says. ‘It would have been easy to crumble, but I felt more determined than ever. I just said, “Right, let’s do this.”’
This time, she was given a new type of chemo drug, Kadcyla, which left her a lot less exhausted and sick. In fact, she had enough energy to keep running, even completing the London marathon that year during her treatment.
‘You’re like Wonder Woman,’ Phil said proudly, after she crossed the finishing line.
She’d managed to complete the run in just under five hours and had raised £5,000 for Breast Cancer Now.
Meanwhile, friends of friends who also had cancer started getting in touch. Some just needed a shoulder to cry on, while others were in search of advice and support. All shared their
admiration for Chantele and her incredible positivity.
‘One woman messaged me on Facebook and asked how I remained so upbeat,’ says Chantele. ‘I wrote back saying, “Because moping won’t help me beat cancer.”’
Before long, Chantele and the other women had formed a group on Facebook. There, everyone would share their stories and offer friendly advice. The support proved invaluable for Chantele as much as the other women.
‘It was nice having others who knew exactly what I was going through,’ she says. ‘Everyone was so supportive.’
Soon, Chantele’s Facebook family group had grown to 28 members, and they called themselves The Breast Cancer Girls of Deal.
‘It was a real mixed bunch of women in their 30s to late 60s,’ she says. ‘We started arranging local meet-ups – brunches, a chat over coffee, or even a glass of wine!’
The group organised ladies’ nights out and day trips to France and London. Having something fun to focus on meant that everyone could forget about cancer, even if for just a few short hours.
‘It was time spent just being ourselves,’ says Chantele. ‘When we were together, we weren’t just a bunch of women with breast cancer – we were a group of friends, creating memories together.’
Four years on, Chantele is still having Kadcyla to treat her cancer. The tumour has shrunk, and is under control. Because of the lessened side effects of the drug, she’s able to live a normal life.
‘I’ve got my fellow breast cancer girls rooting for me,’ Chantele says. ‘We have a motto: Cancer can do one!’
Although her fight with the disease isn’t over, Chantele takes comfort from her incredible friendships. That something so positive can come out of something so challenging is testament to the strength and resilience of all the women.
‘Together, there’s not much we can’t overcome,’ Chantele says. ‘I feel like I can fight anything with my group of friends behind me.’
Chantele faced cancer – twice – with courage and positivity
Far left: After the London marathon. Left: Having run a Pretty Muddy Race for Life with Lily
Some of the Breast Cancer Girls of Deal out on a Sunday run
On holiday this year with the family