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

Woman's Weekly (UK) - - Contents -

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

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