Saturday, 10 February 2018

Weekly Discussion Summary ~ Back to Work 2

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“Whether we work to live or live to work, our occupation often contributes hugely to our identity.”

This week we shared our experiences of managing work after a breast cancer diagnosis. For some, work continued during treatment, with short periods of time off for surgery and chemotherapy. Others described taking a year or more off work, or having several long absences following various treatments, recurrences or complications.

Whether we work to live or live to work, our occupation often contributes hugely to our identity. Many of us shared the importance of our career to us and those of us who could work described how much being able to work helped us - by creating a sense of normality and helping us not to feel that we were defined by our cancer diagnosis. Those of us with positive experiences shared that supportive managers, kind colleagues, realistic phased returns and reasonable adjustments had made a huge difference to our confidence and self-esteem. For others, returning to work had felt like a trauma in itself, with a significant lack of support and empathy being reported in the workplace. A very few of us described the devastating experience of feeling forced to leave our jobs.

The focus of our discussion was coping with returning to work. This felt like both a milestone on the road to recovery as well as a huge challenge which forced us to face the impact of our treatment on us. We love work and desperately want to be the same employee that we were before our diagnosis.

How, we asked ourselves, can an employer who sees a formerly strong, able female employee understand how we may be changed, physically and emotionally? We look good, we’ve been off (sick leave, we discovered can be perceived as a holiday by some colleagues!). We’re “back” and we look amazing. So let’s get on with it, right?


We might be in pain. We have trouble sleeping. Sometimes we are exhausted. We experience the after-effects from treatment such as reduced cognitive faculties, early menopause and we are still dealing with the psychological impact of a breast cancer diagnosis. Many of us have hot flushes and aching joints due to hormonal treatment or early menopause.

Do we complain?


We smile and even though we appear to be coping in the workplace, we go home exhausted every evening, and still we hold it together for our partners or family.

What we need is supportive adjustments such as a smaller workload, staggered start-times, reduced hours, time off for hospital appointments and regular breaks. We need helpful colleagues not snide remarks about shirking. We hope, if you are a line manager or colleague of someone with a breast cancer diagnosis reading this, that you understand the legal and moral obligation on you to support us, and how much we have to offer given the right assistance. We've been to hell and back, and if we ask for time off for an appointment then this is key to our well-being. We know how precious time is, and we aren't going to waste it. We will give you our best, every minute of every day, as we want our time to count.

For those of us who have had to change careers, reduce our hours or give up work, it is a huge decision that isn't taken lightly. Following a breast cancer diagnosis, with the battering our bodies take and the psychological toll stripping us of our former energy and capability, we may become depressed and our self-confidence plummets. We are fragile and vulnerable. For some, the decision to find a less stressful job or to give up work (for those lucky enough to be in a financial position that allows this) is triggered by a change in priorities. Having faced serious illness, we find we no longer want to spend our days working flat out. For others, it's going back to work that helps us feel normal again, that gives us a sense of purpose and satisfaction, and fills our days with productive activity, helping us not to dwell on our thoughts about our cancer.

For women with secondary breast cancer and who need continuous treatment, the only option may be to stop work as sustaining productivity levels commensurate with their position may not be possible. For these women, priorities often centre around spending time with family and friends. While giving up work may be a relief, there is still loss – the loss of career and routines; it can also be very hard to give up who they were as professional and working women and there is, of course, often significant financial implications.

There is often a conflict for many of us returning to work, particularly those of us who are young, ambitious women and who are on a career path. How do we balance the desire to succeed, to climb the promotion ladder, with wanting to see more of our families, to spend more time doing things we enjoy, to take it easy?

There are, we discovered, no easy answers. We need to try and adapt and adjust, to cope with the feelings of being lost and bewildered, as if we don't quite belong. A phased return to work can be really helpful, with the intervention of occupational health professionals as appropriate. Macmillan also provide objective advice and guidance to women who need it.

If you are a woman living in the UK with a diagnosis of breast cancer and you would like to join our private group, please contact is by facebook message


Monday, 5 February 2018

It's Been Five Years Since My Diagnosis Of Breast Cancer And I'm Only Just Beginning To Move On ~ Tamsin ~ HuffPostUK Blog

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"Modern medicine saved my life, but it also left my body broken. I am finally ready to move on, and I take my cancer forward into the future".

We are pleased to share this stunning account on HuffPost UK by our own Tamsin Sargeant, deputy head of BRiC, describing beautifully the uncertainty by which we live post cancer diagnosis, taking our cancer forward into the future. The 'miracle of science' has saved her life, twice, yet she feels like many that her psychological well-being is broken, hurt and abandoned. The 'cover story', the account by which we learn how to accept and adjust to our cancer related experiences, rarely captures fully the complexities and psychological roller coasters that we go through. We continue, nevertheless.

Sunday, 4 February 2018

World Cancer Day 2018 #WeCanICan

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Today, February 4th, is World Cancer Day.

To mark World Cancer Day 2018 we are shining a light on the members of our private group, all amazing and extraordinary women who come together to support one another to reduce the impact that cancer has on us as individuals, our families and our communities.

Just as cancer affects everyone in different ways, we all have the power to act in varied ways. Here at the BRiC Centre, our focus on promoting psychological resilience forms part of a collective initiative highly relevant to the tagline ‘We can. I can,' chosen for World Cancer Day 2018 which sets out to explore how everyone – as a collective or as individuals – can do their part to reduce the global burden of cancer.

For World Cancer Day, we will be sharing a series of photo montages of us and our members celebrating the many and varied ways we practice our resilience. Bringing together women living with primary and secondary breast cancer, we will be highlighting the many ways we continue living with and beyond breast cancer, with individual photos of just a few of our incredible members alongside several montages of our thriving, diverse group.

Our private, psycho-educational support provides a secure platform for us to engage in rich discussions on relevant research on the psychological impact of cancer diagnosis and treatment on cognitive health and emotional well-being in a guided manner.

We aim to to pave a pathway of well-being towards resilience and cognitive flexibility, to promote adaptability, strength and courage. Our group is diverse and our members highly supportive of each other. It is open to women of any age and at any stage in their treatment, including women with a primary diagnosis of breast cancer, women with secondary breast cancer and those who have finished their treatment.

We also have a blog 'Panning for Gold', launched on World Cancer Day 2016, which provides an inclusive space representing the many voices of women with a breast cancer diagnosis.

Some of our member meet-ups around the UK.
Our online private group is a hugely supportive environment where we 
develop lasting friendships so it's lovely to actually meet face to face.

More of our incredible members! 
#WeCanICan #WorldCancerDay #BRiCMembers #TheBRiCCentre#ResilienceInAction

Not the last word....
We hope you've enjoyed our feature for World Cancer Day 2018. Naz, who is Head of the BRiC Centre, the centre's deputies, Vicky and Tamsin, our ambassadors, Anita, Caroline, Jenny and Jan make a difference each and every day through our collective and individual efforts to support women with primary and secondary breast cancer. We can - by running our centre and our amazing group, by offering support, kindness and wisdom, by writing blogs, by considering relevant research, by sharing engaging articles, by having guided discussions and by providing a safe, kind environment for our members, fostering their resilience. Always, always, we go on. Slowly. Quietly. Never giving up.

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Weekly Discussion Summary ~ You are what others see in you

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“You are what others see in you”.  

In our word cloud created by one of our amazing members below, are the words we used to describe ourselves as our best friend would characterise us, in our Sunday discussion last week. 

With suffering comes the beauty of appreciation. And nothing is more beautiful than practising seeing ourselves with compassion, determination and love. Our members show that the small steps they take towards resilience in every day life can help them take bigger strides towards love for life, bigger achievements and respect. They aim high: slowly, quietly never giving up.

We are so proud of our members! Give them a huge cheer.


Monday, 29 January 2018

Time to Save Myself ~ Anita

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Joshua Ferris said in his wonderful book, Then We Came to the End, 'Almost nothing was more annoying than having our wasted time wasted on something not worth wasting it on.'
I grew up with a warning ringing in my ears that time is too precious to waste.  My breast cancer diagnosis, a little over three years ago now, has highlighted the truth of this. I know that my time on this planet is finite, cancer or no cancer, and I don't want to get to the end with regrets. I've always known this, but having cancer brings the knowledge into the forefront of the mind, and it becomes a life focus rather than a vague platitude. 
Finding the things we love to do and doing more of them sounds so logical and simple, but it's not easy. We all have the same twenty-four hours in a day.  We have a choice about how we spend those hours, wisely or wastefully. What seems wasteful to me may be time well spent for someone else, and vice versa. 
Self-compassion may be key in moving towards happiness and for me it's a life-long lesson that never quite sticks. As a carer and empath it's my natural inclination to ensure everyone around me is comfortable and content before turning last towards my own needs, by which time my limited energy is spent.  The pleasure I get from helping others returns to me a hundredfold, but I'm too tired to bother much about myself once my commitments are fulfilled. It's so much easier to switch on the tv or spend an hour on Facebook than to think about what I really need or want and then get up and make it happen. 
I don’t believe time can be truly wasted, only spent in a way that brings negative emotion.  The kinds of things that bring frustration such as queuing in traffic, waiting in line in a shop, pressing buttons on phones in a frustrating attempt find a human being to speak to...the trials and tribulations of our world mean a certain amount of our time feels unproductive. This is the stuff of living, the chores that have to be done, the time spent on activities to facilitate the smooth running of our lives. This time is a means to an end and can, with good grace, be seen as  necessary and not a waste. 
Then there’s the expectations of others. Here’s where my ‘shoulds’ kick in. I’m the good little girl who seeks praise, who wants to not only fit in but be popular. I don't like conflict, I can't bear to upset anyone. Trying to please myself as well as others is the challenging balancing act I struggle with. I don't see doing nothing very much as a waste of time, for me it is an essential way to be, for large chunks of my day. Long aimless walks, staring at the birds in my garden, pottering about the house - these things take time if they are to be done properly. However if I grab as much time as I want to spend in this way, then other things have to go. In order to preserve the gaps in my commitments I have to say No, which leads to guilt for letting people down, which clashes with my desire to help others, which contradicts my goal of putting myself first. I inadvertently find my diary full once again, I resent the people who are making demands on my time, and I get grouchy, grumpy, gloomy and glum. 
When I say I'm doing nothing this weekend, that's not an invitation for you to fill up my time. That's me saying I'm doing nothing, out of choice, so please don't ask me to come shopping with you or say you'll pop round because you think I shouldn't be on my own.  I don't want to make excuses for my choices, for wanting swathes of empty time so that I can waste it in my own way.  I'm not living in the way other people expect, packing in adventures and making the most of every opportunity to get out there and do exciting things. I've been seriously ill and now I'm supposed to be full of a zest for life. Well actually, my zest for life takes a quiet form, and it finds joy in a sunset, a robin's song and the first snowdrops. Contentment for me is peace of mind, and the only place to find that is inside me.  Busyness makes me weary and anxious, off centre. In order to function I need blank space, time for my complicated cluttered excavations into my rich inner world.
My breast cancer diagnosis is teaching me many lessons. My slowing down has been partly enforced by hormone medication and the aftermath of treatment and trauma, but for the most part it is done with intention. I don't want to get back on the treadmill that my illness so crudely threw me off. I'm building a bubble in which to live. It's transparent, so I can see out and you can see in. It protects me from myself, my old habits, my learned ways of doing things, the story so far. 

Ed Sheeran gets it right in his song, Save Myself 
So before I save someone else, I've got to save myself
And before I blame someone else, I've got to save myself
And before I love someone else, I've got to love myself


Sunday, 28 January 2018

BRiC gets crafty!

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We are delighted to share a series of stunning panels showcasing the many and varied talents of some of our amazing members.

These amazing women are artists and craftswomen, expressing their creativity through baking, cake decorating, crochet, glass-making, jewellery-making, knitting, painting, photography, playing musical instruments and sewing (to name but a few!).

Please give them a big cheer!

“Any human anywhere will blossom in a hundred unexpected talents and capacities
 simply by being given the opportunity to do so.“ ~ Doris Lessing

"Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time".

"Art is the soul, whose soul is the body, 
Craft is the body and soul." ~ Deepta Protik Osman

“Art and love are the same thing: It’s the process of seeing
 yourself in things that are not you.” ~ Chuck Klosterman

“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” ~ Pablo Picasso

We are delighted to finish our arts and crafts feature with the amazing Susan, seen here with her daughter Darcey. Susan set about making 200 cushions for women recovering from breast surgery when she was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer in 2016.

When Susan had a mastectomy after being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014, she realised how important cushions and drain bags were to her recovery. Each time time she had an operation, afterwards Susan made and then donated cushions back to the hospital.

In 2016, came what she described as "the shocker" and Susan was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer. Susan's daughter, Darcey, them aged 18 years, felt that it would help her mum if she had a challenge and made a flippant comment suggesting her mum make 100 cushions. Susan not only rose to the challenge, she raised the bar even higher by setting herself the challenege of making 200 cushions!

Within 10 minutes, Darcey had set up a just giving page for friends and family to donate to towards the cost of the materials Susan needed to make each cushion. Susan then personalised each of these cushions for those who had donated money so she could make the cushions. There was no backing out now!

Susan has found making cushions a focus and distraction from the challenges of further chemotherapy. She describes her daughter as having been the driving force behind the idea.

If you would like a cushion, Susan asks simply for a payment of £3.60 to cover the cost of postage and packaging. For more information, or to request a cushion you can contact Susan at

#resilienceinaction #briccreativity2018 #bricmembers

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Weekly Discussion Summary ~ Coping with Breast Cancer New Stories

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How does hearing about cancer in the news impact on us?

In our weekly discussion, we thought about how we cope with news stories and information on (social) media about breast cancer.

Our varied responses generally fell somewhere on a continuum between two positions - on the one hand was 'avoidance', where we cope by completely avoiding any information relating to cancer. At the other extreme is what we might call 'immersion' - where we cope by seeking out as much information as possible - leaflets from the hospital, BBC news, (Breast) Cancer research, charities, websites upon websites. If we can achievie a middle ground, by gaining an understanding of our situation, we can empower ourselves to understand some of the complexities we face - such as the 'scientific' basis for risk-reducing surgery - but, we risk being flooded with information if we aren't careful.

It's in our nature as human beings to search for explanations, for answers and information to help us make sense of what has happened to us. It's not surprising then that we try to find out possible ‘causes’ for breast cancer and we can become bombarded about risk factors, diet, exercise, etc, etc and we can find ourselves drowning in an ocean of mixed information, opinions and facts released by different sites.

Whether we have primary or secondary breast cancer, we are particularly sensitive for (any) information relating to the causes and prevention of breast cancer as well as factors aiding and prolonging survival. The headline, "I had alcohol-related breast cancer. Here’s why I still drink", for instance, carries the implication there was something we did, or didn't do that led us to develop cancer. We ask ourselves 'could I have done anything to prevent it?' We feel responsible.

We need our families and the wider community to understand how sensitive we are to information and the way that breast cancer is portrayed in the media, the way it creates unhelpful stereotypes, unrealistic expectations and misleading headlines. Very many of us are distressed by well-meaning but highly emotive adverts by the big charities - ironically the very organisations seeking to raise awareness and offer us support! Likewise, some of us felt ambushed by the prevalence of cancer - from the topical 'cancer story-line' in our favourite soap opera, or film.

Our psychological vulnerability increases our sensitivity, and given that our fear of recurrence and fear of progression of disease loom high, we are vigilant for any detail we can use to our advantage, to help us survive. Our fear can drive us to grab with both hands any new developments, whether in progress or substantiated - they mean a lot to us. Friends, family, and colleagues are keen to convey their information and social media has a cunning way of portraying the best (this 'know your lemons campaign') and the worst (fake news and pointless awareness raising games )

So, how can we work around these issues so important to our survival, yet that come with such mixed messages?

Naz told us that science is not always exact, it comes with a margin of error. She explained that problems with replicability and the reliability of trials are not unknown. Alot of people have lost their faith in medicine, because its growth is slow, and its effectiveness questionable - though Naz pointed out that 'proper' science grows slowly and steadily. In these circumstances, in an ever more complex world, we must learn to navigate the vast sea of information, choices and options open to us while trying not to get ourselves into an anxious, overwhelmed state of mind where fear and apprehension follows.

If you are a woman living in the UK with a diagnosis of breast cancer and you would like to join our private group, please contact is by facebook message