Three months after her wedding, Kate discovered a lump on her left breast. When tests revealed she had lymphoma her life became a whirlwind of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and hospital check-ups.

But as Kate’s physical health improved and her medical attention receded, the enormity of what she had experienced hit home and she turned to specialist counselling for vital support.

She said: “The day I was diagnosed it was like walking up to the gallows. They were running three hours late and I didn’t get to see the doctor until 6.15pm. The consultant said, ‘it’s not breast cancer, but it’s lymphoma’. I didn’t actually react – he was all matter of fact and I think that helped me through it. 

“We just got dragged along with it. It was like shooting out of a side road into the fast lane of the M25. You’re on it – there’s no getting off.”

You can’t underestimate how stress has a serious impact on how well you cope with the treatment and how quickly you get better afterwards.

Kate was 47 when she was told she had diffuse large b cell lymphoma, a type of non Hodgkin lymphoma, in 2015. Further tests showed that the cancer was also affecting her spine and chest. She had six rounds of chemotherapy followed by daily radiotherapy for a month and has been clear of her cancer for almost two years.

Kate, who has been a vegan for 27 years, began to research complementary medicine and how to look after herself which she recorded in a journal. She was delighted to find a fellow vegan in a consultant at King’s College Hospital in London where she was being treated, who gave her lots of advice.

After 10 days of chemotherapy, Kate began to lose her long hair. She said: “I had about eight strands at the front and I wore a little velvet beanie (pictured right) which made my fringe look like a fashion statement. Then one day it all came out.  I celebrate having my hair back now by having hairy pits, hairy legs and everything else!”

Kate was accompanied by her husband Terry to every chemotherapy session. She said: “Weirdly, it was like I was a part of a big family. The day that I had my last session I thought, ‘what am I going to do?’. It was really scary. The nurses were so fantastic. I had such confidence that they all knew what they were doing and showing such care.”

Communication is so important and I wanted my cancer to become a natural part of the conversation so my students didn’t get scared about it.

It was following the end of Kate’s month-long radiotherapy treatment that a nurse suggested she might benefit from speaking to Philip Alexander, a haemato-oncology counsellor based at King’s.

Kate said: “Phil was a good support and somebody that I could share stuff with that I couldn’t talk to with Terry because I knew he was worried and I didn’t want to bother him with certain concerns I was having because then they would turn into his concerns as well.

“I realised it was important to think about myself, rather than everybody else which I’ve spent my whole life doing. Phil made me think to stop and reflect and to rationalise, which was important, especially at night when I couldn’t sleep and thoughts were going crazy in my head.”

She added: “For me, it was when my treatment ended that I suddenly felt the enormity of everything. Had I had that counselling support from the very beginning, then maybe that off-the-cliff precipice that I experienced would have been less severe.

“You can’t underestimate how stress has a serious impact on how well you cope with the treatment and how quickly you get better afterwards.”

When she was able to return to work, Kate, who is a teacher, gave a presentation to her sixth form students about her experiences.

She said: “Communication is so important and I wanted my cancer to become a natural part of the conversation so the kids didn’t get scared about it. They can see that I’m up and running now and know that people get through it. My lecture was about keeping yourself safe, eating well, listening to your body and dispelling some myths.

“The images of chemotherapy wards that you see in dramas makes it look horrific and it builds up fear in people. I showed the kids a photo of me (pictured right) in the chemotherapy ward and talked about what it was like.”

She also emphasised the importance of friendship and support. A parcel from two of her students was particularly welcome – because it made her laugh. It contained tomato soup, moisturiser and garlic – to ward off evil.

Kate said: “You need humour! That keeps me going – being able to laugh at yourself and at others. It’s not all doom and gloom, you’ve got to maintain normality.”

Leukaemia UK funded the first service of its kind to offer dedicated counsellor and clinical psychologist support for haematological patients at King's College Hospital in London. Through the Leukaemia UK Mind and Body Team, people affected by blood cancer will routinely receive psychological support where needed. It is hoped that by making emotional support an integral part of everyone’s treatment, psychological problems may be identified early or even avoided altogether. Leukaemia UK hopes to fund more services like these across the UK.

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