Leicestershire women share their Butterfly Walk stories

Leicestershire women share their Butterfly Walk stories

Monday 3 June 2019

Every year, over 700 women in Leicestershire are diagnosed with breast cancer. That’s over 700 mothers, sisters, daughters, neighbours and friends. Women of different ages, backgrounds and religions. All facing the exact same fears for themselves and the ones closest to them.

For the vast majority of these women, it is the Breast Care Centre at Glenfield Hospital and its team of hardworking, compassionate staff who step up to provide these patients with the care and treatment they both need and deserve.

It’s frightening because you don’t actually know whether you’re going to die from it
— Gail Bradley

One woman who experienced this treatment first-hand is Wigston based graphic designer Gail Bradley. Back in 2015, Gail’s life was turned upside down in a matter of weeks.

“It all started when I felt some lumps in my breast,” Gail explains.

“I went to my doctor and was booked an appointment for a couple of weeks’ time. That weekend, I felt a really sharp, stabbing pain in my right breast. I mentioned it to my consultant and he said he wanted to look into it.

“I had an ultrasound and that was how they found it. Breast cancer.”

Gail was understandably rocked by the news.

“It’s frightening because you don’t actually know whether you’re going to die from it,” she says.

“It was a hell of a shock. I hadn’t even felt anything really, in that breast. It was what they called a ‘soft’ tumour – normally you expect them to feel like hard peas, but mine was a soft one. I hadn’t a clue there was anything there.

“From that moment onwards, my life revolved around hospital appointments and waiting for results of tests and biopsies.”

Gail was put in the care of the Breast Care Centre at Glenfield Hospital. After a further MRI scan, Gail underwent two lumpectomy operations on her breasts to remove the cancerous tissue, followed by 15 sessions of radiotherapy.

While the operations were successful and Gail was ultimately discharged from the centre, she admits that the end of her treatment was in no way the end of the emotional turmoil from breast cancer.

“One of the things that a lot of people don’t really realise is that when you’re told you’re ‘in the clear’, some people will say things like ‘you can carry on with your life now’,” Gail explains.

“But when my treatment finished, it suddenly all hit me. It’s almost like you’re on your own. It’s quite frightening, really.

“All along, you’ve had these doctors and nurses supporting you. I have to say, I kind of fell apart a bit at the end of it.”

I went to every single appointment with her. I almost went through the same journey that she did – not the treatment and the physical side of it, but the emotional impact
— Candice Walker

Of course, not every breast cancer diagnosis is distressing solely for the patient themselves. It’s an equally difficult time for the family, friends and loved ones of every patient who walks through the doors of the Breast Care Centre.

When her own mum was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017, Candice Walker was forced to put her own fears and worries aside in order to be the rock of support that her mum Lisa needed her to be.

“I remember I cried quite a bit, especially when mum was first diagnosed,” recalls Candice. “It was a big shock. In my head I was thinking ‘is she going to die?’”

With Lisa reeling from the diagnosis, Candice says she had to absorb as much information as she could during her appointments at the Breast Care Centre.

“My mum went into a kind of bubble with it all,” says Candice.

“I don’t think she fully digested all the information during her appointments – being told about chemotherapy and surgery and hair loss and wigs. She was in the room, but she wasn’t ‘in’ the room.

“So I had to take in all the information for her and once we were somewhere quiet together like in the car going home, she’d ask me to talk her through what they said they were going to do. I think she preferred hearing it all from me, someone who could be more personal with her.

“It was pretty much just me and my mum as a team. I went to every single appointment with her. I almost went through the same journey that she did – not the treatment and the physical side of it, but the emotional impact.”

But trying to be strong for her mum wasn’t easy, Candice admits.

“I was watching her being made uncomfortable by these drugs and seeing her deteriorate and I’d go home and just cry my eyes out with my partner,” she says. “But when I was there with her, I had to be the strong one for her.”

As tough as it is for women like Gail, Candice and Lisa to live through the horrendous realities of breast cancer, the one constant positive they all point to is the staff at the Breast Care Centre.

“The Breast Care Centre team, the surgeons and the nurses, are amazing,” says Gail. “They’re all so lovely.

“Even now, I know that I can pick up the phone and speak with the breast care centre nurses and if I have any worries, they’ll talk with me about it. It sounds silly, but I feel like I’m part of their family in a way.”

Candice agrees.

“The Breast Care Centre staff were absolutely brilliant with my mum and with me,” says Candice.

“I remember that after our appointments with the consultant, the Breast Care Nurses would break it all down and summarise what they were going to do and why. That helped me to digest it and then I could explain it all to my mum when we were alone later. They would see my mum getting a bit teary eyed and worried and they’d talk us through everything they were going to do and reassure us they were going to do all they could. They were really nice.”

It’s so lovely to see the nurses, consultants, the patients and everyone connected to it. I’ve always come away from it feeling like I’m on a high. Absolutely buzzing
— Gail Bradley

The wonderful way in which the Breast Care Centre staff care for patients from across the county inspired Leicester Hospitals Charity to create a very special event to celebrate and support everyone connected to the centre.

Now in its fifth year, the annual Butterfly Walk in June is the biggest event on the charity’s calendar. Thousands of pounds are raised every year by hundreds of passionate supporters, with money going to help make care more comfortable and effective for all of the centre’s patients.

This year’s walk will take place this Sunday (June 9) around Braunstone Park and Winstanley House. A vibrant, diverse crowd of patients, former patients, staff and their loved ones are expected to walk in unison for this great local cause.

For women like Gail, Candice and Lisa, the Butterfly Walk has become one of the highlights of the summer.

“It’s a lovely, happy, friendly event. And it’s for such a great cause,” says Gail.

“For me, it’s a chance to see the consultants and nurses who are there. It’s like a reaffirmation of the care that is given at the centre. They’ve all given up their Sunday to help organise and take part. There’s people in face paint and people wearing pink and butterfly wings. It’s just so lovely to feel a part of it.

“Hopefully the money that is raised from it will help future patients. It’s so lovely to see the nurses, consultants, the patients and everyone connected to it. I’ve always come away from it feeling like I’m on a high – absolutely buzzing.”

Candice and her mum have attended every Butterfly Walk since Lisa’s first diagnosis. Candice urges everyone in the community to join in the event on Sunday – even if their lives haven’t been touched by breast cancer.

“At some point during your life, chances are you’ll know someone who is going through cancer or is supporting someone going through cancer and having a really difficult time,” Candice says.

“The Butterfly Walk is a great way for everyone to come together and just enjoy spending time with each other while fundraising for the Breast Care Centre that helps so many people. It’s a really enjoyable day and so great to see everyone together.”

There is still time to sign up for this year’s Butterfly Walk at Braunstone Park on Sunday 9 June. Registration is just £8 per participant, with under-5s walking free.