All about Vicky (and Shine Birmingham)!

In this week’s blog, Vicky Stock, who co-organises our Shine Birmingham Network introduces herself and talks about why Shine is important to her. Have a read – and join her on 6th June if you’re free!

Vicky photo

Hi all, I’m Vicky, one of the organisers of Shine Birmingham and I thought I’d write a bit about how I become involved with Shine. Our next meeting is June 6th from 6 to 8pm at Cherry Reds in Birmingham centre. I hope you’ll join us!

Although I’m only 35, I’ve had breast cancer twice. Five years ago, I found a lump in my left breast. I went straight to the GP, just thinking it’d be a cyst or something – I’d not had anything like it before. The GP wanted to wait a week to see if it went down and I remember spending the week, occasionally prodding it, willing it to shrink. When it didn’t go away, the GP referred me directly to my local hospital. I got called for a mammogram within two days, and a month or so after finding the lump, following scans and biopsies, I was diagnosed with invasive ductal breast cancer and my rollercoaster ride began. Since then I have also been diagnosed with cancer in my right breast (in 2011), had about 5 surgeries (including reconstruction), chemo and radiotherapy, targeted drug therapies, hormone therapies/injections, and experienced the added horrors of suspected metastatic cancer (thankfully now presumed benign).

So, how did I cope with all this? My emotions were all over the place. I was determined to stay as normal as possible – I worked all the way through my treatment (this was helped by the type of job I do and supportive bosses) and I carried on with my normal activities as much as I could. I was also determined from the start that I wanted to use my experiences to help others. I really felt that such a horrible experience had to be turned around, if at all possible.

Quite early on I’d noticed that people in their 20s and 30s were in a minority in the waiting rooms. I’d asked about support groups and been told there was one, but that the average age was quite high, and that the members had had their treatment some time ago. I often saw signs for an 18-25 group, but nothing for younger people over 25. I started to feel that there was a gap – and not just for breast cancer, but for all cancers.

Months later, I found out about Shine Cancer Support. It all clicked in my head – this charity summed up everything I wanted to do, and had tried to do earlier by setting up some meetings in Birmingham with another friend. I got in touch with Emma, and I’m now co-organiser of the Birmingham branch. It has been a slow burner – our numbers are small but I recently followed the wonderful example set by Soraya and Lesley in the North East and sent information about us to all of the local clinical nurse specialists and cancer managers asking for their support. I have had a fantastic response, which is really thrilling!

I am excited by this opportunity as it has been an idea milling around in my head since my diagnosis almost 5 years ago, and I really feel that it could make a difference to others going through cancer at a young age. Friendship and support from others who have been through a similar experience means that you have a connection, and that you can say stuff you might otherwise not feel able to share with partners, family or other friends.

I think I am the sort of person who needs to be doing something and feel that this rubbish will be turned around into something better. That is why I volunteer as much as I can, why I organise various fundraising events, why I constantly push new campaigns or fundraising initiatives. My recent newer activities include speaking at events, including a health and wellbeing day at a local hospital where they wanted someone to talk about their cancer and their volunteering experience. Doing these activities, raising awareness, funds, and helping support others is a passion for me; it’s interesting how I, who used to actively avoid public speaking, have now become a passionate advocate for Shine. In a funny way, if it hadn’t been for cancer, this new way of life and giving to others may not have happened. Who knows? It’s funny how life works out.