Inflammatory breast cancer patient
Soon after establishing Perfect Mind Hypnotherapy, Briony Clarke was approached by a consultant anaesthetist at The City Hospital to become involved in a multidisciplinary pain clinic for patients.
It was an exciting opportunity, but Briony’s plans had to be put on hold when she attended the same hospital to discover she had breast cancer… and found she was putting her hypnotherapy skills to use a little closer to home during a year of chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy treatment.
"I went to see my GP after noticing that one of my breasts had become swollen, and was sent to the breast institute at the City Hospital where a nurse practitioner did a mammogram, ultra sound, and took a biopsy.
It’s an incredibly busy place, but they look after you well. I had a good inkling that something was wrong, and went back three days later to see the surgeon who told me I had inflammatory breast cancer which had spread to my lymph nodes. It’s a rare and very aggressive form of breast cancer which has very few symptoms. My treatment started with six courses of chemotherapy at The City Hospital, where I also took part in a clinical trial for an extra biological treatment.
At first my symptoms seemed to improve, but tests showed that the chemotherapy hadn’t done as good-a-job as had been hoped. The type of cancer I had was resilient to this type of treatment.
I needed a radical mastectomy and removal of the lymph nodes around my breast. I decided to use my health insurance and have private treatment as The Park Hospital were able to do the surgery I needed as well as a reconstruction at the same time – something I was very keen to have done as one operation.
While I was in the hospital found out about GenesisCare and their type of radiotherapy which was able to treat the cancer with less risk to the surrounding area. I found this really interesting as my cancer was on my left side and quite close to my heart, and I did have concerns about the radiotherapy causing damage to my heart. Also I’d be having increased radiotherapy to include the lymph nodes in my neck, which also influenced my choices.
I went to see the radiotherapy unit and meet the GenesisCare people, which was all very reassuring. I immediately felt a personal connection; all through my treatment with them I saw the same people each time, and felt I had real personal attention. When I found out I needed another four sessions of chemotherapy, I decided to stay at The Park Cancer Centre for these too.
I liked the set up; the oncologist, the breast surgeon and the centre staff really worked together meaning that everything was covered, everything was addressed before it became an issue or problem. As for most people with cancer you have ups and downs throughout your treatment, it was important to me that I had regular contact with the same team.
When you’re diagnosed with cancer it feels like you wake up in a different world, and I really wanted to stay focused on my treatment. Hypnotherapy was invaluable to me, giving me the strength not to feel a victim, and enabling me to contribute to my own wellbeing and retaining some control when I felt like I was in free fall. It helped me to maintain a positive outlook. It was a whirlwind, but I was mentally strong. For me, the biggest thing was having the mastectomy, which is where hypnotherapy particularly helped me. I’d prepared my body for the surgery and the pain control, and witnessed first-hand the benefit of hypnotherapy. Surgery is different for everyone but for me I needed very little pain control and was able to go home quickly.
I don’t feel damaged by my experience, I feel really positive. I’ve been reminded how easy it is for something to go wrong with your health. I’m not going to let cancer stand in my way and hold me back. One thing I’ve learned is to do things that interest me, and that I enjoy.
Going through something like this makes you appreciate people more – my friends and family have been amazing, and my husband Phil has been an absolute rock. My children have always been very strong for me and, after the initial shock and fear mum wasn’t going to survive, they’ve helped me just get on with things. Both came with me to the cancer centre several times, which I think helped them too.
I’m extremely grateful to all the wonderful people who have helped treat me including those at the City Hospital, The Park and GenesisCare – everyone is so dedicated and together they enabled me to have a seamless service from both the NHS and private sector. Now, thanks to them, I’m getting my strength back, and looking forward to the future."