Time together

I am 32 now, and have had breast cancer twice. I was 29 when I was first diagnosed. I was trying to remember what life was like before I had cancer and the very sad truth is that I can’t.

" I didn’t feel sad,I didn’t feel like a freak, I felt like one of the girls again and came back with a renewed sense of fight that had partially left me. "

Francesca, 32, breast cancer

It’s been two and half years of constant hospital appointments, highs and lows but some days I can still barely believe what’s happening to me.

People often say to me “well you don’t look ill” and the truth is I don’t feel it a lot of the time so I’m lucky. But at some point, the day will come where that’s not the case any more. I’ve had to somehow reorganise my life so that cancer fits round me, not the other way round.

I was told about the Willow Foundation by my breast cancer nurse after my first diagnosis. She gave me a leaflet and told me they organised life-enhancing experiences for young people who were seriously ill. That kind of thing wasn’t for people like me, it was just a blip and I was going to get better. So I am almost ashamed to admit that I binned the leaflet and forgot all about it.

After my second diagnosis, and when I had been back on chemo for about three months, I remember feeling totally despondent and fed up of fighting. I also felt embarrassed and ashamed, like I was some kind of freak – other women of my age were out having the time of their lives, thriving in their careers, getting ready to start families, getting married. For some reason I thought about Willow. Just for a little while, I wanted to feel normal again. I wasn’t really into limos, concerts, meeting celebs or swimming with dolphins; I didn’t want to do anything except spend some proper time with my friends, away from hospitals.

My secondary diagnosis had been just as devastating to them as it was to me in lots of ways, and I really felt like I needed to reconnect with them. For a weekend, we didn’t do anything terribly exciting – went for walks, pub lunches and watched DVDs . Things I could have done at home. But to get all eight of us together on the same weekend, in a beautiful house where we could really spend some proper time together, was one of the highlights of my year. We laughed. A lot. And cried. A lot.

That frosty weekend in January allowed us to put the foundations in to support each other and our friendships are stronger than ever. I didn’t feel sad, I didn’t feel like a freak, I felt like one of the girls again and came back with a renewed sense of fight that had partially left me.

I’ve read a lot about Anna, Bob’s daughter and the inspiration for the Willow Foundation and I can identify so much with her. For a start, I’m the same age as her when she died. I also know that she faced her illness with dignity and courage, and she, along with many other people I have met over the last couple of years, has inspired me to try and do the same. I also know that Anna recognised it was the little things that can make a huge difference; having something to look forward really does lift your spirits and can mean the difference between “I can’t do this any more, it’s too hard” and “I can do this, and I’m going to fight”. The work the Willow Foundation does allows people to feel normal again when life can sometimes feel very abnormal.

Since Francesca's Special Day she has sadly passed away.

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