Sue Helps

Location

Norwich

Condition

Breast Cancer

What happened

Sue sits and relaxes with a herbal tea at home, looking the picture of health, as she tells me about her difficult last few years.
 
Sue starts by saying, ‘even six and a half years later, I’m in awe that I’m still here”. Sue began checking herself in 1999 after her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her mother sadly died in 2001, aged 67, which made Sue more determined than ever to keep on top of checking herself.
 
In July 2008, at the age of 42, Sue’s world was turned upside down when she found a large lump. Knowing her mother’s history, she went to have an ultrasound straight away and was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. In 3 weeks, it grew from the size of a pea to the size of an egg. When Sue had a mastectomy and reconstruction operation (with a tissue expander), she was told she had been weeks away from the cancer spreading to her lymph nodes and lungs. She describes the moment she woke from the operation, “I was on oxygen for two days, my chest felt so tight. When the doctors operated they found it had already started spreading and so had to cut away more than they’d planned. The scarring took my breath away”.
 
Sue says, “I’d felt unwell for a while but couldn’t put it down to anything particular. So I put it down to stress. I didn’t really look after myself very well then, stood up during my 12 hour days as a hairdresser, worked all the time, never drank water, didn’t really eat. Working as a hairdresser, I was also surrounded by chemicals, breathing them in all the time. The doctors found above average amounts of chemical build up in my tumours when they removed them”.
 
Sue went about changing her lifestyle. Previously she had lived for tomorrow, always thinking about what to do next, the future. Today she lives for now. She has also tried to eliminate as many toxins from her life as possible, including setting her own business up as Norwich’s first green hairdressers, FresHair and Barbers, in Norwich’s Golden Triangle, using only chemical free products.  She even won an Eco Award in 2012 for best small business. Sue’s also very conscious of her hormone levels. Her breast cancer was hormone related, oestrogen receptive positive, level 195 (the average woman should be about 35).  She has since avoided dairy (due to it’s oestrogen content), after being advised to do so, and believes leading a life with as little stress as possible, living in the now, positivity, meditation, spirituality, herbal teas, relaxation and a chemical free environment have all helped keep her oestrogen level down as well as the medication and treatment from the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital. She says, “a lot of people gallop through life, I enjoy going to bed early and walking my dogs. Simple things. I’d been given a second chance at life and I had to respect it”.
 
Sue describes dealing with breast cancer in three parts. Part one was dealing with the very real grief of losing her breast and living with the 10 inch scar. Part two was facing up to the chemotherapy. “I had to keep positive, focus on the fact it was saving my life. I had lots of support and this was so vital. Simple things became important – walks in the park, time out with loved ones. A shopping spree may make you feel good for a few hours but it doesn’t get into your soul”.  Part three was dealing with putting the wig on. Sue underwent 6 months of chemotherapy, and like most people, lost her hair in the process. As a hairdresser especially she was devastated. However, Sue worked through most of her treatment, feeling it helped her get through each day, wearing a wig for the first 8 months. She says, “I made sure I put a wig on, make up on, made myself look nice every single day; even on Sundays, even on days I didn’t leave the house. I took one day at a time. After visiting a workshop at the Big C Centre in Norwich called ‘Look Good Feel Better’, that became my mantra. I decided if I looked good, I’d feel better”. Sue also made good use of the counselling and reflexology at the Big C Centre, saying “it all helped me so much”.
 
After chemotherapy, Sue started having Zoladex injections every 11 weeks, in order to help supress the oestrogen. Sue believes that those, combined with taking care of her diet have helped lower her oestrogen from 195 to 18.  She’s still on the injections today and will be for the foreseeable future. She also mentions that, “the staff at NNUH literally saved my life, they were excellent at every point.”
 
One year later to the day, after the mastectomy, Sue had further surgery to remove the tissue expander originally put in after her operation. Implants were put in and she returned to work ten days later, in an effort to get back to normal.  Sue has check ups every six months and still lives by her motto, look good, feel better, saying it “works wonders”.
 
Today, Sue not only ensures her hairdressers is a green, chemical free environment, but she also specialises in cutting wigs for people going through chemotherapy. She trained with Trevor Sorbie and loves nothing more than to see people feeling better when their hair is cut into a style that makes them feel better. “A wig can help but having it cut to suit you can make you feel like yourself again”.
 
Sue finishes by giving one of her cherished dogs a hug and saying, “I’ve been on a massive spiritual journey. Cancer changed my life. Each day is a gift and the 6 ½ years since my diagnosis have truly flown. Some people ask how I stay so positive after everything you’ve been though. I answer simply, ‘I’m alive aren’t I?’”.