Girl Walk

25/04/2007

Guernsey's Pink Ladies are hoping to see an ocean of pink on 23 June as part of the first ever Sunset Coastal Walk, a fund-raising event for breast cancer. Health reporter Gemma Hockey spoke to one of its organisers and hears why the support group needs you to sign up

There are as many as 50 women diagnosed with breast cancer every year in Guernsey. Registration fees for the walk will raise cash to help treat lymphoedema, a side effect of a mastectomy or lumpectomy that can cause chronic swelling of the arms after damage to the lymphatic drainage system.
Money will go towards continuing to help the Pink Ladies and other women with the condition which affects one-in-five breast cancer patients and costs around £12,000 a year to treat. There is no cure, but the result of swelling from the condition can be controlled by massage, which many patients must pay for themselves. Each session by a trained therapist costs £60 and so far the Pink Ladies have given £40,000 towards treatments.
Walk organiser Anne McMillan was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000. She went on to found the Pink Ladies group, along with three other women, two of whom had moved to the island from the UK. All had been undergoing chemotherapy at the same time and breast unit clinical nurse specialist Karen Leach suggested that it might be a good idea if they supported each other.
'So we did,' said Anne. 'We met for coffee, lunch or spoke on the phone and within just six years we had grown from a small group to 100 members. The Pink Ladies is now a fully-fledged support group.'
The group helps and attracts women from all walks of life and has helped forge great friendships among its members.
'People can just come along to one of our meetings, sit around and have a chat. It's very informal and we are there to support or answer questions from anyone who has been diagnosed with breast cancer and offer emotional support,' said Anne, 54, a trust and company administrator for Albany Trustee Company Limited.
'But we can also sit around a table, put the world to rights and have a laugh because we are proof that life goes on after cancer.'
The Pink Ladies' initial fund-raising event was a strawberry tea at Anne's house.
The group expected a couple of dozen people to attend but hundreds of islanders turned up.
This sums up the success of the group, which has also raised money for cancer patients at Bulstrode House and £10,000 for the MRI scanner appeal last year.
But its latest project, the Pink Ladies' Sunset Walk, is something of a milestone. Anne began organising the walk in August last year.
'It's been a bit of a nightmare at times but when it finally comes together and to be able to witness that sea of pink along Guernsey's coast at sunset and know we have raised money for lymphoedema treatment, it will all be worth it,' she said.
As a self-confessed 'walkaholic', Anne is determined to persuade hundreds of other women to get involved.
'Walking is great for you.
You get such a buzz when you complete something like this, especially when you know you are raising money for a good cause,' she said.
The group also needs volunteers to help out as marshals along the coastal route.
'There are 15 points that require marshals, so we would be grateful for those wishing to help out.
'We also need an energetic person to ride along the coastal route on a push bike as we need to ensure that there are no stragglers or people needing assistance.'

ANNE'S STORY
Anne was diagnosed with breast cancer in August 2000 when she went to the doctor because she was experiencing a pain in her right breast.
'There was no lump or any other symptoms but I was concerned that something wasn't quite right. I think your body has a way of telling you when something's wrong - and I just knew,' said the 54-year-old.
Following a biopsy, which confirmed she had cancerous tissue in her breast, she flew to the UK for a mastectomy and immediate reconstruction. That was an operation that was carried out only in the UK and paid for privately at that time.
When Anne returned, she began six months of chemotherapy and met other sufferers at Bulstrode House. Across the table, a friendship formed.
'We used to chat and have a laugh and, being a group of women, we discussed all sorts of topics and put the world to rights. That was where some marvellous friendships were formed and when the Pink Ladies was born.'
Once Anne reached the halfway point in her chemo, she felt the end of the treatment was in sight. But she admitted that the unknown was quite frightening at times.
'I was very lucky because Gary, my husband, was my rock. Together with my two sons, family and friends and their endless support, they helped me to get through everything. Now it's six years on and I am fully recovered but I have realised that this has changed my life. You definitely have a different attitude and you can laugh and live every day to the full.
'And that's what being a Pink Lady is all about, too.'
One of the best things to come out of such a bad experience for Anne is that she has made some new and very close lifelong friendships. But her advice to other women who fear they may have a problem is to act quickly.
'If any woman or man has noticed changes in their breast or chest tissue, they should go to their doctor to be checked out.
'Early diagnosis is very important. Don't feel that you are wasting your doctor's time because I can assure you that they don't feel this way.'

JANE'S STORY
LYMPHOEDEMA was the last thing on 38-year-old Jane's mind when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
The mother of two underwent an aggressive programme of treatment, a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy for a year but her battle was not over - she developed lymphoedema two years after her breast cancer treatment was complete.
'It was hard because I was in denial,' she said.
'I had been through so much already that I just wanted to get rid of it. I thought it would go away after a course of treatment but that is not the case. Lymphoedema is a chronic condition that I will have to live with for the rest of my life.'
For some breast cancer patients, it may not arise for as many as 10 years after their initial diagnosis.
'People do not realise what an impact it has.
'I didn't really know it existed until I was diagnosed and I had no idea that it would be so painful and inhibiting.
'I'm only young and there are certain things that I still can't do.'
When diagnosed with breast cancer, Jane gave up her job but was unable to go back because of lymphoedema. Her work involved lots of lifting which would severely aggravate the condition.
'I had to move my kitchen around because I have limited movement and I have to be careful what I grip. I also drive an automatic car now.'
Jane's cuff covers her entire arm from her shoulder to the palm of her hand.
'I'm lucky really: some people have to wear theirs to the end of their fingertips. There are some women who suffer much worse than I do. It can get to the point where your skin splits because the swelling gets so bad and the skin can stretch only so far.'
Jane has adapted her life to cope with the condition but the financial burden would be far greater if it were not for the support of the Pink Ladies.
'The treatment is very expensive but is not automatically paid for by the States. Without the Pink Ladies, I would have to pay for therapy myself and there is no way I would be able to afford the amount that my condition requires.
'I would not be able to go as often and I think it would just get worse and worse. I think a lot of people think it's a just a swollen arm but it is something that you need to keep on top of.
'It's not something that's been publicised enough and other people get it - not just breast cancer patients. We need to create awareness about the condition.'

WALK FACTS

* There are two walking routes. The first starts at Grand Rocques at 6.30pm and is approximately 10.5 miles long. The second is approximately 3.5 miles, starts at 8pm at Bordeaux and will be joined by those from the first walk to the finish line in Town, where there will be a celebration.
* All ages are welcome, although youngsters must be accompanied by an adult. The event, which is being publicised by the Guernsey Press, will also include a competition for the best-decorated pink T-shirt and the best-dressed lady.
* If you would like to make donations of bottled water for water stations along the way, contact Anne on 07781 417044.
* The Pink Ladies is registered with the Association of Guernsey Charities. The helpline number is 07781 415131 or you can visit www.pinkladies.org.gg for more information.
* The Guernsey Press will be regularly updating readers about the event, sharing people's stories and printing registration forms throughout the coming weeks.



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