Mandie Archer's Story
In January 2004, aged just 37, I was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer. I had a right side mastectomy followed by a course of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and also opted for a full hysterectomy with ovary removal as this seemed my best chance of survival.
A year later in January 2005, I had my routine mammogram on the left side and there was some change so I decided to have my other breast removed at the same time as having my reconstruction operation in February.
I never thought I’d reach my 40th birthday so I made a huge effort to celebrate it with renewing my wedding vows in a Blues Brothers style ceremony!
Mandie and Janet
Janet, my mother-in-law and in many ways my best friend, was diagnosed with breast cancer just 5 years after me. In January 2015 she was feeling unwell again so went in for tests and was unfortunately diagnosed with secondary breast cancer. A few months later I went to see my GP with back pain and I was then diagnosed with secondary breast cancer to the bone.
Around the same time, my mum had been diagnosed with heart failure and they were treating her until they could fit an arterial defibrillator pacemaker, and then my dad’s dementia worsened and he was sectioned under the mental health act. As you can imagine, this was a really hard time for us all as a family but we managed to get through together. However, by the beginning of 2016 I hit a brick wall and felt like I needed some help outside the family.
My GP referred me to St Leonard’s Hospice, and I attended the Relaxation & Re-enablement Day on Wednesdays as well as drop-in on Fridays. On my first day entering the building on a Wednesday, I was greeted by warm friendly faces who all knew my name and made me feel very welcome. There was relaxing music playing and everywhere was so light and bright – a really welcoming place to be. The weight started to lift from my shoulders and things seemed so much easier to cope with already. We had a delicious three-course lunch that we were able to choose ourselves and was cooked specially for us.
I count myself very lucky to have had the help, support and guidance that I have had from all the services provided by St Leonard’s. I have had reiki and reflexology, created my advance care plan with Chris the social worker and my eulogy with David the spiritual care lead. I have also seen the lymphoedema nurse and a chiropodist. I was also lucky enough to have bereavement counselling which I believe cured me of the heavy load I had been carrying.
The bereavement support I received was for myself, of who I was, my mum for losing who she was to heart failure, for my dad for not being my dad due to dementia and my mother in law for losing her personality and then her life to cancer. My dad sadly died in Hull Hospital in not very nice circumstances on 29th December 2016. Janet, my Mother-in-Law, was admitted to St Leonard’s in March 2016 and died on 18th May 2016. The care my dad received and the care Janet received was worlds apart. She was happy and comfortable, and was loved and entertained by all the wonderful, caring staff.
In homage to the friends we have met along the way, some who have passed away and some who continue to support me, and as a way of thanking and recognising the amazing people at St Leonard’s, my friend Rachel and I have had matching sunflower tattoos.
A Hospice sounds like a scary place to be, but believe me when I say that it isn’t. Without St Leonard’s Hospice and its Sunflower Centre, I don’t think I would be here today. I really cannot thank them enough. The love, care and support I have received has been truly life-saving. I am surrounded by amazing staff and volunteers who I now call my friends. I walk through the doors and my world changes. It is full of love, light and happiness and it has helped my live my life to the full.