The Breast Cancer Haven, Hereford

PUBLISHED: 11:54 15 October 2010 | UPDATED: 17:58 20 February 2013

The Countess of Wessex on her visit to the haven earlier this year together with supporters, haven programme manager and breast care nurse Jan Dell, third from right, and founder Sara Davenport right

The Countess of Wessex on her visit to the haven earlier this year together with supporters, haven programme manager and breast care nurse Jan Dell, third from right, and founder Sara Davenport right

To mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month Debbie Graham visits a haven of support, friendship and fun

No-one should have to face breast cancer alone

To mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month Debbie Graham visits a haven of support, friendship and fun

Breast cancer survivor Margaret Rowat admits that when she heard about The Breast Cancer Haven, a place in Hereford where sufferers can receive free emotional support and complementary therapy, she was sceptical and wary. Little did she know that the haven was to become a treasured place in her life and a significant factor in her recovery.

The Breast Cancer Haven was founded in 1997 by Sara Davenport after she witnessed the lack of comforting care available to her childrens nanny, Wendy Ricketts, when she was diagnosed and treated.

The idea was to provide centres where breast cancer patients could go to get emotional support, and in order to give it the best start possible, Sara sold her art business. No-one should have to face breast cancer alone become her mantra.

The London Haven launched in 2000. Hereford Haven, in a former YWCA hostel, was opened by the charitys Patron, HRH the Prince of Wales, on January 7, 2004. The Leeds Haven followed in 2008. Each provides a number of therapies from counselling and reflexology to herbal and nutritional, with group classes such as yoga and tai chi.

The fact that I have been going for six and a half years speaks volumes about how useful I find it, says Margaret of Hereford who was 58 when she was diagnosed in 2004. Anyone expecting to see a whole lot of long faces when they go into the haven will be very much mistaken.
She is right. The centre is more akin to a vibrant, friendly beauty spa than a place you imagine providing therapy for cancer patients.

Far from doom and gloom the air is filled with the hub of gossip and laughter as visitors catch up with each other, usually in the country-style kitchen with a cup of coffee in their hands. Yet at the same time there is a sense of belonging, of being part of a community, of being understood.
Group therapies are great, says manager Frankie Devereux. There are people that maybe wont ever come to a therapy session but they will come to a yoga or tai chi class and after the class has finished they come into the kitchen, have a cup of tea and whip their tops off and say look at my scar.

It is like being part of a club that just envelops you, agrees Julia Thomas, from Hoarwithy, who was pregnant with her first child, Charlie, when she was also diagnosed in 2004. Friends want to be helpful but nobody quite understands what it is like and you dont want to bore people, so knowing there is somewhere you can go where you offload if you want to or you can just be, is just lovely.

The camaraderie that we have there just makes you feel so much better, adds Margaret. Theres a lot of laughter and fun.

On their initial arrival visitors, who come from far and wide, are welcomed by the highly experienced breast cancer nurse Jan Dell who works out a treatment plan specific for the problems they are suffering, both mentally and physically.

Because breast cancer affects women of all ages each visitor faces very different challenges. It is just a lottery, says Frankie and recalls one woman who was diagnosed when she was just 18 years old and should have been thinking about her gap year rather than breast cancer and all that that involves.

The havens ethos is about rebuilding the person, says Frankie. We dont ever say that anything we do will cure cancer, we cant; that is for the doctors and nurses to do. But what we can do is help people physically and emotionally recover from the cancer and be stronger for the future and lose the fear factor, which is huge.

But Julia perhaps sums it up best by saying, quite simply, it makes you feel safe.

And it is a very professional team that is involved. As well as Jans cancer nurse training and qualifications all the therapists hold medically recognised qualifications too.

They have to be the best that they can be as we want the best for out visitors. We want a proper breast care nurse; we want proper therapists, says Frankie. We have a very professional team and they are very tailored and very specialised in the needs of breast cancer.
All the therapists, I found, were wonderfully restorative and relaxing, says Margaret.

In the early days I found shiatsu very beneficial and I came out feeling I was floating, I was so relaxed.

When Jan rang me up and asked me whether I would agree to do this interview I thought to myself how would I have been without the haven? And I thought, gosh, I would have just gone to the hospital, had my mastectomy and then I would have been isolated.

I mean, the hospital was super, and I know they say if you have an issue come back. But with the haven well they became friends and you know when you have a friend you can churn over any issue with them and that just helps ones general well- being.

And they have friends in high places. Sophie Wessex said when she visited in March: Im completely and utterly devoted to Breast Cancer Haven and have been for such a long time. Thank you for everything youre doing. Please keep doing it, because it is hugely appreciated. Her brother-in-law, Prince Charles has been patron of Breast Cancer Haven for eight years.

We are so lucky to have the haven in Hereford, says Julia, and we need one in every town. Surely a sentiment everyone would agree with.

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