Cambridgeshire volunteers help patients cope with breast cancer

EAST Anglian charity Coping with Breast Cancer is celebrating its 21st anniversary this year. Run by volunteers who have all survived the disease, it offers support and advice to women who have also been diagnosed. CATHERINE BELL spoke to one of Cambridgeshire’s first volunteers.

ONE person every 10 minutes is diagnosed breast cancer. Every one of those women relies on the support of their family and friends but sometimes comfort can only come from someone who knows first-hand what the life-threatening illness is like.

That is where East Anglia charity Coping with Breast Cancer can help. Staffed entirely by women who have fought breast cancer, it offers empathy not sympathy.

Jean Godfrey was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 49. Now 66, she is still volunteering for Coping with Breast Cancer.

She said: “I saw a small advert looking for volunteers for a new charity starting up in Cambridgeshire in The Hunts Post. I applied and got accepted and I have been here ever since.

“I was diagnosed with breast cancer about a year to 18 months before that. If you want to be a volunteer, one of the stipulations is that you have had breast cancer yourself. We can empathise with people, we don’t sympathise. We don’t tell people what they should and shouldn’t do.”

Mrs Godfrey, who lives with her husband, Colin, in Chatteris Road, Somersham, recalled how she found the lump that led to her diagnosis.

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“It started off when I had just got out the shower. I looked at myself in the mirror and I thought ‘something looks different’. One of my nipples had turned. I’d had some dry skin too, which I had been putting cream on but it hadn’t gone. I felt my breast and found a lump.

“I went down to see my doctor and she explained she was pretty sure it was breast cancer and we’d get it looked at. I went to Hinchingbrooke Hospital quite quickly and had a mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and had my ovaries removed – not because anything was wrong but for an experiment, I was asked if I wanted to take part in tests and trials and I said yes. That was a bit more uncomfortable because when your ovaries are removed you are cut from side to side along your bikini line.”

Mrs Godfrey recognises the importance a friendly ear can have on someone at such an uncertain time in their life.

She said: “I had a family friend for years and years but when I told her I had breast cancer she stopped ringing me for a bit… People are embarrassed, they don’t know what to say and don’t want to offend you but that’s when you need your friends the most. You need to speak to people.”

As well as women who have survived breast cancer, Coping with Breast Cancer has a number of male supporters whose wives have battled the illness and as well as offering support to cancer patients, Mrs Godfrey has also spoken to their children.

She said: “I have spoken to teenagers who are worried about their mum, I will talk to anybody. The principle is that they ring us if they want support – they approach us, we don’t approach them.”

One patient, now in her eighties, still phones Mrs Godfrey regularly, after being diagnosed six years ago.

Mrs Godfrey added: “Some people don’t even give us their name. They offload all their worries and I ask if they would like somebody to phone them back on a regular basis and they say no thank you, it’s helped just to talk.”

Coping with Breast Cancer’s 24-hour help line is 0845 601 7152. If you would like to become a volunteer email