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Celebrating life after breast cancer with a trek to Cuba

Treatment for cancer is life changing, so when the chemo stops and you go back to your ‘new normal’, what happens next?  These two ladies chose to go on an adventure to Cuba in support of Breast Cancer Care…

Years after they were diagnosed with breast cancer, friends Elaine Nicholas, 58, and Sue Youngman, 63, from South Wales flew thousands of miles for an incredible walking challenge.

Elaine had fancied doing a charity trek for some time. But Sue was initially unsure about a five-day walk through Cuba’s Escambray Mountains.

‘I thought I was too old,’ she says. But she changed her mind after seeing a woman in her 70s in the local paper who’d done something similar. ‘I agreed to do it as a way to celebrate 10 years of finishing treatment,’ she says.

The pair flew out in November 2014.Elaine and Sue found they were the fittest and best prepared of their group, thanks to all the training they’d done in the Brecon Beacons. ‘Cuba was an amazing experience,’ says Elaine. ‘It was a challenge but every day we woke up with a smile on our face.’

A changed outlook

Elaine had never done anything so adventurous before she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006.‘It never entered my head to do anything like that before,’ she says. ‘Breast cancer changed my outlook on life and made me want to grab experiences where I could.’

Elaine found the period when hospital treatment finished difficult. ‘Your support network stops a bit and everybody thinks you’re back to normal,’ she says. ‘But I found going back to work very tiring. I got quite down.’

Sue’s experience was similar. ‘I was a shadow of my former self,’ she says, ‘and had no idea how I was going to rebuild my life. Breast Cancer Care helped me pick up the pieces.’

Sue took early retirement from her job in 2008.‘I wanted a better quality of life and more time for myself,’ she says. ‘But most of all I wanted a dog!’

A special bond

The two women met and became close friends in 2011 on a Breast Cancer Care fundraising committee.

Sue believes their shared experience of breast cancer means they have a very special bond. ‘There’s something different about someone who’s been through that experience,’ she says. ‘You know they’ll never get fed up of hearing about your breast cancer.’

Elaine agrees. ‘You can share your experiences with somebody who empathises. There are things that someone who hasn’t had cancer doesn’t understand.’ Elaine and Sue now volunteer in a range of roles for Breast Cancer Care, including leading a Best Foot Forward walking group.

They also fundraise for Team Barbra, carrying a giant pink bra (called Barbra, of course) around events including the Cardiff Half Marathon and 20-mile Blenheim Palace Ribbonwalk.

Team Barbra has raised more than £36,600 for Breast Cancer Care. ‘People see our passion and the amount of effort we put in and just want to help,’ says Sue. ‘And as volunteers we see the benefits the money brings.’


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