Fifty-four-year-old Lindsay Occleston is a breast cancer survivor and campaigner. She is also a member of the Roberts family of bakers and now works as one of the directors at the company’s head office in Northwich.
Her experience has inspired her to launch Lindsay’s Pledge, a five million loaf, £50,000 fund-raising and awareness campaign for the next 12 months.The money will help fund a key piece of research for Genesis Breast Cancer Prevention, which – if successful – could change the way women are screened for breast cancer and help work towards a breast cancer free future. Click here to find out more information about the partnership.
This is Lindsay’s story…
In December 2008, just a week before Christmas, Lindsay, 47 at the time, discovered a lump in her right breast while showering.
I wasn’t one for checking for lumps on a regular basis, even though, at 45 years old, you do develop a greater awareness of the need to check your breasts more often, but I’d never been very regular with my examinations.
I found a small lump on the right side of my right breast. In spite of the time of year, I managed to get an appointment with my GP straightaway and they referred me for further tests immediately.
Without telling her family at this stage, Lindsay got appointments for ultrasound and a biopsy for just after Christmas.
I did not feel overly concerned at the time, even though I knew I was having to go for the tests over the Christmas period. My main priority was carrying on as normal and making sure that I didn’t worry my family.
My two children, who were then aged 15 and 17, my husband and also my parents were going to be spending a lot of time together over Christmas and I didn’t want to worry them unnecessarily if the lump turned out to be nothing.
Shortly after Christmas, Lindsay attended an ultrasound appointment and the consultant told her that there was a very high chance that the lump was malignant, even before the results of the biopsy had confirmed it.
Within a few days of the original test I was given lots of information about the various treatment options.
You really do become an overnight expert on all the different types of breast cancers, what the locations of the lumps can mean for treatment and outcome and much more. You are offered a choice of treatments depending on where the lump is, from mastectomy and lumpectomy, plus the removal of lymph nodes, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. It was a whirlwind.
Without delay Lindsay was sent for a lumpectomy and then had a 10-day wait before getting the official diagnosis, including finding out if the cancer had spread anywhere.
This was the worst part, I just wanted to know.
Lindsay said that she remained fairly positive at this time and all she could think about was starting the treatment and getting rid of the lump so she could carry on with her life.
She does admit to being a nervous wreck on the day of the appointment, which was towards the end of the day.
Worrying about whether it had spread had made it impossible to work or do anything – I just needed to know – and my family were now fully in the loop and naturally very concerned. They wanted to know too what was going to happen.
On the day I sat on the hospital bed, and my consultant actually came and sat on the bed next to me. She was very matter of fact, very friendly, and told me that it was breast cancer, but it was mainly good news, because they had caught it early and it didn’t look like it had spread.
Lindsay remembers just feeling hugely relieved at this point.
This was the news I had been waiting for. I pretty much knew that it was breast cancer, from the ultrasound, my GP’s reaction and the advice I had received, so in my mind I was already dealing with it. But knowing that it had not spread was very good news.
Lindsay’s consultant said that although they had removed the lump, to be on the safe side, she would be given chemotherapy and radiotherapy to ensure that the disease was fully treated.
I agreed straight away and was very happy with this course of action,” said Lindsay. I did not want to take any chances.I just wanted to do whatever it took to stop the cancer in its tracks. I was warned about how tough chemotherapy is, but this still did not deter me. I was told that ‘it is not a walk in the park’ and I know now that it most certainly is not.
She started chemotherapy in February 2009.
People ask me how I felt at the time and what kept me going. I’m sure that it was because everything happened so quickly and I had no time to think about things. It was just one appointment after the other, treatment and hospital visits. This kept me occupied and probably sane!
I had six sessions of chemotherapy over an 18-week period. The treatment builds up fairly slowly, then after session two or three, it hits you. I lost my hair straightaway and I was taking steroids, which made me put on weight, so I really did not feel at my best.
In July, Lindsay began radiotherapy at The Christie in Manchester for four weeks. When this was finished she then saw her oncologist back at Macclesfield General who said that she was free of cancer and to come back in three months.
At this stage of the experience I suddenly realised the journey that I had been on and how it had affected me. I spent a lot of time reflecting on what had happened and it dawned on me that I did want to go back to work – desperately –but that I did not want to go back to my original role in HR. I knew that I wanted my life to mean more and put my experience to good use.
Today as a Family Director at Roberts Bakery, Lindsay spends a lot of time campaigning for Genesis and raising money for this cause.
After battling breast cancer, I felt determined to make a difference to the lives of other women– that’s where Genesis came in. As a mother, the charity’s unique vision resonated with me as I felt strongly about helping to prevent the disease for my children and their children.
Through my relationship with the charity and its purpose-built Nightingale and Genesis Prevention Centre at Wythenshawe Hospital, I realised that I had a major responsibility to my body. I had to embrace a healthier lifestyle to prolong my life and keep my body free from cancer.
Before I got cancer I would say I had a low to non-existent level of fitness. I went for the odd walk once a month, but I did no exercise on a regular basis.
My eating habits were also poor. I ate good food but probably ate too much of the wrong foods and was a little over-indulgent.
Lindsay took advice from Dr Michelle Harvie, research dietitian at Genesis Breast Cancer Prevention, who co-authored The 2-Day Diet – the original 5:2 eating plan.
The diet means I follow a healthy, balanced diet for five days a week – with our very own Roberts Wholemeal range playing a big part – and stick to a low-carb diet for the other two days.
I’ve lost weight, I now go to the gym several times a week, I go on long cycle rides, and enjoy hiking. My life is 10 times more meaningful.
I’ve always been a happy person and I was content with my life, but my cancer experience changed me into a much more positive person.
I just want people to be more aware of the issue of breast cancer and to check their breasts regularly, do more exercise, eat more healthily, and definitely attend screening appointments. It is so important.
Now, Lindsay has launched ‘Lindsay’s Pledge’ with Roberts Bakery, as the family-run company aims to raise £50,000 to help fund vital gene research.
A partnership between Genesis and Roberts’ wholemeal loaves seemed like the perfect link to raise funds for this project. It is a big, year-long campaign for me and the whole family, using all of our channels and supporters, to communicate with the public about this important issue.
Hopefully, by the end of the campaign, we will be able to say that we have raised awareness of Genesis’ brilliant work and will have helped to fund changes in how we screen for breast cancer in this country. I can’t think of anything more meaningful than to say we’ve done our bit to eradicate this disease altogether.
Follow Lindsay’s campaign on Facebook and Twitter.