As they chat over coffee in the brilliant sunshine, it’s clear to see the pair are firm friends. But what isn’t obvious at first glance is the the dark force that brought them together. In the last couple of years, both have faced the battle of their lives - the fight to stay alive.
“We were both diagnosed with triple negative cancers,” explains Lucy Ashton, aged 44.
“Basically that means our particular cancers were not as receptive to some treatments, but thankfully, after some really aggressive treatment, we’re both doing well.”
But having reached what most people might consider the ‘happy ending’ of their stories, Lucy and Laura reveal they both struggled, in the aftermath, to rebuild their lives.
“I remember clearly being stood outside Weston Park,” recalls Lucy, who was diagnosed with breast cancer last May.
“My treatment was all finished and it was time to start getting my life back to normal. I just stood there, looking at that building and thought ‘what now?’ I had no idea how to start putting my life back together. My old ‘normal’ didn’t exist anymore.
“In the year following my cancer diagnosis, my life changed beyond recognition. One of the little discussed elements of cancer is the impact it has on the rest of your life. In my case, the cancer ‘ripple’ became a tsunami which saw me lose my partner, my home and my business. It was a devastating time and something that only women who’d been there could also understand. It made me realise there must be women like me all over the city and it started the cogs of an idea turning in my head.”
By the time Lucy met Laura Rook at Weston Park Support Centre last September - where Lucy was hosting a flower arranging session for some of the other patients - the idea for a Sheffield ‘cancer club’ was almost fully-formed in her head. She chatted to her new friend, who had also been left unemployed as a result of her treatment, and the two began hatching a plan.
30-year-old Laura says: “I was in the same position as Lucy and we bonded quickly. A lot of the women I’d come across during social activities at the support centre were older and I didn’t have that same connection with them as I did with Lucy, who was closer to my age and was going through a lot of the same things I was.
“During one of our ‘power brunches’ at the Botanical Gardens, we decided we needed to set up a support group for women in the city who were our age and dealing with cancer.
That encounter led to the creation of ‘Boadicea’s Cancer Club’ which will officially launch in the city this month.
“It’s not a club that anyone wants to get an invitation to,” Lucy says wryly.
“But having found ourselves on this wretched guest list, we were determined to make it a little easier for anyone else who also found themselves at the party. We hope that our club will become the ‘go to’ place for women following a cancer diagnosis.”
And the inspiration behind the name, they reveal, came from Boadicea, a Celtic queen who led an uprising against the occupying forces of the Roman Empire.
“She meant business, and so do we,” says Lucy.
“What’s quite amazing is that, after naming the club, we found out that Boadicea is also the name of a computer programme that Cambridge University use to calculate the risk of breast and ovarian cancer!”
Laura adds: “The club, aimed at 25-55 year old women at any stage of their treatment, hopes to put the ‘treat’ back into treatment. We’ve got all kinds of social activities in mind where we can get together, chat and compare battle scars while eating cake or chocolate, or enjoying some pampering or reflexology.
“For many women, the toughest time starts once the treatment ends and you are out of the care of Weston Park, so this club will enable like-minded women to support each other through this new world. We figure if we have to be here, there better at least be cake and a manicure involved!”
For now, the pair are busy contacting hospitals and sport centres and spreading the word on what Boadicea has to offer.
“At the end of the day,” Lucy says.
“Life after cancer is like prepping for a holiday, only to find the jet has dropped you in the wrong country. You don’t speak the language, you have the wrong currency, you don’t know where any of the sights are and none of the clothes you packed are appropriate.
“But hey, you’re here now, so your only real choice is to try and make it work. And if you can find some people who’ve also ended up the wrong destination, perhaps you can make each other’s journeys a little easier.”
- If you would like to know more, find the club on facebook (Boadiceascancerclub), Meet-Up, or email them at [email protected]
CANCER CLUB LAUNCH
‘Boadicea’s Cancer Club’ will meet for the first time at Sheffield Botanical Gardens on Wednesday June 15, from 11am at the Curator’s House Cafe.
Lucy says: “This will be an initial meet and greet, to have a natter with like-minded women over pancakes and get to know each other.
“We plan to hold a weekly session, perhaps a walk and a chat throughout the summer, as well as a couple of other events a month, things like workshops, going out for a meal, or getting together to take part in an activity.
“At the end of the day, these women deserve some nice times because they’ve just been through some truly rubbish times.”