Keeping Abreast celebrates 15 years of breast cancer support

Julia Holland

Keeping Abreast's More Than Just Fashion Show in 2018. - Credit: Julia Holland/All-About-Image Photography

As part of our new drive to support local charities, each week we are highlighting the vital work they do and the difference they make to the lives of people in our communities.

Keeping Abreast, the Norfolk based charity celebrating their 15th anniversary this year, supports women with breast cancer and those considering surgery.

About Us

The charity began in 2007 and was the brainchild of patients Anna Beckingham and Beverley Birritteri and breast reconstruction nurse specialist Ruth Harcourt. They recognised a need for women, both newly diagnosed with breast cancer and facing the possibility of a mastectomy, as well as those considering reconstructive surgery, to be able to meet and talk to others who have been through similar experiences, enabling them to make their own informed choices. 
Besides physical Support Groups, the charity also runs a closed online support community on Facebook, called the ‘Keeping Abreast Online Support Group UK’. 

Keeping Abreast founder Ruth Harcourt

Ruth Harcourt Breast Reconstruction Nurse Specialist, Keeping Abreast Founder and Patron - Credit: Keeping Abreast

Support is also provided to patients via ‘Pink Packs’; information packs which are given out at their initial hospital appointments, and via ‘KA Comfort & Care Bags’ which are donated to those facing breast reconstruction surgery.

Carefully designed to aid patients’ recovery, their contents include items such as heart-shaped cushions, drain bag covers, eye masks and face masks along with vouchers for post-operative bras. 

Keeping Abreast Comfort and Care bag

Contents of a Keeping Abreast Comfort and Care Bag - Credit: Archant Library

Danielle Day turned to Keeping Abreast for support when facing a mastectomy and DIEP Flap breast reconstruction using tissue taken from her tummy.

Having been informed that her treatment may affect her ability to have a family, she was delighted to discover afterwards that this was not the case.

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She said: “I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the end of May 2017. I was 29. I was told my cancer was aggressive, so they wanted me to start chemotherapy as soon as possible. This meant I didn’t have time to freeze any eggs.

"I was in a new relationship and so desperate to recover that I jumped straight in and had chemotherapy five weeks later. After six rounds of chemotherapy, I then had a unilateral mastectomy with DIEP Flap reconstruction surgery, followed by radiotherapy.

"I was told I wouldn’t be able to have children after the effects of chemotherapy, so I was extremely shocked to find out in March 2020 that I was 10 weeks pregnant… my tummy was absolutely fine, and I had a big boy! I now have a few stretchmarks to keep my DIEP scar company.”

Danielle Day with son Bodhi Keeping Abreast

Danielle Day, who was supported by Keeping Abreast, with her son Bodhi. - Credit: Danielle Day/Keeping Abreast


 

Impact of Covid-19

Like so many other charities, Keeping Abreast has had to adapt with the times over the past two years to ensure that it continues to support those who need it most.

This Norfolk-based breast cancer reconstruction charity helps those who are facing, considering or going through breast reconstruction following a breast cancer diagnosis or the discovery of a hereditary breast cancer gene. 

Usually, support is offered in person at Support Group meetings, whether by the Keeping Abreast Support Group in Norwich or outreach groups in Stalham and Wymondham as well as in the west of the county via the KA Support Group in King’s Lynn. 

Covid-19 had a significant impact on the charity and its services, however, as face-to-face meetings were no longer viable and so the team had to think outside the box in order to offer help in different ways. Keeping Abreast volunteers assisted breast reconstruction patients via telephone and email, of course, but also via WhatsApp and Zoom. KA HQ, located in Little Melton near Norwich, also set up a series of ‘Zoom Speaker Sessions’ on different breast reconstruction-related subjects, which proved extremely popular, and the charity’s website was completely renewed so that additional areas of support were available, with the new site already attracting thousands of views. 

The new website includes FAQs, patient stories and audio clips about breast reconstruction as well as actual video footage of real-life reconstruction results.

As one breast reconstruction patient said: “Thank goodness for charities like KA – people need somewhere to go to ask questions and seek support. I was so grateful to know that I could turn to you and ask for advice and help.”

Fortunately, as Covid restrictions have lifted, face-to-face Support Groups are returning, but the extra support services, such as the Zoom Speaker Sessions, are also now here to stay. 

The peer-to-peer support for those facing breast reconstruction has proved invaluable and those attending face-to-face Support Groups also have the chance to see real-life breast reconstruction results in ‘Show & Tell’ sessions, where those who have been through breast reconstruction surgery show their results to others. 

Pink Packs funded by The Gallery Haircutters in Norwich Keeping Abreast

Keeping Abreast Pink Packs funded by The Gallery Haircutters in Norwich - Credit: Keeping Abreast

Keeping Abreast is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year. 
Since its inception in 2007, the breast cancer reconstruction charity has grown substantially and now has three part-time paid employees, a board of six trustees, and over 150 volunteers.

Besides the support and outreach groups in Norwich, King’s Lynn, Wymondham and Stalham, support groups have also been established in other parts of the country, including Herts & Beds, Leicester, Bristol, Cheltenham, Sheffield and Liverpool. 

A self-funded concern, Keeping Abreast has seen its usual income significantly affected by the pandemic. 

To counteract this, and to celebrate its 15th birthday, the charity is crowdfunding to raise an extra £15,000 this year and donations can be made online at: www.justgiving.com/campaign/KA15Years 

Plus, the famous ‘Keeping Abreast More Than Just Fashion Shows’, when breast cancer patients strut their stuff on the catwalk, will be back this autumn in Norwich, with dates to be confirmed soon. 

Julia Holland

Keeping Abreast's More Than Just Fashion Show in 2018. - Credit: Julia Holland/All-About-Image Photography

Keeping Abreast's charity number is 1129522 and more information, support and ways you can help the charity is available at www.keepingabreast.org.uk.

*If you'd like to suggest a charity for us to feature, contact sarah.ravencroft@archant.co.uk.