Norfolk woman’s breast cancer treatment inspired her to bring little lifts to others
- Credit: Sonya Duncan
It's a situation every woman dreads - receiving the crushing news of a diagnosis of breast cancer.
But for one Norfolk woman, who was determined to stay positive, her experience has pushed her to make the journey more bearable for those in the future.
Oa Hackett, 31, was told she had primary breast cancer in July 2014 - and as part of her therapy had six gruelling rounds of chemotherapy at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH).
But the trauma of the treatments was softened, she said, by the support she had from friends and family who would often send her care packages and gifts.
Now, her vision of every woman diagnosed with breast cancer receiving similar pick-me-up boxes has been recognised, as she is set to launch her charity Littlelifts.
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'When I was diagnosed it was obviously unexpected because I was only 28,' said Oa, who lives in Bawburgh with her husband Greg and dog Norma.
'I got the news on a Monday morning that I had breast cancer, it's quite a lot to get your head around.'
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What followed were vital tests to ensure Oa's cancer had not spread - which it had not - before her treatment started.
'I remember not knowing what was about to happen, I didn't know much about chemo before I started it. But I attacked it positively, I went into it with a fighting spirit.'
The next few months were tough - sometimes Oa, who for most of her treatment continued to work at the Prince's Trust, would be forced to crawl on the floor because it was too painful to walk. She lost her sense of taste and held a head shaving party before her hair fell out, where she raised £9,000 for charity the Big C.
'I remember on chemo number four I had different drugs,' she said. 'I remember being in the toilet in the hospital thinking 'this is it now' because I had such excruciating bone pain.'
But Oa was keen to stress everyone had a different experience and anyone about to start the treatment may not had the same reaction as her.
'I wanted things to be as normal as they could be so I always tried to get up, have a shower, and try and reach a step goal of 3,000 steps a day. I would be walking around the neighbourhood in my pyjamas,' she said.
'I donated my hair to the Little Princess Trust, I wanted to balance out something bad with something good.'
Throughout her treatment and surgery, Oa's positivity carried her through, but when it couldn't she had overwhelming support.
She said: 'There were moments when I was really worried about dying, but I really think now I have got an appreciation for life, and my family and friends. So many people get cancer and I'm one of the lucky ones. Yes it could come back but I'm fortunate, my life has gone back to normal.
'When you're going through it cancer right smack in front of your face. Now it's behind me, it will always be part me, I will always live alongside it, but it's at the back of my mind.'
She joked: 'One of the benefits of having cancer is the presents.'
Oa said almost every day she would receive a gift from a friend, or a package in the post which would lift her mood. For example, one friend sent her a plant which by the time it flowered she would nearly be at the end of her chemo.
'It makes you remember you're not alone and they are thinking of you,' she said. 'And it means even more because other people's lives carry on as normal. When you get cancer, you get sucked into this cancer world. But they still cared about me and wanted me to know.'
That is the aim with Littlelifts - where a box full of practical and comforting items will be given to every woman diagnosed with breast cancer at NNUH.
From water bottles to help with hydration, to a notebook to record thoughts and feelings, every gift has a purpose.
And Oa has ambitions to expand into other hospitals and potentially even across the country.
'It's a scary time, so it's lovely to know someone is thinking of you,' she added.
What is in the box?
In a Littlelifts box, there are a number of core items but others could be swapped in and out seasonally.
• A notebook, Oa said: 'For expressing thoughts and feelings, making notes about appointments.'
• An eye mask and ear plugs, for when a little more sleep might be needed.
• Lolly moulds, as Oa said: 'Sucking on a lolly can help a sore mouth, and can help with the loss of taste.'
• Chocolate, as a little treat.
• A pedometer, because Oa said: 'It is important to keep on the move and it's good for mental wellbeing.'
• A water bottle, as the oncology team will recommend drinking plenty of fluids.
• Herbal tea, which Oa said was 'calming'.
• Cordial, which could 'help with loss of taste'.
• A soft toothbrush and toothpaste - Oa said because of the ulcers in her mouth, caused by treatment, she couldn't use her electric toothbrush.
• Plastic cutlery, to avoid a metallic taste you can get in your mouth.
• Body lotion, hand cream, and lip balm which Oa said helped with dry skin.
• Crossword and puzzles books to help pass the time, chemo treatments can take three or four hours at a time.
• A plant, Oa said: 'Because by the time it's grown you will be nearly done with the treatment.'
• Mints or lemon sweets, to suck on and soothe the mouth.
• Chilli flakes and herbs, to help make food more tasty.
• Tissues, Oa said: 'Because you can get a runny nose or have a cry.'
• Crisps, which Oa said were good because 'one thing that came out of the focus groups and my experience was I really craved salty carbs after my treatment, I got through so many packets on Pom Bears'.
To find out more about Littlelifts, or if you think you could donate products to the scheme, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the Facebook page.
The charity has also entered the Aviva Community Fund, voting opens Tuesday at www.aviva.co.uk/good-thinking/community-fund/