Why Helen's supporting Tickled Pink and encouraging everyone to check themselves

September 25, 2020

Our colleague Helen Middleton, who's currently being treated for breast cancer, is urging everyone to get behind our Tickled Pink campaign and says its message of encouraging people to regularly check themselves is so important.

Forty-seven-year-old Helen, who works at our Thornaby store alongside her husband Rob, was diagnosed last October when she found a lump as she made one of her routine checks.

She said: "I've always been a supporter of Tickled Pink – I think the campaign is great. Raising awareness to everyone needs to be done. So many people think 'oh, it won't happen to me', but you just never know. Keep checking routinely and if you find anything unusual then definitely get it looked at straight away as the earlier you do it the better your prognosis.

"Don't be worried. The doctors are there and the treatments are there. The earlier you can get seen the better. I think in these circumstances with Covid people have been scared to go to the doctors and the hospital but please, please make those first steps and get yourself to the GP because it can make all the difference."

Helen, who's been married to fellow Asda colleague and childhood sweetheart Rob for 23 years, was diagnosed with breast cancer last October.

She said: "I was basically checking myself as I did it routinely when I found a lump in my left breast. I was going into the menopause so when I thought it was probably something to do with that. But then I thought 'was it something to be worried about?' I left it a couple of weeks again and then thought 'no' this is something I need to get to the doctors with.

"I saw my GP and within three days I was at the hospital. It was that quick. I had a mammogram, ultrasound and a biopsy in the same day and within a week I sadly got the diagnosis that I had breast cancer and from there on there was a massive whirlwind of scans etc.

"I worked right up until my treatment started – I think it was the day before actually. I'm quite a strong person so I just got with it.

"My chemotherapy started at the end of October last year and I had six months of that which was quite intense. It was to blast it because I've got what is called Triple Negative Breast Cancer which means it's not responsive to hormones. So I'm solely relying on chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery. While some ladies can go on to tablets for say five years to stop it coming back, I'm not going to be able to have that.

"I finished my chemotherapy at North Tees Hospital in April, which was in the middle of lockdown, which didn't help. Initially, the treatment was once every three weeks and then I went on to a weekly one which went on for 12 weeks. The staff there were just fantastic.

"I was fortunate to get my surgery on May 4 at the Nuffield Hospital in Stockton. I had a lumpectomy and the surgeon removed some lymph too. That went well and I was only in for the day. I then had radiotherapy in August and this was a new treatment in which they do in a week. It's more intense but was very tiring; bad, not too bad. I'm back on chemo now as my oncologist wanted me to have one last blast to finish off my treatment.

Helen – who has three daughters Amy, 21, Sophie, 18, and Keira, 12 – says the support from her colleague at Asda Thornaby, where she's worked for 12 years, has been amazing.

She said: "Asda Thornaby is such a community store. We look our for each other and everyone sticks together. It's more like a second family. They've been fabulous.

"I'd just like to say a massive thank you to everyone at the store. The support has been phenomenal for both myself and my husband. It makes you realise who is out there for you in such hard times.

"When we went into lockdown I was vulnerable so I had was told to isolate and shield and I thought I may have had to just isolate on my own in my own bedroom. Thankfully my husband was able to isolate with me and our store manager Scott Maconachie made that possible. He's been fantastic. We were so, so grateful because he was basically my carer. The whole family was in isolation together from about March.

"Apart from my hospital appointments I never got out but we got by as we're such a close family. We got our shopping deliveries from Asda, and I had friends from home shopping bringing me little food parcels."

One of the colleagues who's been there for Helen throughout treatment is Lynn Hodgson, a former home shopping colleague who now works in the store's filling station.

Helen said: "Lynn has had breast cancer and she's been very supportive. She's brought me shopping and dropped me texts and things. It's been nice to be able to speak to someone who's been through it so you're not on your own out there. Lynn never had chemotherapy, but had the surgery and radiotherapy. There's been others in the store who's been through it too and they've all been supportive.

"Recently, as we couldn't go our for afternoon tea, Lynn brought gluten free food to my house and we had our own afternoon tea while socially distancing. It was lovely of her. She's only a phone call and a text away."

Helen says having a strong character and staying positive is what's got her through her treatment.

She said: "I'm an only child and I sadly lost my mum and dad six years ago quite close together. People say 'you've been brave', but I don't see myself as brave. I see myself as strong. I think it's what I had to go through with my mum and dad as I was carer for them. It makes you stronger. I just get on with things, it's my mentality. We are strong family and you get through these things.

"Everyone is different and it can hit a lot of people hard but it's helped that I've been strong. We've even laughed about it and even when I lost my hair I shouted to my girls, 'can you hurry up with the straighteners as I need them'. It's helped especially our youngest one; she's been so strong bless her. I think it's just how you get through it as a family. Don't get me wrong there's been days where I have a good cry. It's been little things that have set it off, but you have to stay strong."

Lynn, who's worked at Asda Thornaby for 19 years, was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2012. She had a lumpectomy and then a course of radiation treatment. She came off her medication four years ago.

She said: "Helen's a fighter and very strong. She won't give in. I try to speak to her every day if I can. She knows that I am always here for advice and support if she needs me. We all need to look after each other."

"She's very close to her family. Her girls and her hubby have been brilliant but sometimes you just don't like bothering your family so it's nice to talk to someone else who's been through it."

Lynn found out she had a lump on her breast on her first mammogram. She said: "If I hadn't had it then I probably wouldn't be here today. If I hear women talking about mammograms and saying they are thinking of cancelling their appointment, I always make a point of going over and telling them to not put it off. The earlier they catch anything the better."

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