Denny mum shares Maggie’s Forth Valley’s important role in her cancer journey
“You can’t put a price on the support from Maggie’s”, says Lynsey Ritchie.
In July the then 42-year-old’s world was turned upside down following her diagnosis.
She said: “I was breast feeding my youngest son at the time and should have been low risk.
“I was thin, healthy,active, breast feeding my youngest, I didn’t smoke, I hardly drunk and then boom. It was not something I was expecting.
“I thought ‘I’m still really young to get cancer’.
“When I was diagnosed the first thing I did was go to Maggie’s. They are there for a reason.
“My dad had been diagnosed with prostate cancer in the February and I had researched it for him, although at that time he didn’t go. He’s since been with me.
“Initially when you’re diagnosed, you know you have got cancer, but don’t know if it’s spread.
“You have to go through MRI and CT scans to find out.
“I was sitting for about a month in limbo and that was horrendous. That was the hardest thing.
“But Maggie’s was a huge help.
“My first port of call was Isobel who provided a lot of emotional support.
“She told me you need to treat cancer like diabetes or epilepsy.
“People do die but there are a lot more living with it and it’s not a death sentence.
“That stuck with me and really helped.”
Since the diagnosis, Lynsey has had 15 rounds of chemotherapy and she had a double mastectomy in December, before which she had a ‘Thanks for the mammories’ party to say farewell to her breasts.
Now she’s preparing for radiotherapy, which she begins next month.
But throughout it all she has remained positive throughout her treatment for her boys – Cailean (7), Brodie (6), Darragh (4) and Odhran (20 months) – to continue to be the best mum to them she could be and give them as normal a life as possible.
She said: “It’s been a message to look after myself and my family and it’s brought us back together for six months.
“My husband Neil works away in the Army but they have been great and he’s been allowed to stay home while I’ve been having my treatment.
“I’m trying to be positive, I’ve got to be for the boys.
“We’re trying to keep things as normal as possible for them.
“They’ve not missed football or Beavers and I’ve been to all the school things. You worry about not being able to do for one what you’ve done for the others, the mum guilt is terrible.
“Cancer is part of me and part of my story, but it’s not all of me. I’m still me.”
Now Lynsey is determined to let other people know – particularly younger people on a cancer journey – that there is help and support out there for them through the local Maggie’s Centre in the grounds of Forth Valley Royal Hospital.
“They are just so welcoming in Maggie’s,” she explains.
“I think a lot of people have misconceptions about Maggie’s Centre.
“It’s not a place of illness, it’s a place of wellness.
“It’s supportive, there’s always someone to talk to. You can talk about cancer or something completely different - it’s up to you.”
And there’s a wealth of information, advice and support available, covering everything from dealing with the practicalities of a cancer diagnosis to emotional support and wellbeing.
Lynsey continued: “They offer free tai chi and yoga, as well as relaxation sessions.
“I regularly go to tai chi and if you’d told me my dad would be doing tai chi, I’d never have believed you.
“But we go as a family – mum, dad and I.
“They offer support for carers too, so mum can come along as well.
“It’s been useful and I’ve found myself using some of the breathing techniques while sitting in waiting rooms.
“Initially my thoughts were I’ve got four kids, a big house and I’m not working, what are we going to do?
“I was on statuatory sick pay as I work as a supply teacher.
“But Maggie’s was brilliant and Tom the benefits guy helped take the stress out of it.
“When your world has just been turned upside down with a diagnosis and there’s a 15 page from to fill out, it’s not where your head is at.
“I was really tired with fatigue and Tom helped. He was able to tell me what help I could get.
“He applied for a disabled badge for me, things I would never have thought about, or known about.
“He will speak to HMRC and other organisations for you and do all the phone calls. It takes a huge weight off your mind.”
And it’s not just the practical side the team at the cancer caring centre can help with.
“The Look Good Feel Good service is fantastic,” she continues.
“The other thing is the Look Good Feel Good service.
“I lost my hair, my eyebrows and my eyelashes.
“Your hair is one thing, I loved being bald, but losing your eyebrows and eye lashes that changes you completely.
“I’m quite a girly girl despite having all boys but I got in a rut when it came to make up.
“But this service changed that. They had me painting on eyebrows and lashes and I got some fab make up.
“There’s not a lot to look forward to with a diagnosis so wee things like that make a difference.
“Maggie’s has been instrumental in my positive attitude – I didn’t choose this.
“I’ve just chosen to deal with it this way, that’s my personality.
“When you get a shock like that you need to reach out and accept help.
“Accepting help is quite difficult, but I feel lucky there is treatment and Maggie’s.
“I just want younger people who have been diagnosed with cancer to know it’s a fantastic place.
“You can’t put a price on the support.
“Everyone is so knowledgeable you never feel like you’re wasting their time. There’s everything in the one place.
“They are phenomenal.”