Chemotherapy is a very different experience for each patient and the side effects can be very unpleasant.
In 2014, Oa Hackett from Norwich was diagnosed with primary breast cancer. She was 28 years old.
Within a year, Oa had experienced chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery.
The side effects of chemotherapy included nausea, fatigue, hair loss, bone ache and multiple mouth ulcers.
During that time, Oa’s friends and family put together small care packages to help her to feel better. Inspired by this kindness, Oa wanted to do the same thing for others and started to create comfort boxes for women during their treatment, a box full of ‘Little Lifts’.
Now the idea has grown into a charity and Oa works in partnership with four hospitals in Norfolk and Suffolk to provide women diagnosed with primary breast cancer a box to help relieve some of the side effects that may be experienced during chemotherapy.
This is Oa’s story and the story of the Little Lifts charity.
How did you find out you had breast cancer?
I didn’t really have any symptoms as such. I was feeling tired but it wasn’t until I was on holiday in Cornwall with my husband that he noticed a lump in my breast. He encouraged me to get it checked out and I was told I had breast cancer.
How did you feel when you were told the news?
I was 28 years old and the first thing you think is ‘Am I going to die?’ then you’re in a world of medical treatment which is constant. Getting breast cancer is life changing.
What exactly is primary breast cancer?
Primary breast cancer means the cancer has not spread beyond the breast or lymph nodes under the arm. There are many different treatments, depending on the circumstances of the patient and their cancer. Chemotherapy is one of these and it involves using chemical, systemic anti-cancer treatment (or SACT, for short). It is a very different experience for each patient, and the side effects can be very unpleasant.
How did exercise help you to cope with the diagnosis?
I am keen on exercise so my husband and I kept on walking, It’s also good for you mentally when undergoing treatment. I was reaching my step goal of 3000 steps a day even on chemotherapy. I’m quite competitive and I will make myself get out and do it, sometimes I had to crawl, but I carried on.
Four years on, how are you feeling?
I was treated at the Norfolk and Norwich hospital and they were amazing there. The further I get away from my diagnosis, the higher the chances of it not coming back. It’s nice to be back to normality, doing normal things that you didn’t appreciate before. Now I want to give something back.
How did Little Lifts start?
During my rounds of chemotherapy I experienced awful side effects including hair loss, mouth ulcers and particularly bone ache. My friends and family put together a box full of special things to help me and I was so inspired by the kindness I received during this time that I wanted to help other women like me.
Every year at the Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital, approximately 520 women are treated for primary breast cancer with chemotherapy – that’s 43 women a month.
What’s in the Comfort boxes?
- Herbal tea: can aid sleep and help to calm and hydrate
- Pedometer: Keeping on the move during treatment can energise and motivate, it’s also good for the mind.
- Face and body lotion: You may experience dry skin
- Eye mask and ear plugs: There may be times during the day when you need to shut out the light and sound and just get sleep
- Notebook and pen: For notes or to express your thoughts and feelings through treatment.
- Water bottle: Your oncology team will recommend that you drink plenty of fluids through treatment
- Chocolate: For a little moment of luxury, because you deserve it.
- Lip balm: To avoid chapped and dry lips
- Grow your own plant: give it a little TLC and by the time it’s grown your treatment will hopefully be near completion
- Lolly recipes and lolly moulds: Ice lollies can help to soothe a sore mouth
- Toothpaste and a soft toothbrush: A soft toothbrush avoids any of the discomfort from harder brushes
- Hot chocolate: A hug in a mug for warmth and comfort
- Plastic cutlery: You may find eating with metal cutlery unpleasant
- Crosswords and puzzles: To help pass the time during chemotherapy sessions
- A selection of sweets: To provide relief from the metallic taste you may get from treatment
- Cordial: Adding some still or sparkling water can help to relieve change in taste.
- Pocket tissues: You may become more prone to a runny nose
- Chilli flakes and mixed herbs: Things can taste a bit different – chilli flakes ass a little bit of heat and herbs will add flavour.
- Crisps: A nice nibble to go with your cordial
- Tote bag: to easily carry the essentials to your treatment
…. plus a few little extra treats inside from our littlelifts friends and community.
What are your top tips for women who are going through chemotherapy?
I sucked on red frozen grapes to prevent getting a sore mouth. Frozen lollies really helped when I was feeling sick and when my taste buds changed. Tips from other women we’ve spoken to include:
- ‘try to plan a small amount of time each day doing something ‘normal’ for you. Even if it’s just 10 minutes.’
- ‘Get some fresh air daily but rest up when your body needs to. Set goals to get you through the harder days.’
- ‘Invest in chemical free skin care, drink plenty of water too. ‘
- ‘gentle exercise really helped my energy levels. Plan some nice activities for the weeks when you have a bit more energy.’
How has the charity Little Lifts grown?
Since November 2017, we’ve raised enough money to support 350 women and we are now giving out comfort boxes in four hospitals.
- The Norfolk and Norwich hospital
- The James Paget in Gorleston
- Queen Elizabeth hospital in Kings lynn
- Ipswich hospital
We now have two full time workers, myself and my friend Kay.
Kay, how did you get involved with the charity?
I went to school with Oa in Norwich and I have always been interested in working for a charity. My mum had breast cancer so Oa and I can empathise with women from different points of view.
What’s next for the charity Kay?
Several people have contacted us to say they are interested in buying the comfort boxes to give to ladies they know who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, so in May we are launching an online shop. We have already sent boxes around the world to people who have been in touch.
In the future, the aim of the charity is to support all women across Norfolk and Suffolk and hopefully beyond!
What feedback have you received about LittleLifts?
All of our items are specially selected and we review them regularly depending on the feedback from women we meet and talk to.
I found listening to the long list of side-effects chemotherapy could cause very difficult. I felt like a lab experiment. What you find out you can do on this journey is incredible and the littlelifts Box certainly helped with that. It helped me to get ready for action and gave me a feeling of solidarity knowing that other women had trodden the same path before me and managed it.
Liz ( in photo) received a comfort box after diagnosis.
We’ve been using Littlelifts boxes since last year I’m in a priveleged position to give ladies these lovely boxes. I’d describe them as a little box of loveliness and practicalities and the impact of these ladies has been overwhelming and touching and we’re very thankful to be involved with the charity.
Rachel Clifton, breast oncology nurse specialist
“Having a breast cancer diagnosis and preparing for chemotherapy is an extremely difficult time for our patients. Receiving one of these comfort boxes will provide a much appreciated boost and make a significant difference.”
Professor Erika Denton, Breast Radiologist and Associate Medical Director at NNUH
If you would like to find out more about Little Lifts or would like to get in touch, Oa and Kay are always keen on hearing views and ideas. Please go to: