When Caron Met Cat

How Counselling Opened the Door to Understanding


When Caron Met Cat

How Counselling Opened the Door to Understanding

When Caron Met Cat

 How Counselling Opened the Door to Understanding

When Caron Met Cat: How Counselling Opened the Door to Understanding


Dartford-born Caron is the first to admit that counselling is something she never thought she’d be interested in.


And why would she be? Five years ago – mere weeks ahead of her 50th birthday – the happily married mother-of-three was on holiday, in Amsterdam, with her family. Things were as they’d always been – just fine.


But as Caron stood in the shower, on her last day in the Dutch capital, she felt a lump in her breast.


Following an urgent doctor’s appointment and a biopsy, the results – after an agonising wait – were in. Caron had breast cancer. An operation to remove the lump gave way to radiotherapy and Tamoxifen – a drug which, for Caron, produced sickening side effects. For a while, it worked. The cancer went away.


Yet Caron was left devastated when she found out the cancer had not only returned but spread to her spine. There was no chance of a cure; only the prospect of keeping the cancer at bay. The treatment? A hormone-based intervention only recently out of trials. 


While data about the drug’s efficacy was still thin on the ground, early statistics showed the average patient on it lived for about three years. The same amount of time that Caron has now, in the present, been on it for.


She was already in profound physical pain. Yet the mental burden Caron faced – particularly in the lead up to her quarterly scan at the hospital – began to take its own toll on her wellbeing.


“When I went for those scans, my anxiety skyrocketed,” Caron explains. “Because in my mind, those patients only had three years. Every time I entered that hospital, I wondered – what are the doctors going to tell me? It was agonising.”


Vanessa, Caron’s breast care nurse, had already recommended counselling as a way of processing those feelings; of finding an outlet for that fear and stress. Three times Vanessa asked; three times Caron declined.


“I thought there was no way counselling was going to help – and I just didn’t think I needed it. I have a big family, a loving family: three children, a husband, and a mum who’d do anything for me. So, I kept thinking ‘why would I want to talk to a stranger, when I have all these people around me?’”


At the urging of family and friends, Caron relented. And – along with her mum – agreed to counselling at ellenor.


“When we came to ellenor, a lovely lady met us and went through loads of questions and information. Everyone was so nice. I’d got it into my head that I was going to a hospice – a place that, in my mind, was where people go and don’t come out again.”


As it turned out, this was only the start of Caron’s misconceptions – around hospices and counselling – that the following weeks and months would bust.


“My first couple of sessions with Cat [ellenor Counselling Manager Catherine Aird] were very hard for me. There was a lot of long silences, and I didn’t know what to talk about – or so I thought. But it became so much easier to talk to her as the weeks went by. By the third session, I was looking forward to Cat ringing me, which I never though I would!”


Throughout these weekly sessions, Caron began to learn about herself. About her role within her family, and how her illness was taking a toll not only on her mind, and on her body. But on her very identity as a mother, a daughter, and a wife.


As she sat and talked with Cat, Caron realised it wasn’t just her ability to sleep, to cook, or to relax – essentially, to live a normal life – that the breast cancer had laid siege to. But on her status as the caregiver of a large household (Caron’s kids all live at home), and her ability to – as she’d always been able to – look after them.


“I was carrying so much guilt,” Caron says. “That I wasn’t able to do everything I was before. That, by the end of the day, I was so tired; I didn’t have the energy or the will to make the boys dinner. Talking all this through with Cat really helped. I didn’t even know I felt guilty – but I was carrying all that guilt around. For what?”


Cat also recommended she chat to Claire Dudbridge, ellenor’s Senior Occupational Therapist who provides fatigue management advice and support, to help Caron – and her family – understand why she felt so tired all the time. And, through teaching her cognitive tips and techniques around relaxing and getting to sleep – help her recalibrate her body clock.


“I began sleeping better; I felt better. Looking back – in terms of my mood and emotions – I can’t believe how I went from where I was then to where I am now.”


Counselling has helped Caron’s relationship with her mum, too. The two were always close – Caron’s mum attended all the hospital appointments and scans, going through it with her. Yet Caron acknowledges that that proximity has also increased her mum’s anxiety and inability to sleep, too.


Now, though – since Caron’s mum has received her own course of separate counselling sessions through ellenor – the two have an even more profound understanding of one another.


“We’re more open now, with each other. Before, I didn’t want to burden her with my anxieties. And there were things we hadn’t talked about, that now we have.”


Caron never hid news of her condition to her family members. But a need to protect them – particularly her youngest, Mitch – meant she could never elaborate, even with her husband, Pete. 


“I think there are so many people, like me, who think they have people to talk to. But you don’t actually do it. Because you don’t want to burden them; because you love them. I didn’t want my family to hurt when there was nothing they could do to help me, so I didn’t tell them everything.


“I really didn’t think that a stranger would get me to talk how Cat was able to. But she did, and I’m so grateful. I can’t believe how differently I think about things now.”