Sue’s blogging about… Freddie’s Friends Support Group

freddies friends headerFreddie’s Friends is the support group run by YouCan and the staff from Charles Dickens Ward in Maidstone Hospital.

Freddie’s Friends was started by Hayley Martin, a young mum receiving palliative treatment for colon cancer, in January 2015. Her little boy is called Freddie and the group is named after him.

Hayley said “I started this support group so that other people like me who have been diagnosed with cancer have somewhere to come when they want to talk to other people in a similar situation. It is also really hard for our family and friends seeing loved ones going through cancer treatment. Freddie’s Friends can provide a comforting, relaxed environment to be able to speak openly about any worries, share tips, experiences and to generally feel that you are not alone.”

Unfortunately, I never had the pleasure of meeting Hayley but her group is still going strong all these years later.

I started going to Freddie’s Friends in January 2017. I had just had my first chemo treatment earlier in the month and one of the nurses mentioned it to me. Straight off the bat, I knew this was something I wanted to be involved in because everyone was so welcoming and helpful. The monthly meetings at held at Kits Coty, Aylesford, in the function room, so I knew anything I wanted to talk about was being said in a safe place. Also, they provide free soft drinks and cheesy chips – bonus!

Since then I’ve been to many of the Freddie’s Friends meet ups, treatment permitting. We’ve done reiki, yoga, had talks from a nutritionist, had a meal in town, an introduction to boot camp and a look good feel better workshop. So as you can see, it’s very varied! But there is always time to meet other young people in a similar situation, and this is invaluable. Group sizes range from 6, to 16, to 26, so there is plenty of room for all! Feel free to bring a family member or friend too, the group is to support them too.

And don’t just take my word for it! Here are some testimonials from people who attend Freddie’s Friends:

Kerry Ann, 32: Breast Cancer

“I cannot express how much Freddie’s Friends have made a difference to me going through my treatment for breast cancer. This support group has helped me feel like I’m not alone. I will continue to go after my treatment has finished.”


Tom, 23: Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

“Since the first meeting we had for Freddie’s Friends it has been such a personal boost to meet such friendly, positive and supportive people in a similar situation to mine. Being able to relate to each other’s experiences in invaluable in a way I never fully expected.”


Caroline, 24: Brain Tumour

“It’s lovely to find a support group that has enabled me to build friendships in my local area. It’s a very welcoming group which has helped with my confidence and social skills.”


Katie, 23: Caroline’s Friend

“I go to Freddie’s Friends support group as a support for my friend. It is so great to finally find a group which helps people who are at different stages in their cancer and also welcomes family and friends too.”


Laura, 32: Bowel Cancer

“Freddie’s Friends is really important to me as it provides me with help and support without which I would not have made it through my treatment and been able to return to work. The support group is amazing as it has allowed me to talk about and accept what I have been through when I needed to do this however it has also helped me escape from it all as well by organising events that have totally taken my mind off of everything and allowed me to have fun which is something that I never imagined could happen whilst going through treatment. I would have been really lost without the support of the Freddie’s Friends group and the friends that I have made from this group.”


If you would like to come along, Freddie’s Friends is held every third Wednesday of the month at Kits Coty, Aylesford, ME20 7EZ from 7pm – 9pm.

Please contact YouCan and come along!  

Tel: 01732 844874  Email:

#freddiesfriends #youcan #youcansupport #supportgroup #kitscoty


Sue’s blogging about… a year on from diagnosis

The 19th September 2016. A now notorious date in my calendar. A year on I’ve had a lot of time to reflect a lot of those first few days after diagnosis. Here are some of my musings…


I’d just started a new job as a primary school teacher and it came like a bolt out of the blue. Literally – a shooting pain in my chest that woke me one 3am morning and I found a lump. Thinking I must be mistaken – tired, groggy, possibly hallucinating – I didn’t think of it again until morning. Luckily my fiancé persuaded me to get it checked out – as a teacher we are always coming down with coughs and colds… me? Go see a doctor?!

Below pic: I had found the lump and was waiting on a referral from my GP.

pre diagnosis.png

My GP referred me, telling me she didn’t think for one second it would be anything sinister but as a precaution I was sent to the Peggy Wood Clinic at Maidstone Hospital. On arrival, I was again told that they thought at worst it would be a cyst – you’re too young, no family history, etc etc. but they went forward with tests just to double check. Well, blow me down, I had ALL the tests done – physical, sonogram, mammogram, 3D mammogram… It was only when they asked for a biopsy that I realised this could be a bit more serious than first thought. That said, even when they lead me into the Room of Doom I still wasn’t really engaging with everything that was going on. After all, I was three weeks into a new school term, I had planning and marking to do for the following day!

I don’t remember much from the conversation in the Room of Doom. I remember the doctor say “It’s probably breast cancer….. is that what you were expecting to hear today?” and I genuinely remember nothing else. Luckily my amazing Breast Care Nurse was there taking meticulous notes (that I requested a few days later when I had the presence of mind to ask questions). I didn’t know it at the time, due to the horrific shock I’d just received, but my life had suddenly changed. No more new job. I had a life-threatening illness. At 31! Surely that wasn’t right… Suddenly my new job was breast cancer and it consumed every waking hour of my life. (There is a brilliant blog by Alice May Purkiss where she describes getting diagnosed as a job you didn’t apply for. Use the link to read it here… after you’ve finished this blog of course!

My treatment plan was organised pretty quickly. I had a lumpectomy to remove the tumour and my surgeon was amazing. I’ve had six cycles of FEC chemotherapy (or feccing chemo as it came to be known) and 20 sessions of daily radiotherapy. Throughout treatment I lost my hair, my energy, my independence and my spark. Chemotherapy was particularly tough on me and I felt very isolated and alone.

Then I was introduced to an amazing charity – this charity – YouCan. They provided me with reiki during chemotherapy, reflexology during radiotherapy and offered me a place on a Wellness Weekend, which I gladly accepted. The Wellness Weekend was of particular benefit to me as it came the weekend before my last chemotherapy. I got to spend some quality time with my sister and some amazing people at different stages of their diagnosis. We did yoga, had facials and massages, did some art therapy and met with an informative nutritionist. After the weekend I felt relaxed, happy and more importantly, more mentally ready to tackle my final chemo session – by this time I was getting both tired and, quite frankly, sick of it all. Also, the Wellness Weekend made me feel less alone – there were people out there my age going through what I was going through. I’d spent time with them and they were awesome. For that, I can’t thank YouCan enough.

Below pic: Here I am half way through chemotherapy just after a Look Good Feel Better course.

LGFB pic

Now that I’m done with active treatment I still access the alternative therapies from time to time. However, now I’m trying to reclaim my body after it had been ravished by cancer treatment and YouCan are still helping me with that. They have provided me with a Personal Trainer who is helping me get my strength up ready for the YouCan 5k I’ll be attempting in October. Those who know me well know that any exercise, let alone running, really isn’t my bag. But the PT I’ve received so far – along with my own training using a couch to 5k app – has not only made me feel amazing (endorphins, who knew?!) but has helped me lose some of that blasted chemo weight.

So now, I’m a year of from diagnosis, it’s my so-called ‘cancerversary’ and quite a lot has changed… I’ve had the tumour removed from my body and been told after chemo and radiotherapy that I am NED – no evidence of disease. All good news. But my actual day to day life has changed. I’m no longer a teacher and I think it’s unlikely I’ll go back to the profession. Certain smells bring back memories of chemotherapy which make me gag. I can no longer eat certain foods – mac and cheese, jolly ranchers, pickled beetroot, vimto, just to name a few –  as I ate them during treatment and just the thought of them makes me gag (though arguably I should be cutting most of those things out of my diet anyway!) I no longer look like me – I’m still a bit puffy from treatment. Whilst I’m not bald any more I’m sporting a fluffy boy crop (maybe my hair will grow back curly?!) I’m suffering from some super fun menopausal symptoms thanks to the hormone treatment I’ll have to take for the next ten years. I don’t even feel like me, the old me, this has fundamentally changed me.

Below pic: My chemo session 1-6, left down then right down. For a while I was sporting the ‘Jack Sparrow’ look, as one of my sisters called it. So I changed it up but according to my other sister  my new scarf style made me look like Professor Lupin! (Harry Potter professor for you non-Potter Heads) So in the end I just stuck with an array of wigs (I could write a blog just on head wear, I have so much!) then just went bald due to the heat.



But I’m optimistic and I’m getting used to the ‘new me’, figuring out my ‘new normal’. I’ve armed myself with knowledge about nutrition, physical activity and alternative therapies, all with the hope of avoiding the dreaded word ‘reoccurrence’. I’ve realised that I’m stronger than I thought and that my body is capable of amazing things. My support network has grown from family and amazing friends to also include my Freddie’s Friends pals and other members of the cancer network.

Also, as a happy way to mark the day I’m getting to live a 15 year long dream… I’m going to see the Foo Fighters! So now the 19th September will always be known as ‘The Day I Saw One of My Favorite Bands’. That sounds much better to me 😊

#youcan #youcansupport #youcanblog #youngadultsupport #youngadultcancersupport         #volunteering #cancer #support #primarybreastcancer #breastcancer #cancerversary #foofighters

Running, running, running, running…


I don’t know about you but I find running super hard. I’m training (and I use the word loosely) for the  YouCan 5k at Leeds Castle in a few weeks time. So, to help me out and give me some more motivation I made this Spotify playlist.

Hope this helps you with your training!

Also, any suggestions for running songs please add in the comments and I’ll pop them on the playlist.

#youcan #youcanrun #leedscastle #runningmusic #musicisgoodforthesoul

Sue’s Blogging about… an Introduction

radiotherapy pic.png

Hi everyone! I’m Sue and I’ll be taking over the YouCan blog for a while.

I just thought I’d quickly introduce myself. September last year I was diagnosed with primary breast cancer – a shocking and horrific experience for anyone, let alone someone who was only 31. I will do another blog talking in more detail about that later on.

I’ve come to volunteer at YouCan, which I’m really excited about. Amongst other things, I’ll be contributing to this blog with articles, bios, explanations of complimentary therapies and many more things so watch this space!

#youcan #youcansupport #youcanblog #youngadultsupport #youngadultcancersupport  #workspace #volunteering #cancer #support #primarybreastcancer #breastcancer


YouCan Run 2016



Even with a 6am start on a Sunday morning, there are few sights more beautiful than Leeds Castle. To stand alone on the hill looking down at the castle feels like a privilege, everything is utterly peaceful and the view just takes your breath away. And then reality hits and the fear kicks in! In just a few hours there would be around 450 people descending to take part in the very first YouCan Run. Would we actually be able to pull this off? Would all the months of planning and preparation finally come together and everything run smoothly?

When we first decided to stage a run event it was a real leap of faith. After all, YouCan is a very new charity. We don’t have a database of thousands of supporters to call on. We don’t have masses of resources at our disposal. We definitely had the enthusiasm and we had a certain amount of belief …and we had the wonderfully generous team at Leeds Castle who had trusted us with the gift of their estate in which to hold this event. It was with a deep breath and fingers crossed that we leapt into the YouCan Run plan. Our target – 200 runners. That would constitute a success.

Six months on and we found ourselves scurrying around the office allocating 400+ t-shirts, frantically making sure we had enough medals (there was a last minute order panic) and worrying whether we would have enough water for the water stations. Big thank you to Andy and Stuart from Tesco at this point who didn’t bat an eyelid when they got a call from me to ask if they could magic up enough water for another 100 people two days before the event. I wish you could have seen the slightly childish excitement of the team when we reached 200 runners …then 300 …and finally 399 on the day we closed on-line registrations. I kind of wish we’d stayed open just long enough to hit that magic 400 pre-registered, but that’s just plain greedy!

We spent a long day at Leeds Castle on the Saturday (day before the Run) when we set up as much as we could – the gantry, the tents, most of the course. It’s slightly eerie to look at the skeleton of an event. Just an outline. Totally still and quiet. Waiting for the people to bring it alive.

And then suddenly, there they all were. 447 runners (we had 48 sign up on the day) and supporters, family and friends. And the hill overlooking the castle was alive with noise and with colour. Our amazing band of volunteers were on hand to help with registrations, to hand out t-shirts, to man the water stations, to cheer and support runners as marshalls around the course. Pretty much everyone you would have seen helping out on Sunday was a volunteer who gave up their time to support us. And we are so grateful to them all.

The runners. 270 took part in the 10km. 177 took part in the 5km. We sent them all out on the same course; we sent the 10km runners round twice! It’s a pretty tough course at Leeds Castle. Much of it is on grass and there are a couple of rather cruel inclines to really challenge people. But for a lot of it you get to keep the Castle in sight and the view from points on the course are truly stunning and must surely have kept runners minds off the pain of the hills (at least I hope so). There were plenty of smiles, even at the end of the race, so I think everyone enjoyed themselves. Our photographer, Jodi, has captured some fabulous images of the runners and you can take a look at these by following the link:

By midday it was all over and we were packed up. And I was stood once again on top of the hill looking down on the Castle. And, if I may be so bold, whilst there may be few sights more beautiful I think I may have found something that just about tops it …the sight of 450 people running off down the hill towards the Castle in a sea of turquoise, orange and white YouCan t-shirts. That will stay with me for a long time. It was a very special moment for all of us at YouCan.

THANK YOU to everyone who took part, who volunteered, who simply turned up and supported …what a difference you will make to the lives of young people whose lives have been impacted by cancer. Look out for the final total raised, we’ll be announcing it soon.

Looks like we’d better start planning for the second YouCan Run …SEE YOU THERE!!

Sarah x





YouCan’s First Wellbeing Weekend

‘Absolutely fantastic weekend. You ladies are amazing and I feel so much better already. You have helped me face up to what I need and I can’t wait to take the next steps to my ‘new normal’ life! Thank you so much’


Doing anything for the first time can be pretty scary. Exciting too. But primarily, scary! We held our first ever Wellbeing Weekend and we just didn’t know what to expect. Would everyone enjoy it? Would they get anything out of it? The answers, it would seem, were ‘yes’ and ‘yes’. Happy days.

Stourmouth House, nr Canterbury was our beautiful home for the weekend and we welcomed eight young people to enjoy a couple of days filled with activities, therapies and spending time with people who understand.

We crammed in quite a lot to our weekend – a cookery class at the fabulous Chequers Kitchen, yoga & meditation sessions, reiki, reflexology, a beauty workshop courtesy of the beautiful Andrea Pellegrini and a class in NLP positive thinking. Combined with home cooked food (thank you Mandy – we all need that nut roast recipe by the way. Soooo good!) and the peace and beauty of our surroundings, it all added up to the most wonderful few days.

Of course, the most important thing for us was that our guests really felt they had benefitted from their time away. There’s another scary thing about a first time …asking people if it was okay?! We so want to make sure that we get it right for everyone. Will have to be honest here and own up to a few emotional tears when we read some of our guests comments. We feel like we’re on the right track, that people took away a lot of positives from their experiences and had the chance to try things they might otherwise not have done.

Cancer. It’s a difficult word to hear or say and sound positive. The impact on individuals, family and friends can be devastating and finding a way to reclaim a positive future, to leave cancer behind and move forward is difficult. If there is one thing that stands out for us about our first Wellbeing Weekend is that we heard people say that it gave them more belief that they could have that positive future, that there is help and support to feel better about themselves and their lives.

So our first Wellbeing Weekend won’t be our last. There will be plenty more and we’re already planning another couple for the near future. So if you, or someone you know, feel like you might enjoy a few days with us then please get in touch!

A huge thank you to the wonderful team of people who helped us over the weekend : Mandy Thacker, Debbie Kinghorn, Andrea Pellegrini, Maggie Kissane, Angela Davies, Jenni Campbell, Chequers Kitchen, Andy Hayward and Tesco!



What Yoga Has Taught Me – Ashton Howard


Ashton’s Story

On the 13th January 2014, I was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia, my life as I knew it immediately came crashing to a halt. I was admitted to hospital the following day where I was put into isolation for over 6 weeks and began an intensive 10 month chemotherapy regime. I was forced to follow a strict neutropenic diet due to my weakened immune system, this was to stop me contracting infections which basically meant anything fresh and healthy was a no go. I struggled to stomache the hideous hospital food which I’m sure made me feel sicker than the chemo cocktails themselves.

Having always been a health conscious person I felt let down by my body and frustrated that this had happened to me, however as my consultant informed me there is no ‘rhyme or reason’ as to why I got this and I was just simply unlucky. As I always say I’m the luckiest, unlucky person alive!

I am slowly getting my life back on track and learning to repair and restore my mind and body back to good health. It’s my belief that my diagnosis was a wake up call to change and in some strange way I feel lucky to have been given this opportunity to transform my life.

What Yoga Has Taught Me

I have always enjoyed yoga even before my diagnosis I used to attend weekly classes however back then I just used to go through the motions, It never really resonated with me like it does now and I’ve realised that’s because I was never fully present. My mind would still be racing around at a million miles per hour however falling ill forced me to slow down and really appreciate many of the amazing healing benefits that yoga has to offer.

For the last couple of years my life has been hugely restricted and in the hands of my doctors, I have often felt trapped and a prisoner in my own body which has been extremely frustrating. Practising yoga enables me to feel like I can take a bit of that control back.

Yoga involves working with breathing (pranayama), stretching exercises, postures (asanas) and meditation. All of which enable me to develop a greater sense of well being by directing my attention inward and connecting with the breath, allowing me to become present. Working with my body, mind and soul together, has helped me embrace my situation, bringing balance and clarity back into my life.

My overactive mind has a tendency to seek out worst-case scenarios, and so I often find myself living in a place of fear. My yoga practice creates the space for me to release this and let go of my worries. It is proven that Yoga has a calming effect on the body and many poses have a stress relieving effect. For example a twist posture is great for wringing out anger, which is often held in our inner organs, especially the liver.

My treatment often makes me feel fatigued but I have found that practising yoga helps restore my energy levels, it has helped me regain my confidence in my bodies ability and focus on slowly building my strength back up both physically and mentally.

I have discovered there are many different styles of yoga which I enjoy including Hatha, Ashtanga and Kundalini. However I was recently introduced to restorative yin yoga which I would highly recommend to anyone going through treatment or for those days when you’re lacking energy. Yin yoga is a simple, quiet practice deeply healing and nourishing. It is a more meditative approach where you hold the pose for a longer length of time while focusing on the breath.

I’m definitely not as strong or supple as I used to be or would like to be, but I have to respect my body and show it compassion as it has been through an awful lot. At times I have felt let down and angry that this happened to me but yoga reminds me to appreciate each breath and every pose that I can do.

Yoga offers so many amazing benefits from relieving joint and muscle aches, clearing out toxins and boosting the immune system the list goes on. I enjoy each challenge it brings but most importantly yoga has given me the tools to reconnect and make peace with my body, and now every time I step upon my mat I feel truly grateful.




Exercise & Cancer

Natalie is keen for us all to embrace the energetic and rounds us all up for a thirty minute brisk walk around the block every day, insisting that we will feel better for the effort. She has no qualms about sending us out under dark and heavy skies and ignores our shivering at the thought of venturing out into temperatures that even a polar bear would consider inhospitable! And yet, she’s right. Once the trainers are on and the thermal layers are secured (woolly hats optional) it becomes rather an energising and, dare I say, enjoyable half an hour.

We all know exercise is good for us (even when we complain about doing it) but there have been a whole lot of reports in the media over recent weeks about the benefits of being physically active when it comes to cancer.   According to research carried out by Macmillan, physical activity can …

  • improve or prevent the decline in physical function without increasing tiredness (fatigue) during cancer treatment
  • improve aspects of psychological wellbeing during and after cancer treatment
  • help recover physical function and improve fatigue after cancer treatment

So it would seem it’s out with bed rest and feet up and in with a pair of decent trainers and a gym membership! Well maybe running a marathon is a little optimist right now, but a simple daily walk in the fresh air might just lift the spirits and give a little burst of unexpected energy?

Keeping on the physical activity theme, we’re busy organising our first fun run. We’re so grateful to the team at Leeds Castle for allowing us to hold the YouCan Run there on Sunday 25th September. There will be a choice of 5km and 10km routes and everyone who takes part will get a special YouCan Run t-shirt and a medal (of course) to celebrate their achievement and support. Entry forms and full info will be out very soon but if you, or anyone you know, would like to take part you can email us now and we’ll make sure you get the details as soon as they’re available. Do join us, we would love to see you there.


And finally, let me introduce you to our newest ambassador, Benn Barham…


Ben is a professional golfer who has fought his own battle with cancer and has agreed to become an ambassador for YouCan. He will offer individual lessons to our young people, introducing them to the delights, and challenges, of golf. We are really looking forward to working with him and very grateful to him for offering his support to YouCan.

Charity Of The Year

So I’m back with entry number 2. It’s been another busy week at YouCan. As this is such a new charity there’s a million things to do. Okay, slight exaggeration, but you get the idea. We’ve met some amazing people who want to get involved – the most wonderful people who have skills ranging from nutritionists to yoga teachers, sports coaches to people who grow organic vegetables. Most of these have had real experiences with cancer and have found new and positive ways to deal with the effects that the disease has had on their lives. They want to share their thoughts with us and with young people in the hope that others might experience the same positive changes to their lives and their wellbeing. Some of them will be contributing to this blog by sharing their stories, their advice and even the odd rather delicious recipe  – you’ll find these on the nutrition page of this blog once we’ve tried them out!  Such a tough job sometimes 🙂

A big part of what we do is, of course, getting people to support the work we do by fundraising for us and helping us raise awareness. It’s always exciting to meet people who tell us that they love what we do and want to be involved. This week we were delighted to be able to announce that the De Veres Devonport House Hotel in Greenwich have adopted YouCan as their local Charity of the Year for 2016. We all went off to the hotel to meet managers and staff, have our photos taken for the local press (check out our fabulous t-shirts) and tell everyone what we’ll be up to over the coming months. As well as some staff fundraising and organising events the hotel will host a workshop for some young people, which will work brilliantly for the young people that we are working with up in south London.


On a slightly serious note, you may well have seen things in the press recently that don’t always paint charities in the best light. It’s a shame when the actions of the very few affect the vast majority who are trying their very best to make a difference to difficult lives and situations. Can I just assure you that here at YouCan we can promise you that we take our responsibility to both our supporters and service users very seriously – we have just been on a course to make sure we’re fully up to date with new fundraising regulations and will continue to ensure we comply with all charity legislation. We really do want to do the best we can for everyone involved with YouCan!

So onwards we go. Let’s see what the next week brings.

Sarah x






Who we are..

A blog. What a strange word! Short for weblog …an on-line diary where you can tell the world what you’ve been up to. Blogging – updating your blog, keeping people up to date with what’s going on. The world of the blog is new to me but I’ve volunteered to venture forth into this unknown territory and to attempt to give you some idea of what we all get up to here at YouCan. Perhaps you’ll get to know us a little better and we’ll be able to tell you why we do what we do, why it matters to us and how we want to try and make a difference to young lives that have been affected by cancer.

So, first up …let me introduce you to the team. For now, there’s just the four of us – Natalie, Terrie, Kate and myself (Sarah). We’ll start with Natalie because, in many ways, she’s our inspiration and through her we have seen and understood what a life impacted by cancer looks like. Natalie was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was in her 30s and, as we’ve all known her for a very long time, we have seen why the progress through this particular illness is so often called ‘a journey’. You’re set aboard the ship without map or compass and you’re at the mercy of the elements as you navigate your way to an unknown destination. Some of the storms are mighty rough and it gets lonely at times on that strange sea. But Natalie made it through and life begins again in a new place where she has to find her way again, discovering new things and a new way to live. She knows what it’s like to have lived with cancer, in a way that those that haven’t experienced it can never understand. So now she’s our ‘Captain’ (well, Head of Fundraising …but in our world that’s much the same thing) and we three others the Crew.

We three – Terrie, Kate and myself – all have official sounding titles but in reality we’re pretty much all doing whatever needs to be done. You might find us all manning stalls at a Christmas Fair (as we did in Rochester back in December), one us will be talking to a young person about their experiences with cancer while another is packing up t-shirts to send to a supporter who’s doing a 5km run for us at the weekend or someone will be meeting with a local oncology unit team while another is writing a blog entry (that’ll be me for now!). We’re a busy team and we love what we do.

My instructions for writing this blog are that I should tell you what we’ve been doing, update it regularly and only post interesting things. I can’t help feeling that my appointment as blog author might be slightly flawed. For one, we do so much that actually being able to choose the odd thing to write about is going to be tricky. And what’s interesting? I’m generally fascinated and intrigued by everything so who knows where this project might end up! So bear with me and we’ll wing it together. Already wondering what my next blog entry will be …

Sarah x