When Lesley Jackson was first told she had cancer, the first thing she did was go home and write her will.
She had only ever known cancer to be associated with death in her family – and she certainly never expected to get any support to help her through such a traumatic time.
But then CancerCare stepped in, and six years on great-grandmother Lesley runs one of the charity’s support groups.
“It’s a great place,” she said. “It can help people who might otherwise not leave their home apart from to go to a meeting.”
Tragedy first struck in Lesley’s family back in 1973 when her young son Lee was struck down with brain cancer.
“My son was nearly two when he became ill,” the 66-year-old said. “I kept going to the doctor’s and saying there was something wrong but I didn’t know what.
“I kept getting passed off as an over-protective first-time mum.
“In the end he couldn’t talk. There was no children’s ward in Lancaster at that time and there were no scanners or diagnostic equipment.
“They thought he had hydrocephalus [water on the brain] and in the end we were sent to Manchester Children’s Hospital where he was diagnosed with brain cancer within two days.
“They operated on him but he died 48 hours later.
“There was no support at that point, no counselling or anything like that. I was pregnant at the time and gave birth to my daughter eight weeks’ later, and my aunt also died from cancer around that time.”
Then, in 1991, Lesley’s mum was diagnosed with lung and oesophagus cancer.
She was treated at Christie’s but sadly passed away a short time later, and once again there was no support or back-up for Lesley or her family.
However, it was a different story 20 years later when Lesley herself was diagnosed with endometrial cancer.
“After I was told I had cancer, I came home and wrote my will,” she said. “All I had experienced of cancer was people dying from it.
“But I had surgery and at that point I was told about CancerCare. It was just what I needed when I had had my treatment, as I felt a bit out on a limb.
“I went along to a meeting and ended up being the chairperson of the gynaecological group because there was no one else to do it!”
Lesley, who lives in Heysham with her second husband Steve, is now keen to help raise awareness of CancerCare so that other people don’t have to experience the isolation that she did.
The mum-of-three, who also has 10 grandchildren and a new baby great-grandson, said: “When you walk into CancerCare it’s quite a calm place.
“When I first came in I had just finished my treatment and I didn’t know what to expect.
“You can have treatments such as lymph drainage and hypnotherapy, or you can just go to talk to someone.
“The support group has gone from strength to strength. We are not a big group because it’s only a small part of cancer, but we are the only gynae group locally that has men in it.”
The group meets on the last Monday of every month, from 1.30-3.30pm, and there is also a friendship group every Friday between 10am and noon.
“The group is mainly there to support people,” Lesley said. “Everyone is in the same boat.
“I had never heard of CancerCare until I had cancer myself, and I have met some fantastic people that I would never have come across without it.”
Lesley was dealt yet another blow 18 months ago when a blood test revealed pre-cancerous cells for myeloma.
“It may become active or it may not so you have to live with that,” she said, “but I get a lot of support here.
“Cancer has been in my family a lot but up until me getting it there was either no support or I didn’t know it was available.
“You don’t always feel like talking to your family about it and you try to shield them a little bit.
“Coming to CancerCare is like having a shawl wrapped around you.
“You don’t have to explain to people, because everybody has been touched by it in some way.
“When you have cancer it becomes your life, but here you are not cancer, you are a person again.”