Breast Friends: Support and empowerment shared between University of Northampton staff and student

Date 8.11.2022

Following Breast Cancer Awareness Month, University of Northampton (UON) Customer Service Assistant Claire Massie and recent graduate Leonie Heard have joined forces to highlight a community of support and empowerment for those affected by breast cancer.

After her own diagnosis in 2018, Claire connected with local community group, Breast Friends, for support – which she found was launched by one of the University of Northampton’s very own graduates.

On her experience, Claire said: “Four years ago on my birthday, I was flicking through my local Women’s Institute magazine and spotted an article from ‘Know Your Lemons’, an initiative to help improve early detection of breast cancer through symptoms and screening. I didn’t think too much of it but decided to check myself – and felt something concerning. Little did I know at the time, but these few minutes probably saved my life.

“Cut to six weeks later and, after a number of appointments with my GP and the breast clinic, investigations confirmed my worst fears, and I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“The small lump I had felt was high up on my chest, which is an area that can easily be missed when self-checking. A mammogram revealed another much larger tumour lurking elsewhere.  If I had not detected the first one myself, I would never have known about the second, as I was too young to be part of the national breast screening programme.”

Thankfully, Claire’s surgery was successful. However, because the cancer had already spread to the lymph nodes, it required additional chemotherapy, oestrogen reducing drugs and yearly follow-up mammograms.

Claire continues: “In a nutshell, chemotherapy was terrible. I could barely watch TV, or even pick up the phone. However, as I was in hospital, it was the messages of support which really got me through it. I felt lifted-up and washed along by a wave of goodwill. People made sure I was never forgotten, from bringing me flowers from their garden, to baking cakes or cooking meals, to giving me lifts to hospital and staying with me for hours during chemotherapy treatment. The support network built around me was unbelievable, I felt so blessed.

“It was one day as I was about to start chemotherapy that I met one of the wonderful members of Breast Friends Northamptonshire, who spoke with me and changed the course of my journey with cancer forever”.

Breast Friends Northamptonshire is a peer-to-peer support charity founded in 2018 by Leonie Heard, a recent UON Learning and Teaching graduate who, after receiving treatment herself for breast cancer in 2016, launched the group as a safe space for persons affected by the condition.

Leonie explains: “I’m incredibly proud to say almost 400 people are currently supported by Breast Friends, providing them with lifelong practical and emotional support following their breast cancer diagnosis.

“We provide emotional support through a range of wellbeing activities such as swimming, walking and pottery, as well as handing out vital gift bags for those undergoing treatment to remind them someone close cares. We also run a private Facebook community group where people impacted by the effects of breast cancer can have a safe space to chat and receive support.

“The beating heart of our organisation is around building and being part of a supportive community. We are all women with shared experiences, however we are aware that men are impacted by breast cancer too and share the important message – remember, it’s not only women who experience breast cancer!”

The final word goes to Claire: “Everyone with boobs or moobs, I’d encourage you to check yourself. Take this as your sign to spend a brief two minutes giving yourself the once over – you could spot the early signs of cancer and increase your chances of successful recovery.

“If you or anyone you know has been affected by cancer, please reach out to one of the below support networks. They’re here for you and, speaking from experience, they can be a real lifeline. Just reach out to them and start a potentially lifesaving conversation today. You won’t regret it!”

  • – guidance on the early detection of breast cancer; know the signs and yourself; download the app to check regularly
  • – get a regular boob check reminder; know what to look for, where and how to check
  • – specialist information and support for breast cancer; speak to a breast care nurse on the free helpline
  • – information and support for all things cancer-related; speak to a nurse via the free helpline
  • – Breast Friends Northamptonshire is run by people who have been through a breast cancer diagnosis. We are a Northamptonshire based support group for people affected by breast cancer.