Health: A haven from breast cancer

STANDING on the edge of one of Leeds's busiest junctions isn't where you'd expect to find an oasis of calm.

Inside The Haven, however, the traffic noise and the city centre hustle and bustle melts away.

That's the aim of the centre – formerly known as Breast Cancer Haven – and the reason visitors like Jan Lee find it so helpful.

Jan was one of the 46,000 people diagnosed with breast cancer last year.

"I will never forget the day I was told – that was a devastating experience really," the 56-year-old said.

As a GP, when she found a lump she knew of the implications and had surgery within two weeks of the diagnosis in October last year.

Being a medic, she said she knew when she was undergoing one test that something was clearly wrong.

Still, the diagnosis filled her with fear and anxiety.

"Even though I knew it was a possibility, when you hear those words it's absolutely devastating," she said. "You can't take the information in but you just know your whole world is going to change."

Jan, from Apperley Bridge, underwent surgery though this showed a shadow on her liver which led to months of more tests and worry.

She coped by trying to keep her fears hidden away, keeping busy and staying positive, though she had to go through further surgery – which showed the cancer hadn't spread – and then chemotherapy.

After treatment began she realised she was becoming increasingly tired and needed a new 'coping mechanism'.

"I thought I needed to get a grip of the side effects," she said.

Jan contacted The Haven, which offers a range of free therapies for people affected by breast cancer.

Acupuncture was recommended and she has had a course of treatments.

"I found it really helpful," she said. "I felt calm, I started to sleep better and I was less anxious.'

As well as the treatment, Jan also found talking to her therapist Rebecca Hunter – an acupuncturist and life coach – a great help.

"It's wonderful because you can start to talk about your feelings," Jan said. "I needed to get it out.'"

Jan turned to the Haven again when she finished treatment and now is thinking of taking up other therapies.

Angie de Haas thinks she was so fortunate to benefit from the Haven, which opened a month before she was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2008.

The 53-year-old underwent surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and this year had reconstructive surgery.

"It's just absolutely fantastic," the air stewardess said. "You come here and meet other ladies in the same position, you learn so much.

"I just feel so lucky that it opened. They have seen me through."

Angie has had hypnotherapy and acupuncture and more recently has undergone reflexology.

Her therapist Jean Marshall, who also does aromatherapy and reiki, was a nurse for 40 years before volunteering at the Haven.

"It's very welcoming and the women who come here are inspirational," she said.

Debra Horsman, programme manager at the Leeds Haven, is the first person visitors see as she talks to them and recommends therapies they may find useful.

There are individual and group sessions, as well as a programme of seminars providing more information on issues like healthy eating, beauty workshops and mini makeovers.

"We've had 786 visitors since we opened two years ago," she said. "We are here to support the medical world.'"

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