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NHS urge people to be clear on cancer symptoms

Leanne Pero was aged 30 when she was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in 2016. The now 35-year-old discovered a lump while away in Ibiza. She told Express Health: “In the days leading up to getting the results, I had convinced myself that it was nothing. So when I heard the words, ‘we’ve found cancer’ I was in shock.

“Then I went into a state of panic and anxiety.

“There is so much information to take in and it feels incredibly overwhelming. I had just a few days to handover my then 15-year business, defer a university place and cancel all commitments ahead of treatment starting.”

Leanne underwent eight rounds of chemotherapy after which scans could not find any cancer remaining.

She added: “But because of mum’s history and a higher chance of recurrence, the doctors recommended a double mastectomy.

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“I had reconstructive surgery immediately after the double mastectomy.”

Leanne was given the all clear on 29th June 2019 – but her cancer journey didn’t end here.

She explained: “We know that cancer referrals were down by 75 percent during the first lockdown, why is clomid less effective which meant 1000s of people were left undiagnosed causing a huge backlog. Cancer hasn’t disappeared since the pandemic started and the NHS is still open. Part of our message is to encourage people to go to their GP at the first sign of any symptoms which are unexplained. They must still do this now.

“We know first-hand that for some cancer patients, treatment has stopped & life-saving operations have been delayed which is why it is vitally important that people comply with the national lockdown & supports the roll out of the vaccine programme. Every life is just as important and the next and our hospitals need to be in a position to care for everyone.”

Looking to support others going through cancer, Leanne set up The Leanne Pero Foundation and Black Women Rising, organisations offering online support groups where you can meet and chat to likeminded people who know what you’re going through.

“I started running support groups, local to me in South East London, for black women going through cancer,” she said. “At the end of the first meeting, there was not a dry eye among us. Finally, we all had the opportunity to meet like-minded people who knew what we were going through.

“It quickly became clear that there were so many people who would benefit from what we had started, so I decided to found the charity.

“We created the UK’s first all-Black cancer portrait exhibition, expanded our support groups (which since the start of the pandemic, have moved online), launched a podcast series and most recently a magazine – the first of its kind (https://www.blackwomenrisinguk.org/magazine). Plus we have more exciting plans for 2021!”

The organisation’s mission is to educate, inspire and bring opportunities for women from the black, asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) community, and to connect people with one another, allowing them to share their stories without fear or shame.

Leanne continued: “I set up The Leanne Pero Foundation so that we had a charity umbrella for all of our projects. These include monthly support groups which are run by trained facilitators, pamper days, a podcast and most recently a magazine – all designed to allow people to engage with people on a similar journey to theirs. Whilst the pandemic has meant some of our plans have changed – we have continued to support people online in the best way we can.

“For those supporting others going through cancer check in with them regularly, by sending them messages that let them know you are thinking of them. If they’re up to it; calls, Facetimes, Zooms etc will help them feel less alone.

“Instead of asking ‘how are you?’ ask ‘what can I do to support you?’ because some people might not like the idea of reaching out for help unless prompted.

“Sending little treats and gifts is a lovely way to give those struggling a boost. As well as the usual flowers, cards, etc. consider sending a food shop, or (if safe to) drop round some meals that they can quickly reheat to provide a home cooked meal.”

Regular Leanne Pero Foundation programmes include:

  • An annual portrait exhibition
  • 4 online monthly support groups
  • A weekly podcast telling the untold cancer stories of the BAME Cancer community
  • Equality engagement training to brands and charities
  • Regular pamper packs/days/ events for our participants

For more information visit https://www.blackwomenrisinguk.org/.

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