A Lindfield mum who battled breast cancer has praised the Macmillan Horizon Centre in Brighton as the centre celebrates its second birthday.
Mum-of-two Jo Gale-Smith, 48, was diagnosed with breast cancer in June last year.
She was put on a gruelling three-month programme of weekly chemo treatments at the Sussex Cancer Centre in Brighton.
After chemo she would go over the road to the Macmillan Horizon Centre to recover.
The centre offers support so people affected by cancer can still live their life.
She said: “Walking into the centre is like coming into a home. There are people looking out for you and décor is lovely.
“Coming from chemo into the centre I appreciated the comfort of the lighting and textures, which helped me to relax.
“It feels like a safe space. Having lunch in the sunshine after treatment made me feel peace and calm. You can come to the centre and just be.”
Jo underwent a double mastectomy. She became depressed and struggled with feelings of guilt about potentially passing on the BRCA gene to her daughters.
She found she had the gene – which normally acts to restrain the growth of cells in the breast but which, when mutated, predisposes to breast cancer – when she received treatment at the Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath.
She started a six-week HOPE (Helping overcome problems effectively) course at the Horizon Centre, where she was able to build close relationships with others in a similar situation.
“The course was brilliant and made us look at what we had to be grateful for, as well as acknowledge and accept how we felt,” said Jo.
“We all hit it off right from the start and I set up a group chat just for us on social media.
“We meet regularly for a catch up that most times involves reflection, much laughter and the odd tear.”
In April this year, Jo had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed and she was given the all clear from cancer.
She is now working to launch her new gardening business, after leaving a career in education.
She said: “I am alive, I feel great and I want to make a difference in this world.”
In the two years since the Horizon Centre opened its doors, hundreds of people living with cancer in Sussex have been helped to cope with the financial, physical, practical and emotional impact of cancer.
In its second year, 120 volunteers have donated 12,500 hours of their time to offer free services such as massage, counselling, complementary therapies and physical activity classes likes yoga and pilates.
Geoff Brown, centre manager, said: “It is thanks to our wonderful volunteers and tireless fundraisers such as Driftwood Gardens, the Brighton and Hove Committee, Sara Cutting and Della Lamdan that the centre can offer this kind of support to people like Jo who are living with cancer.
“As we move into our third year, and the number of people in Sussex likely to get a cancer diagnosis rises, we need to raise even more money and recruit more volunteers, to continue making a difference to people’s lives.”