When Vicky Dennis was diagnosed with an aggressive breast cancer and underwent chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy her life was turned upside down.
Everything she had taken for granted - her health, her mental and physical wellbeing – crumbled. Just walking was excruciatingly painful and the impact of the cancer and its life-saving treatment left her physically exhausted and with limited use of her arm due to scar tissue and lymphedema.
Having lost all her hair and unable to return to her career as a Detective Chief Inspector, the once active 47-year-old was at an all-time low.
An advert for walking netball at a local sports centre was the lifeline she needed. Despite her obvious concerns, Vicky contacted the netball group and went along to her first session.
Almost a year on and Vicky feels like her old self, the woman she was before cancer. Her fitness levels have improved and she has regained her confidence.
Inspired by the positive impact sport has had on her recovery, Vicky has now trained to become a walking netball host as part of Eastleigh Borough Council’s This Girl Can Eastleigh campaign. She hopes to encourage other people going through a similar experience to take that first step towards a new chapter in their life.
Speaking about her experience, Vicky says:
“When I was diagnosed with breast cancer it was a complete shock. I’d gone to work in the morning; I left in the afternoon to go to my hospital appointment and never went back. My whole world was turned upside down.
“I was so ill through my chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy; I couldn’t do anything. Some days I was even struggling to walk - it impacted on me that much. It was exhausting.
“The way I was feeling I knew high impact sport was not an option. I had always loved netball and it just so happened that I was flicking though our local parish magazine when I saw an ad for walking netball sessions - which I hadn’t even heard of before.
“I rang up the netball development officer to say ‘look, I’m not really sure if this is for me; I’ve done no exercise for a long time; I’m recovering from cancer; I have a frozen shoulder and lymphedema in my arm. Can I even turn up or is it just going to be impossible?’ The coach was really encouraging. When I turned up to the session everyone instantly welcomed me. When I put on the bib and started to play I just remember for the first time in 18 months I really felt alive. I felt like me again. I wasn’t this survivor of cancer. I was Vicky!”
“Since then I’ve got so much stronger both physically and mentally. What’s particularly good is the more exercise I do the less my side effects are. My overall movement has increased and I feel so much happier.
“I would encourage anyone out there who maybe is going through a similar experience to not dismiss the idea of getting involved in a sport or activity. It can be a daunting prospect but there is an activity for somebody at any level or sport or injury that you can do.
“The most important thing is that you’ll never reach your potential unless you move out of your comfort zone to see what you can do. The confidence in doing something new is amazing.”
Eastleigh Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for Health and Wellbeing Cllr Tonia Craig said:
“Eastleigh Borough Council’s SportWorks programme is about enabling a healthy and active lifestyle for all, regardless of someone’s ability or background. Vicky’s story demonstrates the power that sport can have not only on an individual’s physical health, but also their mental health and overall wellbeing. We hope her journey inspires residents living with a long-term medical condition that leading an active lifestyle can be possible and really rewarding.”
As part of Eastleigh Borough Council’s This Girl Can Eastleigh programme, Vicky will host a new Walking Netball session, which run every Tuesday, at Wildern Leisure Centre in Hedge End from 8pm to 9pm. The sessions are being supported by Eastleigh Borough Council and are £4 pay as you go.
This Girl Can Eastleigh builds on Eastleigh Borough Council’s Eastleigh Activation Programme (also known as HealthWorks and/or SportWorks), an ongoing physical activity project that aims to get more adults in the area leading a healthy active lifestyle.