IN June last year, florist Kerry O’Brien received the news everyone fears. She was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Having gone through treatment – including a mastectomy and spending a Christmas in hospital with Covid during her chemotherapy – Kerry, who runs Penn Hill Flowers, is now determined to help a charity that supports people in the same position.
The 58-year-old has decided to fundraise for The Dorset Cancer Care Foundation (DCCF), which gives financial assistance to patients facing hardship through their treatment.
The mother-of-three said: “It was a weekend, and I was relaxing after having just started a daily walking fundraiser campaign for Breast Cancer Care.
“I felt an itch on my breast and when I scratched it, I felt a tiny lump under the skin that I had never noticed before.
“I showed it to my eldest daughter, and she told me to call the doctor and make an appointment, which I did on the Monday.
“On the Tuesday the doctor sent for me a biopsy and on the Thursday, I was told the lump I had felt wasn’t cancerous – but that there were several larger tumours around it that were.
“I had had absolutely no idea. I just thought it was fatty tissue – part of getting older. But it was Grade 3, and serious.”
Kerry underwent a full mastectomy of her left breast on July 31, by which time she learned the non-cancerous tumour had also become malignant.
“All I could think then was just how lucky I had been to find that tiny lump,” she said. “I started chemo in September but then I caught Covid and was in hospital for Christmas.
“I was on 50 tablets a day and I looked terrible! But I was out again by New Year and started radiotherapy soon after.
“Throughout this time my business only survived thanks to my amazing staff members Laura Lann and Lucy Hannay.
“Without them it would have undoubtedly had to close. They just got on with it all so Paul and our three children could support me throughout.”
Kerry said she was aware of the work of the DCCF, having met co-founder Eve Went through the shop.
“The charity steps in and helps cancer patients and their families who are struggling financially and this really struck a chord with me,” she went on.
“I was so lucky to have had Laura and Lucy to keep the business going. But for the grace of God, my family could so easily have lost our livelihood.”
The DCCF gives financial assistance to cancer patients, many of whom are facing extreme hardship. Non-repayable grants can meet the cost of accommodation and bills, specialist equipment, childcare and counselling.
“When my treatment ended in April, I donated floral table decorations for the DCCF’s Black Tie fundraiser at the Pavilion,” Kerry said.
“But I wanted to do more, and so during the coming year I have decided to create a different bouquet for each season with £5 from each one sold going to the charity.
“I’m also going to do a huge raffle and try to raise as much money as possible.”
Kerry recently attended The DCCF’s monthly Coffee Morning, which in October was held at Rick Stein Sandbanks.
“I met so many wonderful people who have also been through cancer and now support the charity. It feels great to be involved,” she said.
“I am alive and about to become a grandmother for the first time. I am just so thankful to be here and now I want to help other families where I live by doing what I do best.”
Charity co-founder Eve said: “Kerry’s flowers are exquisite and not only provided amazing centrepieces at our recent fundraiser, they were also auctioned off to raise further funds.
“We are thrilled she and her lovely family and her customers will be supporting us and hope other local businesses will consider helping Dorset families struggling with cancer through their own fundraising or sponsorship in 2024.”
Details of Penn Hill Flowers’ seasonal bouquet, which is raising funds for The DCCF, can be found at www.pennhillflowers.co.uk.
And for more information on how to support The DCCF, or to request financial help from the charity, visit www.dccf.co.uk.