'My Cancer was aggressive and I was aggressive towards my Cancer'
A big Thank You to Collete Harte for sharing her cancer story and life beyond with Anne Roche. Anne is a co-founder of Roches and has fitted 1000’s of clients’ wigs over the past 20+ years. Her focus is now on education and supporting people with psychological tools and strategies to get well and stay well.
Colette Harte talks to Anne about her cancer and life Five years on
I first met Colette when she came to Roches in search of a wig for impending hair loss due to her cancer diagnosis. Five years on, she is healthy, happy and passionate about the work she now does in her wellness business, Harte and Soul Wellness.
We chatted about her treatment, losing her hair and all the things she did alongside her chemo and radiotherapy to get well again. From intermittent fasting to power walking to her treatment, Colette is honest and inspiring. We hope you enjoy her story.
How did you discover the lump and what treatment did you have?
Colette was washing herself in the shower when she discovered a lump, which following tests transpired to be Triple Negative Breast Cancer, Stage 1.
Treatment consisted of 6 months of chemotherapy and 4 weeks of radiotherapy, but Colette did not leave it at that. “My Cancer was aggressive and I was aggressive towards my Cancer”, so what exactly did she do to support her recovery?
Here is what Colette added to her treatment plan to support herself getting well again.
Surrounded herself with positive people
Her number one was staying away from negative people and surrounding herself with positive people. While she did cry for about a week after diagnosis, she began to notice that people who were negative and offering condolences and pity about her treatment and her cancer did not make her feel good.
Her focus was on getting well, so she decided to surround herself with positive people “like my husband and like you guys in Roches”. According to Collete, “I didn’t expect to be laughing getting my wig or my head shaved! Positivity and laughter are so important.”
We agree and do our best to make the whole process as easy and helpful as possible.
Prioritising Self Care
Second on the list was prioritising self care by asking people who were sick with colds or flu to stay away. Colette didn’t want to catch a cold that would knock her treatment back. Colette chose not to work during treatment so she could focus on getting well and was fortunate that she was paid while on leave.
Intermittent Fasting during Cancer Treatment
A friend had suggested fasting and had sent Colette research on cancer and fasting. Research suggests fasting can boost the effectiveness of chemo and minimise the side effects.
Colette ignored it at first and then decided to give it a read. Once Colette read the research, she wanted to know more so read everything she could find, which convinced her to adopt an intermittent fasting protocol during her treatment.
It was so effective for Colette that it has become part of life now, doing regular 1-3 day fasts and intermittent fasting every day, usually eating her first meal at midday.
When you see pictures of Colette now, radiant and glowing, in yoga poses, lifting weights or biking up hills, with her hubby Alan, it’s hard to deny she must be doing something right. Check our Colette’s Instagram page Harte and Soul Wellness.
What was Colette’s Fasting Protocol Before each Chemo Session?
Colette fasted from lunchtime, the day before her Chemo and would not eat until after her treatment was finished. So about 24 hours in total.
Thankfully, Colette sailed through her treatment with little or no side effects and no interruptions. The only time Colette did feel unwell following her chemo, was the one time she ate porridge for breakfast on the morning of her treatment.
With a bit of research on her part, Colette found that fasting was working for her!
Colette always had a support person with her at each treatment. “I felt so much love during my treatment, so many people wanted to support me, my colleagues, friends, family”. Colette joked how her husband had to wait till her last treatment to accompany her as there was always someone ahead of him.
Colette did join some Cancer Support Groups and Forums but they were not for her. Colette found them to “be such a negative space… with a real blame culture.”
Colette believes “what we think affects our lives”, so Colette created her plan own and support system. I couldn’t agree more.
Here at Roches, are on the same page as Colette, we have workshops and programmes to support and empower you. If you are interested in joining a support group that educates and empowers you with strategies, tools and techniques, so you play a key part in your health and recovery, please contact Anne at Roches.
Exercise: Colette walked to all her treatments!
Colette has always enjoyed exercise. Colette wasn’t sure if she would be able to exercise during treatment, but soon realised she could walk, and then realised she could walk fast.
Daily power walks became Colette’s time for herself, which really helped her thinking and her mental well-being, as well as her physical health. As Colette said, “If the head goes, it’s very hard to come back from that.” So energised and motivated by her daily power walking, Colette ended up walking into all her treatments in the Mater Hospital from Ayrfield – a mere 10km!
What a powerful way to prepare your body and your mind for chemo!
Since Colette wasn’t spending money going out during treatment, she started to treat herself to holistic treatments to relax her mind and help her body heal.
As many do, Colette experienced being turned away for a massage because she had cancer and was on active treatment. Luckily she knew the business owner and had a chat with them, they were able to advise the therapist that it is ok to give a person a gentle massage during treatment. It was once tought that massaging the body can move cancer cells around the body, however, this is not the case at all.
Learned to manage stress
“I was a stress bunny, I am not anymore because I have really worked on it and I have taken myself out of situations where I do or did get stressed… It took me a while to learn. I used to be really healthy before I got sick. People will often say, well you mustn’t have been that healthy if you got sick, but it was all wrong the way I viewed it, because I was getting stressed over… I have to have my smoothie, I have to be growing my veg… I was probably made up of full cortisol (stress hormone) and then a stressful job, and I’m a bit of a perfectionist. So now I just go, have the bar of chocolate because it makes me happy. If that bar of chocolate is going to make you freak out, then don’t have it…”
We’ve all been there, and appreciate Collete’s honesty. Sounds like Colette has found flexibility and balance in her approach to healthy living following her experience with cancer.
“From having to do it all and do it right”, Colette notes, that she has learned “to let go and let it be… especially when it comes to Spirulina! Nothing against Spirulina, but it is definitely not me”, Colette chuckles.
Cold showers every day
Saving the cold for last, this brave lady never misses her daily cold shower now. I think following the surge in sea swimming during COVID-19, we’ve all heard about the benefits of hot and cold therapy for our health, both mental and physical. Not only does it reduce stress, and boost weight loss, but it also improves our mood and boosts our all important immune system.
"Has your life changed since you had cancer?"
360 degree Career Change
“100%’, Colette replied. Along with all the changes above, which she has mostly continued after treatment. Colette moved from the corporate world to the holistic world, setting up her yoga, fitness and reflexology business, which she is passionate about – Harte and Soul Wellness.
Fitness Classes Online
Colette runs HIIT fitness and weight training classes online at 7.15-7.45 am Monday-Friday. As Colette says, “I am passionate about weight training, especially for women, during menopause, perimenopause and post treatment too.”
Anne plans to join when her broken wrist heals! Why not join her?
Yoga – “Just because you have cancer doesn’t mean you can’t do yoga.”
Colette also runs Yoga classes all over North Dublin, including chair yoga. According to Colette, “Yoga is for everyone, I am passionate about the movement, but I am even more passionate about the breath. Breathwork, breathwork, breathwork. Most of us don’t breathe properly. The physical benefits to the body of the breath are huge. Unfortunately, a lot of yoga focuses on asanas and poses. I do the breathwork, I do the poses, I do the meditation. I don’t forget about any age group. Every age profile and no matter what you are going through, you can do yoga. Just because you have cancer doesn’t mean you can’t do yoga – you don’t have to have that perfect headstand seen all over Instagram, where one leg is going this way and one leg is going that way. It can alienate people and they feel, I will never be able to do that.”
Colette has trained in Yoga and Cancer and plans to run yoga classes for patients and their families. If that is something you are interested in, be sure to get in touch.
Colette emphasises, “you can’t lose sight of the fact that it’s not just you going through the cancer treatment, your family members need help too… for your husband, partner, even a child just to be able to talk about what they are going through.”
Colette discovered reflexology as a 15 year old when her mum had cancer. Reflexology was the only thing her mother could tolerate. Now, Colette offers Reflexology from her home and for elderly and sick people in Care Homes. But Colette is more than all this.
As Colette says, “you have to look holistically at your body, your life. I didn’t want to be just yoga or just fitness because that is not what I’m about. What other healthy habits can I adopt, and share with others? Lots of these healthy things are free, like fasting, cold showers, walking… and then, spend your money on treatments”, Colette recommends.
We wholeheartedly agree! Get moving in nature, use your breath, journal, meditate, whatever brings you joy and peace of mind. Then treat yourself to some relaxing and rejuvenating mind-body holistic treatments
Reflecting on the Cancer Journey, what did you find most difficult?
‘Losing my hair was the hardest part’
“Losing my hair was the hardest part. What am I going to look like with no hair? I don’t have great hair, but I love my hair. Hair is such a huge part of our femininity. I was so definite on getting a wig”.
Colette has her wig fitted by the brilliant Patricia who is 13 years with Roches, loved by clients and the team!
Colette looked amazing in her wig. So many clients fear losing their hair. Thankfully, wigs are so good now, as are the Grants available, that it really is possible to move from your own hair to a wig without anyone even noticing.
We do love your feedback
Colette had some lovely things to say about Patricia and Roches in general.
Colette described Roches as “just kindness and softness”.
According to Colette, “Roches was a big part for me. I did go to other places. It felt like my hair loss was just a sale. You have to get that feeling. Just that compassionate way to deal with me. I remember when I got my head shaved. Waking up after my second chemo and finding hair on my pillow, I made the appointment, came in and got it shaved and it was fun.”
When my treatment finished! “People say “you’re grand now”, and you feel, ugh.. what just happened?
Colette reflects, “as a patient, you’re wrapped in a blanket while you are going through it. The going through isn’t the hardest part, it’s after, when people will say ‘you’re grand now’, and you feel ughh, what just happened? The holistic treatments after, for me, are as important, and that’s something that I keep up to this day.”
The Marie Keating Foundation created Survive and Thrive for this very reason. It helps men and women who have finished cancer treatment to adapt to the ‘new normal’. We’ve had the pleasure of working with the Marie Keating Foundation on many occasions and this programme. You might find it useful.
Colette reflects, “It’s hard to pick up your life after cancer and there is still not a day I don’t think about it. I will always think about it, it’s a part of me, but I just tip the balance. I just make sure I think about the other stuff far more.”
“I don’t want my cancer to ever define me, but I want to own it as well, I went through it, I got through it, everything I did helped, definitely helped, the people I met helped. Roches was a big part for me.”
Final Words to those starting out
- Listen to your body, your body is your best instructor. Listen to your body and you will adapt.
- There are so many learnings from the journey and you can help others too.
- Do everything in your power to help yourself.
Thank you for reading Colette’s story. At Roches, we feel honoured to have been a part of Colette’s story, providing support during a vulnerable moment. If this resonates with your own experiences or if you’d like to contribute your insights on navigating the challenges of cancer, we would love for you to get in touch. Your strength and wisdom can be a source of encouragement for others on a similar path.