Emerging from the Haze: living life beyond breast cancer

Tabitha, 31, received "game changing" support from The Royal Marsden's Emerging from the Haze programme after experiencing cognitive impairment following breast cancer treatment.

In October 2021, aged just 29, Tabitha was diagnosed with hormone positive breast cancer. She underwent a lumpectomy, followed by radiotherapy and hormonal therapy.

Triggered by the hormonal therapy, Tabitha went into early temporary menopause. She struggled with her emotions and experienced 'brain fog'. Thankfully, in 2022, she was referred to the Emerging from the Haze programme to help with her cognitive impairment. The programme is supported by funding from The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity.

Tabitha smiling, wearing purple hoodie and standing in front of a lake

“I was 29 and, the day before I started my dream job, I saw a post on Instagram saying how important it is to regularly check your breasts for lumps. So I decided to check myself. I didn’t think there would be anything – I just wanted to work out what my breasts normally felt like.”  


“I found a small lump on my left breast. It felt a bit like a piece of chewing gum. As I was starting my job the next day, I decided to wait a couple of weeks. I thought it might be a gland, or linked to hormones, and hoped it might go down.” 

“Unfortunately, a couple of weeks passed and it didn’t go. I rang the doctor on a Monday and was seen the next day. They referred me to the Rapid Diagnostic and Assessment Centre at The Royal Marsden. I got a letter through the post that Friday which was phenomenal really, it was so quick.” 

Treatment at The Royal Marsden

“At The Royal Marsden I had an ultrasound scan and a biopsy. I didn’t want to leave any stone unturned. Having grown up with doctors in the family, I know it's important to be thorough."

Headshot of Tabitha lying on hospital bed, smiling.

“I came back a week later to get my biopsy results and they confirmed it was hormone positive breast cancer."

"Everyone handles the diagnosis in their own way, but I've never felt aggressive towards my cancer. I always felt like this is still my body and the cancer is part of it."

"For me, the prognosis was good – I needed a lumpectomy and my lymph nodes taken out, radiotherapy, then the hormonal treatment.”

“I was also asked about preserving my fertility. I wasn’t thinking about having children anytime soon, so I was given the option of having my eggs frozen before the surgery and treatment. So I went down that path!” 

“My procedures went very well but when I started taking the tamoxifen, I entered into the minefield of hormonal treatment. I experienced brain fog and extreme fatigue. There is an element of maintaining brain health that perhaps is overlooked by those not in the know about cancer or hormonal treatment. It’s not just chemo-brain.”

Emerging from the Haze

In 2022, Tabitha was referred to the Emerging from the Haze programme, which is supported by funding from The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity. Emerging from the Haze is an online, six-week programme led by therapists at The Royal Marsden to provide tools and strategies for people experiencing cancer related cognitive impairment CRCI), also known as ‘chemo brain’.

The Royal Marsden is the first UK hospital to provide this service.

“The programme offered practical solutions, but also helped me feel less alone. The tips and the coping strategies were game changing. To have someone sit down with me and go through all the areas of my life that I could manage for the better was enlightening.”

One of the tips was to do something new, because that helps with building different neural pathways.

“One of the tips was to do something new, because that helps with building different neural pathways, aka your neural plasticity. I play the piano but I found that when I was playing pieces I knew really well previously, I struggled and was getting really frustrated. So instead, I tried playing new pieces that I didn't know – learning and sight reading – to see what difference it made. I literally felt my brain clearing. Just thinking differently about playing the piano really helped!” 

Tabitha standing in front of a sunset, looking up at the sky, wearing a purple jacket

“I would also do some movement stretches, mindfulness and try and get outside for a walk. These are all small things that felt totally manageable."

"You just have to tune in to taking your brain health seriously. Often I didn’t need an afternoon off, just a 15-20 minute lie down, eyes closed and that would de-fog (not a nap, I’m useless at napping!)”

"It’s not ‘brain health’ as in 'mental health', although that is part of it. It’s brain health as in literally looking at how your brain is operating, being used, being stimulated, and learning how to manage your energy levels and activity, in accordance with that. For example, it may be cutting off a phone call when you feel your brain not absorbing information anymore ('really sorry mum, my brain is done. Speak later, bye!')”

Rehabilitation from cancer treatment

“I describe it as rehabilitation from cancer treatment. It’s not relearning things – but new ways of doing things so that you can accommodate what your body's been through. For example, to bike and bus to work outside of peak hours, rather than battle through a packed tube or train.”

Tabitha crouching down on the beach and smiling

“I tell everybody about Emerging from the Haze, because it is about living your life beyond cancer and cancer treatment. There are huge learnings about brain health and how to manage ongoing symptoms.” 

“The Royal Marsden is a very special place. I’ve had some amazing conversations with nurses going above and beyond with their kindness and thoughtfulness."

"There's a reason it's hard to move on from there because it feels so safe. I’m so grateful!” 

Help us support more people like Tabitha

Emerging from the Haze provides support for patients like Tabitha who are experiencing cognitive impairment. This programme is supported by funding from The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity. 

Donate today to help us continue to provide world-leading patient care at The Royal Marsden.

Read more inspiring stories on our blog!