Antonia Ffitch-Moye, 51, had to wait an agonising four months for surgery after being diagnosed with breast cancer in October last year due to the serious risk posed by covid on her existing health conditions.
To cope with the trauma, the mum of three from Eastville locked her feelings away, refusing to cry and kept the news from wider family and friends, to remain strong for her three children and partner who had already lost his mum and sister to cancer.
It wasn’t until she signed up for the Macmillan Spirit and Soul Equine Therapy Service that she has been able to confront these feelings and begin to recover from the experience.
The service is thought to be the first of its kind in the country and uses horses to provide emotional support to people affected by cancer.
It is based at the ‘No Reins’ equine therapy centre in Nettleham, and is already transforming life for those who
find it difficult to talk about their feelings in a more traditional therapy room setting.
Antonia said: “I’m not one for sitting and talking about my feelings with a box of tissues to a complete stranger, but I can talk to a horse.
"Being around the horses helped me to look at my own feelings.
"This has been a hard journey. I hadn’t realised how much it had affected me.
"I was being strong for my partner. I never broke down in tears. But since having the sessions with Lucy I’ve recognised that that it’s okay to cry, to scream, to be silent.
"It is okay to ask ‘why me’ and not get an answer and worry about it coming back. It has given me so much strength.”
Antonia had to give up riding horses when she became wheelchair-bound due to other health conditions, but the sessions with Macmillan have now inspired her to work with horses again on the ground.
Antonia said: “There is a spirituality about it. Although the horse was just standing there, the reactions I got from the horse were incredible.
"I lost a child when he was six months old and when I was talking about that time, the horse Echo - my therapist - stepped back and Lucy said she’s giving you the space to let it all out.
"There was a real connection there, I could almost hear the horse saying ‘it’s okay, it’s okay’.”
Horses are prey animals by nature so pick up on emotions and body language easily and reflect those, helping people to regulate their emotions and understand more about how they’re feeling.
Antonia said: “It was hard finishing treatment. When I had my follow up call with the oncologist after the radiotherapy and he said I would be going back into community care,
"I felt dismissed, like I was in the headmasters office and I’d been told to go. I just thought, I’m on my own now then.
"It was around that time that I saw the Facebook post about the Macmillan Equine Therapy service. It was like divine intervention.”
The service helps to build the confidence of people going through cancer treatment.
Participants take part in structured therapeutic activities with the horses and spend time learning horsemanship skills and doing reflection exercises incorporating the horses over the course of four sessions.
Lucy Curtis, owner of ‘No Reins’, is running the Macmillan Spirit and Soul Equine Therapy sessions from her centre in Nettleham.
She said: “The transformation in Antonia has been incredible and really demonstrates the healing power of animals.
"Many people affected by cancer find it hard to talk about the emotional burden a diagnosis can bring in a traditional therapy room setting, so this service helps people to confront those feelings and improve their emotional wellbeing.”