Inspirational Ripon teacher uses sport to help others after cancer fight

A brave Ripon teacher has opened up about her battle with cancer and how it inspired her to help others.

Tuesday, 12th November 2019, 11:26 am
Updated Tuesday, 12th November 2019, 11:26 am
Helen Mackenzie started the Ripon City Netball Group to help others.

Match delay and 'chaos' as power cut leaves thousands of Harrogate Town and Portsmouth fans stuck outside stadiumHelen Mackenzie, 53, was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer ten years ago.

Following the diagnosis, she underwent a mastectomy and reconstruction surgery, then went through eight gruelling rounds of chemotherapy.

She said: “It was absolute hell. I’m convinced they take you as close to death as possible. I had to be sedated for some of the treatment because I just couldn’t face it.”

Despite being told that she might not make it to her next birthday, Helen was determined to stay strong for her family and daughters, Laura and Amy.

She threw herself into preparing for her children’s future, buying them 18th birthday presents just in case, but never giving up hope.

And it worked - Helen, a PE teacher at Ripon Grammar School, made it through the treatment.

She has now set up Ripon City Netball Club, as a way of using sport to help both herself and others.

She said: “I’ve always been interested in sport, I used to be a professional swimmer, but I loved the way netball was a team sport and brougt people together.

“After the chemotherapy I lost a lot of confidence - I lost my hair and my eyebrows. I had no eyelashes and my eyes poured all day long, with huge sores underneath. It’s all the things you never realise about cancer.

Brexit Party pulls out of Harrogate seat for General Election“I didn’t feel like myself and I needed something to give me my confidence back. I wanted others to feel good about themselves too.”

Helen started the netball club to be an inclusive space, opening the doors to women of all ages and abilities.

She also wanted to start something that she could do with her daughters.

“Lots of ladies come with their daughters and it’s a really positive thing. It’s great to spend time with your loved ones and keep active at the same time.

“You hear a lot about dads and lads, going to away days and sporting events. It’s nice to show that it’s not just men who can do that.”

The club has been extremely successful and now has 84 members and five teams who meet regularly.

And Helen has also been featured in the UK’s first Movers List which has been compiled by Lucozade Sport to recognise 50 individuals whose volunteering, charity work or dedication to sport and exercise has inspired local communities to move more.

She has said that although she has been through a very difficult time, she hopes that something good can come from it and that she can inspire others to check themselves.

Helen has raised money for Cancer Research UK, as well as giving talks in schools.

She added: "If I could get it, a young, fit PE teacher who did everything right, then it shows that it can happen to anyone. I think that encouraged other people to get checked and once you know what you're dealing with, it can be a lot easier to tackle.

"When you know your enemy you can plan your attack. Ignorance is bliss but knowledge is power."

The Ripon City Netball Club trains on a Wednesday night at 8pm at Ripon Grammar School. It is £5 per session.

The group is always on the lookout for new members and would like to encourage anyone interested to get involved. It has teams for all abilities and is a very welcoming environment.

Harrogate NHS charity's calendar launch showcases the best of the region's viewsTo find out more, contact Helen on 07896534539 or search for Ripon City Netball Club on Facebook.