WHEN artist Wendy Forrest-Charde was diagnosed with breast cancer, she turned to her paintbrush.

“I had to be faithful to my soul as an artist,” says the 62-year-old from Romsey.

“I thought ‘I will paint my way through this’.”

Wendy had found a lump in her breast while on holiday with her children, celebrating her 60th birthday.

When she came back home she went to the doctor about a problem with her foot, and mentioned the lump in passing. She was sent for a scan the following day, and was given the devastating diagnosis that she had cancer, in September 2016.

She had surgery the following month and then more in the December, when it was discovered that some cancerous tissue had been left behind.

Her medication left her extremely fatigued, unable to continue with the three art classes and four exercise classes that she had been running up to that point.

She set up a studio in her living room and began to paint her feelings.

“I painted myself sitting on a chair, hoping it would all go away,” she says.

“Then I realised I had to write about my feelings under each picture.

Under that first painting, The Vortex, she wrote ‘Feeling like I have to sit and stay calm whilst the process goes on a hectic spiral.’

Her next painting was The Bubble, showing herself at the centre of a bubble, surrounded by the words ‘Why Me? Why not me? Realisation to courage, depression to anger, denial to acceptance.’

Wendy’s former art students visited her and encouraged her to continue painting.

“One said ‘why not paint your way through your angst,’” she remembers.

“By the sixth painting, I realised that I would be worth hanging them in an exhibition. I had some framed and people would come to see me and to see how the work was developing.

“I knew I would need a final painting for the series. When I was about halfway through, I planned to paint a sailing boat heading into the sunset, but when the time came, that wasn’t how I felt. I realised that you can’t tell the end halfway through. That’s been a lesson for me.”

Wendy’s exhibition, which features painting and sculpture, has been shown at Southampton General Hospital, and will be at Wessex Cancer Trust’s Chandler’s Ford Support Centre on February 15 and 16.

The collection is moving and thought-provoking, charting her personal experience of diagnosis, treatment and recovery.

Alongside the exhibition is a booklet that Wendy has produced, entitled Making the Breast of It, a visual journey through breast cancer.

This allows Wendy to delve deeper into her emotions, thoughts, and the impact of her experiences.

As Wendy has begun to recover, her attention has turned increasingly to matters not of life and death but of how she lives.

Wendy had expected to be able to retire and collect her state pension at 60, but is one millions of women in the UK who have been affected by the increase in the state pension for women, and now expects to be able to collect it when she is 66 and a half.

With ongoing treatment which leaves her fatigued, she cannot work as she did before her diagnosis, and now has just one art class and two private students.

“At 62, I had expected to have my pension,” she says.

“First I received a letter to say that I wouldn’t get it until I was 63. Then I had another to say it would be when I am 66 and a half.

“I can’t go back to work fulltime. I am going to have to sell my house and move somewhere smaller, because I can’t afford to stay there anymore. I feel pretty grim about it because my family have kids and I would like to be able to have them to stay with me.”

Wendy has become involved with Solent WASPI – women against state pension increase.

“The government says the change to pensions is about equality but when I started work, the deal was that a man looked after you,” says Wendy.

“There has been a huge change since then, and that’s great, but a lot of women didn’t have occupational pensions as it wasn’t seen as necessary. A lot of women have also paid less towards a pension, having spent their working lives being paid less than men. Women took a job in the local shop and looked after the kids. We’re not asking for the state pension age to be returned to 60, we’re asking for better transitional arrangements.”

Wendy feels that having suffered breast cancer and had her pension age increased, she has been dealt a difficult double blow.

The only silver lining has been the friendship and support that she has found in the WASPI community.

In fact, she says that she kindness she has received from a range of people in her life has been incredible.

One of her pictures is entitled Painting The Kindness and she has captioned it ‘The kindness has fallen like warm rain.’

“In a world of busy people, the kindness has been profound,” she says.

“I have learnt that everyone is going through something, and that kindness towards me has been keeping me upbeat.”

l Wendy’s exhibition will be at Wessex Cancer Trust’s Chandlers Ford Support Centre on February 15 and 16, open 10am-4pm. Wendy will be there to discuss her artwork. Entrance parking are free. Tea and cake will be available. Any donations will go directly to providing practical and emotional support to local people living with cancer.