Vicky Skeels faced a tough battle against lymphoma. And caring for her chickens and other animals helped her through.

Vicky Skeels’ chickens and other animals were a real comfort to her when she faced a battle with cancer.

Vicky, a school librarian from Cambridgeshire, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and had four months of chemotherapy and then radiotherapy.

That was two years ago, and Vicky has been free of the disease since then. “I don’t take things for granted, and there is little better than seeing and hearing all the chickens as well as the other animals and remembering how they helped me to get out of bed in the morning at the hardest time of my life,” she said.

“The hospital staff at Addenbrookes saved my life, but it’s not too much of a statement to say that it would have been a lot harder to keep positive without the chickens.”

Vicky and her husband Daniel live in Soham, between Ely and Newmarket. Their home is a modern farmhouse with a very large garden. This was totally overgrown when she moved in, so her father suggested chickens to help clear the area. A devoted pet lover, this has expanded and she now has about 50 birds. These are joined by dogs, cats, horses, parrots, fish, geese, ducks, a tortoise and a few sheep!

After Vicky’s cancer diagnosis, she was constantly tired. “Although Daniel and family gave me so much help and support, I felt that I needed to fight and do as much as I could. There were mood swings, and, although I am generally a positive person, the treatment took its toll and I found it hard to even get out

of bed.

“Anyone who has gone through this sort of treatment can understand that feeling, so it was the chickens and other animals that forced me to get up in the morning. Having to feed the animals and collect the eggs as well as their general care was what helped me through that time. Living in a rural area with fields all around means they have to be put in at night to protect from foxes and, of course, let them out in the morning.”

“Keeping chickens can be a bit addictive, and I am sure we will get more in the future, but I also like having quite a mix, so have Pekins, Sebrights and hybrids, amongst others. With about 20 eggs a day, there are always some to sell at work, and the family have some too.”

Daniel’s daughter Emily, 8, visits every other weekend. “She loves the chickens probably more than any of the other animals,” said Vicky. “She always helps with their care and collecting the eggs. We think it’s important that children know where their food comes from and how naturally raised food is healthier. It’s also important that children know how to care for animals so they are healthy, and at the other end of life, when they die.”

Among Vicky’s many animals are some geese, which are a great warning, both for people and foxes approaching. “Since we have had them we haven’t had any trouble with foxes. Most of the animals seem to get on reasonably well together, or at least tolerate each other.”

The animals are a big commitment, of course, so holidays have to be carefully managed. Vicky said: “Daniel and I love to scuba dive. That’s our main passion. We are both Padi Advanced divers, which is great, and we do have family and friends that we trust with the animals when we are able to go away.. but that isn’t often.”

Vicky is just grateful to be clear of lymphoma. “Cancer is a disease that affects so many people, not only the sufferers but also their family and friends. I am in remission, so one of the lucky ones, but I think the fighting spirit and the reason to get up and get the daily things done in life helps to keep things as normal as possible. I know I keep saying it, but the chickens gave me a reason to get up in the morning.”

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