Coral coaches the best out of cancer sufferers

For the last 15 years badminton coach Coral Warren has provided support to dozens of women with cancer.Emma Lee meets her and finds out more about her inspirational work.

A group of women is chatting over coffee. They are of all ages and from all walks of life. They have a common bond: they've all had cancer.

But it's an uplifting scene – there are smiles and laughter.

And it's thanks to Coral Warren that they are able to meet up once a week to play sport, share their experiences and provide support to each other.

Coral, 73, from Wymondham is an inspiration.

A professional badminton coach, she herself was diagnosed with cancer in 1988. After returning to her job at Norwich Sport Village, she was approached to ask if she could help a woman who loved to play badminton but whose movement was limited after breast cancer surgery.

Most Read

'Someone was put in touch with me who had had breast cancer and thought she would never be able to play again,' said Coral.

'I took her on to the court and said 'I will prove to you you can play again'. I literally only spent 10 minutes showing her how to adjust her grip and she said 'I will remember this day for the rest of my life'.

'I went back in to the office and mentioned to the swimming teacher how she had had a marvellous experience and I felt I could help many other people like her and I asked her if she could devise movements in the pool to help people.'

The seeds of what was to become the Sport Action for Women After Cancer group were sewn.

'It started in May 1995, several years after my cancer. We celebrated our 15 years in October with some of the original members of the group who came back to meet some of the newer members,' said Coral.

The group now meets once a week at the Sportspark on the University of East Anglia campus.

Exercise can be beneficial in so many different ways – it can help with rehabilitation and can promote feelings of wellbeing.

'I think it makes the women feel they are going something to help themselves get better,' said Coral. 'And they get support within the group as they all share the same concerns – although you will find there's hardly any conversation about cancer. There's a lot of chat and laughter.'

As well as playing badminton the women can do yoga, which was introduced as it can be beneficial to people who have limited movement, and an aqua-cise class.

'A lady who was then 76 wanted to join the group and was very immobile but very determined to play. Because she was so fragile I decided to introduce yoga,' Coral said.

'The people who come to yoga are in the middle of their treatment or who have just been diagnosed and are feeling vulnerable and fragile.'

There's a group of regulars – one member joined when she was 67 and has just celebrated her 80th birthday – and some women go to the group for support and companionship even if they can't participate in the activities.

'Some people are not able to take part, for some people their cancer has come back and one lady has developed osteoperosis – but they come here to talk to their friends.'

The group gets some financial support, but members do have to raise money themselves. Coral is also looking in to the possibility of setting up a similar group for men with cancer.

'We are self-financing here. We are always looking for donations. The Sportspark has been absolutely fantastic – they have had us here and they keep the prices as low as they can,' Coral said.

Talking to the members of the group it's clear they are truly grateful to Coral for offering them support when they needed it most.

Judy Barham has been coming to Coral's sessions for eight years.

'I started when I was on chemotherapy. Coral remembers I arrived with my hat on, but I got far too hot so the hat came off. It was brilliant because everyone understood,' she remembered.

Judy said that she found the company inspiring – and that being able to participate in gentle sporting activities was beneficial to both her physical and mental wellbeing.

'When you are first diagnosed it's quite shocking – it's a bolt out of the blue,' she said. 'Seeing these fit, active ladies is inspiring – you think 'I'm going to pick myself up and get on with it'.

'I had played a bit of badminton before and I'd always been active, so to get up and do something active was so important. I had been working full-time until then and then suddenly you're off work and at home getting bored – you've got to get out and do things.

'The group is very supportive. I've just been diagnosed with cancer again and they came to visit me in hospital. Coral keeps everybody informed, she's wonderful. I'm determined to be back playing badminton,' she said.

Elaine Harrison agreed.

'I think it's just great to come and do some exercise. Everybody has been through the same thing. It's very relaxing. It's so supportive. And it's not that you talk about cancer all the time,' she said.

Yoga teacher Jan Lacey has had breast cancer herself and had attended Coral's group. She says that the teaching makes her feel like she's giving something back.

'I really enjoy it,' she said. 'I've been teaching for about 15 years on and off and it's nice to teach this group – everybody has been through similar things.

'Yoga is different to other exercises. It works your mind and helps you to calm down. It's very good for helping with stress. Often people who have had cancer are very stressed when they come here. Breathing helps them to calm down and maybe be able to cope a bit better.'

The Sport Action For Women After Cancer group meets on Wednesday mornings at the Sportspark at the UEA. For more information contact Coral Warren on 01953 605208, email, visit or phone the Sportspark on 01603 592398.