I’m so fucking lucky.
I don’t know what it’s like to be hooked up to a chemo machine every week for months; to be violently ill as a result; to be up all night, wired on steroids. I don’t know what it’s like to have bits of my bowel cut out to save my life; to have tumours removed from my lungs; to have radioactivity knifed in to my liver. I don’t know what it’s like to be told I have bowel cancer; that it has spread; that I might not live to see my kids grow up.
But then about a year ago I met someone who has experienced all of these things: Deborah James, AKA @bowelbabe.
I didn’t know Deborah was Bowelbabe when I first met her. I didn’t know she had cancer at all. All I saw that night in a Shoreditch basement club (where loads of women had gathered to hear a live podcast recording about sex), was a smart, funny, gorgeous girl who radiated life. Her energy and joie de vivre were infectious. And I recognised in her a kindred spirit; a shared state of mind; an excellent drinking partner (we’d both come alone). We even discovered a mutual love of circus skills and a childhood spent doing gymnastics.
Then she told me she had Cancer. I was confused. Surely, given her radiant appearance, upbeat personality and all that glossy, natural hair, she couldn’t be seriously ill? Surely, given how much we had in common, there couldn’t be something so huge separating us? Surely, at the very worst she must have ‘one of those cancers’ that was swiftly dealt with then forgotten about, right?
No, Deborah explained matter-of-factly, she had stage 4 bowel cancer, and was undergoing her umpteenth cycle of chemo. How much longer would her treatment last, I asked. I’ll be on chemo for the rest of my life, said Deborah.
If I’m honest, until I met Debs, Cancer was pretty much pink ribbons and park runs. Now, thanks to my inspirational friend, I’m starting to learn a little about what it’s like to be on the other side of Cancer. The dark side.
Deborah told me her cancer wasn’t pink at all. She had the brown cancer, she said, with a dry laugh. The unsexy one, she called it. One day she even wore a poo emoji costume to demonstrate that fact. Because she’s awesome.
These were my first lessons about the reality of cancer, vs its myths and clichés. And since I became friends with Deborah (how very proud I am to call this incredible woman my friend), I’ve learned a whole lot more about this shitty disease, both from her, and a number of other wonderful people.
Through Deborah I was digitally introduced to amazing human Rachael Bland, the broadcasting brains behind the award-winning, chart-topping Cancer podcast You, Me and the Big C, which she recorded together with Deborah and Lauren Mahon (@girlstolelondon). Rachael died of breast cancer last month aged 40 and Deborah and Lauren are doing her proud by continuing to talk openly and honestly about the reality of this shitty disease in a way that genuinely helps people who have Cancer, and their friends and family.
Debs, Rachael and Lauren have also challenged the concept that anyone can, as an individual, battle with Cancer. Whether or not you succumb to Cancer, Deborah has explained to me, is out of the Cancer-haver’s hands. If you die of Cancer, you haven’t ‘lost a battle’. It’s the luck of the draw, as is whether or not you get the crappy thing in the first place.
However, Deborah points out, and as seen in the excellent Stand Up To Cancer ad, which stars Debs alongside Liam Neeson, we can all ‘fight’ Cancer together by raising money, raising awareness, raising the roof when it comes to shouting ‘Fuck You Cancer’ – which also happens to be the name of Deborah’s brilliant new book, which comes out on 4 October – click HERE to order it on Amazon.
Thanks to Deborah I’ve also discovered Lauren Mahon’s Cancer community GIRL vs CANCER , described as ‘a place for fierce women affected by the cretin that is cancer to feel empowered to deal with the sh*t show that a cancer diagnosis means’, which she set up while on chemo. Her beautifully-written blog gave me a beautifully written insight into the ugly realities of Cancer I’d never had before.
Through GIRL vs CANCER Lauren confronts Cancer head on in a gritty, gutsy way, and sells a range of t-shirts, bags and jumpers with kick-ass slogans that raise funds and awareness. These include the Tit-Tees, tongue-in-cheek t-shirts reminding women to check their boobs regularly, which Lauren has just launched to mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month. You can (and should!) buy them HERE.
Last weekend I took part in a photoshoot to mark the beginning of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, organised by the lovely Laura Rutherford AKA @that_mummy_smile . There were around 40 of us posing in pink bras outside a pink house on Portobello Road to support the work of Breast Cancer Care. I chose to get involved in this social media-specific campaign because I thought supporting a charity that used pink as part of its publicity campaign would resonate with my pink-loving followers. And by the comments on my post and in my DMs, I’d say it has.
Having learned more about the other side of Cancer from Deborah and her inspirational friends I can see why, for some people, pink doesn’t feel like a colour they associate with Cancer. And I truly hope that our pink antics haven’t offended. Hell; if I found myself on the dark side of Cancer I might end up hating pink myself (shock horror!). Or perhaps I’d love it even more. I can only hope I never find out.
I still don’t feel qualified to write about Cancer, but what I DO know is that everyone who is doing their bit to tell Cancer to fuck right off is a bloody legend, whatever colour, slogan or medium they use to get the message across. Here’s to humanity, and kicking Cancer’s ass.
As the Stand Up To Cancer ad informs Cancer: ‘One person is no army, but when we join together, you don’t stand a chance’.