Guest Post: "What does cancer look like?"
Despite fighting stage four bowel cancer, Deborah wonders why the media only portrays cancer patients as withered, frail and scared.
Weekly columnist for the Sun
Posted on: Wed 18-Oct-17 17:13:16
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Everyone has that one defining moment where their life was changed. For the worse, for the better, but for some of us, it can play like a broken record – a reminder of life before it got tough - but without the appreciation of how grateful I am for every day I now “LIVE”.
For me, I was blindsided at 7pm on an idle Thursday before Christmas 2016 when I stared my 6cm bowel tumour right in it’s ugly face and my world fell apart. I’m a 36 year old mother of 2 children aged 10 and 8. “I don’t want to die,” I screamed at the consultant as I was ushered through a battery of emergency tests and a whirlwind moment of disbelief – quickly followed up by the largest glass of the best red I could get my hands on.
Today, 10 months later, I stand and face stage 4 bowel cancer , with a plan of action that simple reads “stay alive” and “enjoy living”. Having undergone numerous bowel and lung operations, I currently undergo a “nuclear” chemo regime in the hope of giving me the most time with my little ones. This is my new life – a life living with cancer and trying my best to tell it to “do one” along the way.
Like every other human, it's normal to fear cancer. Depressing adverts reminding us of the seriousness and brutal reality of the disease, that grace TV and magazine slots at every given opportunity, send a wave of rage throughout my body.
Yes cancer is scary – very scary. It takes you into dark places you never knew possible. Yes, I have new considerations, crappy days with no energy, new restrictions (she says writing on a plane having been banned from flying!), but it doesn’t rule my life and it doesn’t stop me just being me. And I don’t need constant reminders of the ‘dark side”, thank you very much.
Cancer doesn't need to be sexy, but it needs to have hope
"But you don’t look ill,” people say when they see me. Perhaps the change of lifestyle pace, career change, new found inner mummy skills, plethora of life saving drugs, and the luck that has ensured my hair is still attached, albeit thinning, has meant that many people look at me and wonder if I’m actually ill – as I bound around at a trampoline park with a stonking hangover.
As I look around the ward at the Royal Marsden Hospital, most people being treated look well - "Oh the irony." I’m not naive to think there is not pain and sadness behind the eyes, but why is it so necessary, in my opinion to continuously portray cancer patients in such a negative public light – a cancer stigma that can leave many suffering in silence alone for fear of not wanting to affect work, relationships or others views.
My utter frustration is that the image and stigma associated with cancer is enough to scare anyone who has just been diagnosed (I know!) – and yet it will affect 1 in 2 of us in our lifetime. I liked clothes, fashion, food, wine, music, theatre, art all before the big C, and I still like them now. When was the last time you saw a cancer advert (using an actual cancer patient) that oozes strength, beauty, sexuality and a zest of life, rather than a barrage of celebs in sexy t-shirts?
As yet another story of misdiagnosis and NHS failings hit the headlines – we need a shift in celebrating those that give two fat fingers up and get on with it anyway. Where is the light I can look to? The inspiration, the energy, the hope that I too might be one of the lucky ones?
Cancer doesn’t need to be sexy, but it needs to have hope and we need to remind ourselves that cancer is all around us – it’s not just the person with no hair, or the person looking gaunt and frail – it’s me – it wears lipstick, has blow dries, is a normal mummy coping with two crazy monsters and likes jimmy choos.
I was so happy to be asked to select some products for the Don’t Buy Her Flowers, Stand up to Cancer bespoke packages. What a fantastic way to remind us that you are still “you,” Cancer or no Cancer – so of course, my package would always have Gin in it!