'Laughing in the face of our cancer'

'Laughing in the face of our cancer'

A diagnosis of cancer is a shattering blow. 

The comfort of everyday life is snatched away, replaced with endless rounds of hospital appointments, sickness and hair loss. 

Or is it? According to three pioneering women, all diagnosed with cancer before the age of 40, life with it need not be bleak.

As with so many other women, cancer came for Rachael, Deborah and Lauren alongside career breakthroughs, dating and girls’ nights out. 

laughing in the face of our cancer 'Laughing in the face of our cancer'

laughing in the face of our cancer 'Laughing in the face of our cancer'

Inspiring: Rachael Bland, left, Lauren Mahon, middle, and Deborah James 

Now, thousands of listeners tune in to BBC Radio Five Live to hear their weekly discussions of the highs and lows of living with cancer.

Frank conversations about toilet-related traumas, ‘intimate’ medical exams and sex when you’re ill has propelled the You, Me & The Big C podcast to the top of the iTunes chart.

And with nearly 50 per cent of those with cancer surviving at least ten years and still juggling relationships, babies and careers, the show is perfectly timed.  

‘I was a fit young mum’ 

laughing in the face of our cancer 1 'Laughing in the face of our cancer'

laughing in the face of our cancer 1 'Laughing in the face of our cancer'

Deborah James, 36, is a former deputy head teacher from London. In December 2016, the mother- of-two was diagnosed with stage four bowel cancer. She is known to her social media followers as @bowelbabe

Deborah James, 36, is a former deputy head teacher from London. In December 2016, the mother- of-two was diagnosed with stage four bowel cancer. She is known to her social media followers as @bowelbabe

Read my latest blog post, then we can talk about something normal’ is how I respond sometimes when people ask me how I am. It’s tiring having to answer the same question a thousand times. 

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One in two of us get cancer so it’s crazy we still haven’t worked out how to normalise it.

I had classic symptoms six months before diagnosis – I lost half a stone, I was exhausted, I was going to the toilet eight times a day and there was often blood.

But I was a fit young mum and doctors assumed it was bad IBS. When I finally got a referral, a colonoscopy showed a 6.5cm tumour in my bowel.

I thought I was going to die. But one bowel resection, four lung operations (cancer spread to my lungs) and 21 cycles of chemotherapy later, here I still am, achieving things I wouldn’t have dreamt of, such as writing a book and posing for photoshoots. 

Sure, some days I can’t lift my head off the pillow, but recording the podcast is a perfect distraction.

We chat about things you don’t read in leaflets – such as fertility, what we look like and what a proper poo looks like – and have a bit of a laugh. 

I feel going public is good for my children (Hugo, ten, and Eloise, eight) too. I take comfort from knowing that if things don’t turn out well, they will always know who I am and how I feel about them.

Lauren Mahon, 32, a social media consultant, lives in London and was diagnosed with breast cancer in August 2016, aged 31.

‘It was like gossiping over cocktails’ 

Lauren Mahon, 32, a social media consultant, lives in London and was diagnosed with breast cancer in August 2016, aged 31. She is known to her social media followers as @girlvscancer

Doctors discovered my aggressive tumour two months after I’d partied for three days at Glastonbury. I burst out crying, telling my consultant I didn’t want to die. ‘But you’re not going to,’ she said. 

She was right – my tumour was localised so treatment was eight rounds of chemotherapy, followed by a lumpectomy, 21 doses of radiation, then hormonal treatment.

My ‘chemo brain’ struck after the third cycle of treatment so I had to give up work. I then started to post on Instagram using #GIRLvs CANCER to connect with like-minded women.

With Deborah and Rachael it was like gossiping over cocktails, while others gave me pity faces.

I could talk about the odd experience of telling a guy you have cancer on a first date. Most were fine with it, and it gave me a much-needed boost to have a drink with someone I fancied.

Now I’m lucky to have the all-clear. Next month, I start a new job and am launching my own T-shirt brand with 25 per cent of profits going to cancer charities.

‘I’ve found so many inspiring and strong women’ 

4B25915E00000578 0 image a 3 1523718852374 'Laughing in the face of our cancer'

4B25915E00000578 0 image a 3 1523718852374 'Laughing in the face of our cancer'

Rachael Bland, 40, is a BBC radio presenter, diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer in November 2016

Rachael Bland, 40, is a BBC radio presenter, diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer in November 2016. 

She lives in Cheshire with husband Steve and two-year-old son Freddie, and writes bigclittleme.co.uk.

When I was diagnosed I’d stare at my long blonde hair and think: ‘I can’t believe in a few months I’ll look sick and bald.’ 

But I never lost my hair – cold caps are a godsend. Treatment wasn’t how I imagined: they put a cannula in your arm, you chat with nurses, play Monopoly, go home. 

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My side effects weren’t much worse than a bad hangover so I could go on working. Another tumour was found in the same breast last July and I had a mastectomy. 

I needed more chemo and 15 rounds of radiotherapy. Afterwards, a scan showed the cancer had spread to the lymph nodes on my opposite side. 

I had those taken out in February this year. I looked to social media for others going through a similar experience and found thousands of strong, inspiring women. 

This sparked the idea of a podcast to normalise the disease. Despite being ‘Twitter friends’, Deborah, Lauren and I first met at the podcast recording but it was as if we’d known each other for years. 

Since then I’ve received hundreds of emails saying: ‘I’ve laughed and cried, not because I’m sad but because you are speaking exactly of my experience.’

 

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