The Beauty Of Friendship

I’ve always known how important my friends are, but the last few weeks have highlighted just how lucky I am to have a solid cohort of friends behind me.

I am lucky to have spent last weekend with some of my oldest friends, and no matter how much times passes our friendships remain intact. We may not see each other often, but we are still there for each other in times of need (thank goodness for mobile phones and what’s app).

The vast majority of my friends are well and truly settle down and some have children too. I am very aware I’m a fair few stages behind when it comes to these matters and I always count my cancer diagnosis as part of the reason for this. It’s shaped who I am today, much like my friends own experiences, but ultimately we still have a close bond.

The great thing about our friendship is that we love and respect each other, even if we don’t always have the same opinions. We don’t all have the same interests either; I love theatre, eating out, and travelling, but I am not a fan of Love Island, and it doesn’t matter. As teenagers we had similar interests, such as being old enough to go out in town and go drinking for the first time, it was fun at the time but as adults we embrace our differences. I prefer to stay in and watch Netflix than go out to a bar, and that’s ok too. We’ve learnt to embrace our differences, and it’s probably one of the reasons we have stayed friends, each to their own after all! We are all individuals however together we work. I am lucky to have many friends from my school days, some that have stayed in the midlands and other who live close by in London. I was also lucky to find some wonderful friends and University too, as well as in the various jobs I’ve done since graduating.

In the last month I have caught up with two friends who have visited the UK from Australia, one from Japan and two from America. These are not people who are in my life of a daily basis, and I met them and different times during my life, but despite the distance they are frequently in my thoughts. We communicate as often as we can, sending long updates about life via what’s app it that occasional Skype call.

I often wonder where in the world I would be be without these people? Nothing compares friends getting together for a good catch up full of laughter, and last weekend was no exception.

True friends are those you can be 100% honest with, and they still like you anyway despite what they know. These friends are people you can sit in silence with for hours and it not be awkward. These are the ones who will be with you during the best and worst times and lift you up when you are in a bad place. I’ve had my fair share of rough rides and I am eternally grateful to those people.

Some friends are relatively new ones, but they are just as important to me.  During an average week I spend more of my time and work and socialising with friends than seeing family which makes friendship (and of course family) so key to my overall happiness. I feel fortunate that I have those I can confide in, act like counsellors, and overall support systems. I am always trying my best to be a good friend in return.

Whilst I await my next PET CT scan results I am forever grateful to my wonderful friends for keeping me sane.

The New CRUK Obesity Campaign

Over the past couple of weeks a few people have asked me my thoughts on the latest ad campaign by Cancer Research UK, highlight obesity as a leading cause of cancer.

A couple of weeks ago Cancer Research UK released new figures showing that excess weight is now fuelling over 4,000 more cases of bowel, kidney, ovarian and liver cancer than those caused by smoking. Its a shocking statistic and I think the national campaign is pretty hard-hitting.

Part of the new campaign is a billboard poster advert showing cigarette packets in which brand names had been replaced by the word obesity. At first glance this looks like an advert for Malboro Lights or Silk Cut but look again and you will see something very different. A direct and harsh message designed to grab the viewers attention.

Cancer Research UK say that by implementing this campaign, they are calling for a change in policy, asking the government to lead the way in providing an environment which makes it easier to maintain a healthy balanced weight. The ambition is for the government to halve childhood obesity rates by 2030, and also to introduce a 9pm watershed for junk food ads on TV and online. I agree with this wholeheartedly, however it has left a bad taste in peoples mouths, with some suggestions the ads are ‘fat-shaming’.

I think the campaign is clear and clever, but I hope it doesn’t lead to people hiding away, feeling ashamed of their weight, and not getting help when it may be needed. There needs to be some guidance as to where people can get help if they need it. We are in a era of body positivity so people shouldn’t be made to feel singled out because of how they look. Male or female, obese or underweight, tall or short, we are all at risk. Over the years I’ve toyed with negative thoughts that somehow its my own fault I have cancer, although I’ve been assured multiple times there is nothing I could’ve done to prevent it, it isn’t nice to play the blame game. No body who gets cancer should ever feel it is their own fault.

Cancer is a complex disease and its not often linked to one particular element, and not only those who smoke or are obese get cancer. I sit here writing this as someone who seemed completely healthy when I was a initially diagnosed as a teenager; I hardly ever drank alcohol (in later years I was always the one who drove on nights our), I had a healthy lifestyle of a busy young adult and I certainly wasn’t over weight. I also have never been a sun worshipper, but I still got melanoma. I know people who have lung cancer who have never smoked in their lives, which just goes to show how there is still so much to learn about cancer. There are so many different forms of cancer that to highlight obesity as a cause for all is completely wrong.

Having said this, I like a message which grabs peoples attention, which makes them sit up and think; and I think the obesity campaign does this well. I’d love for a big campaign like this to support Melanoma UK in the ban on sunbeds, or to highlight just how damaging getting sunburnt can be for our health. It would be great to see the UK follow the lead of Australia and ban the use of commercial sunbeds. Although exposure to UV radiation from the sun or sunbeds are the main risk factors for developing melanoma, they are not the only ones. There are many things that may lead to the development of melanoma, as there are with other cancers.

The Power Of The Cancer Community

Over the past couple of weeks there has been a lot on social media about a recent campaign by Marks and Spencer and Fashion Targets Breast Cancer to help raise awareness and funds for breast cancer research. It certainly raised a few eyebrows and the general feeling was it massively missed the mark. Understandably, there have been many people speaking out about this on social media.

Marks and Spencer are donating 30% of the purchase price of tote bags and t-shirts to help raise vital funds for Breast cancer research. That’s no small change, however It appears that on this occasion they seem to have painted a unrealistic image of cancer through the media, including the use of celebrities in their campaign, and have been criticised for completely missing the opportunity to use real women living with cancer in the campaign, of which there are so many spreading such valuable messages on Instagram.

I do agree with this in part, however we cannot tell if someone has been affected by cancer just by the way they look, I am a stage 4 patient who was having immunotherapy every 3 weeks until very recently, but I look well on the outside. The same goes for the celebrities, perhaps they have friends or family members who have been unfortunate enough to be diagnosed with cancer. Part of me believes that If seeing one of the Marks and Spencer adverts, or even an instagram post from a celebrity about the campaign means women pay attention to their bodies and it gets people talking, then they have done something positive.

I agree the slogans ‘two is stronger than one’ and ‘good things come in twos’ are insensitive and could have been thought out better. It’s clear the campaign has caused offence and upset, which was not the intention at all. It would seem this does not translate well when you’ve had a mastectomy, whatever the intention, and I don’t blame people for being upset.

Marks and Spencer are raising money for a hugely important and valuable cause and sadly, I feel the message of this campaign has been lost with all the commotion. The campaign invites people to dress in solidarity, and champions strong friendship. They missed the mark, but I believe this is a good catalyst for a better conversation about these sort of campaigns, and fingers crossed it is something that is considered better in the future.

After the initial backlash, Marks and Spencer then posted patient stories on social media and on the Fashion Targets Breast Cancer website. I agree that they should have led with these stories in the first place as it feels more powerful.

The campaign seems to have fulled some fire about breast cancer getting a lot of coverage in the media compared with other types of cancer. I am not sure why this has all become a game of ‘which cancer is worse’. All cancer is horrific, it is awful no matter what stage you are diagnosed. Yes I’d like other cancers to get awareness, I know charities like Melanoma UK don’t get enough attention, and I’d certainly like to see more information out there about other cancers too, but it doesn’t mean the funds and research for breast cancer charities are any less important.

This was a prime example of the strength and impact social media can have, and the campaign has led to the development of True Cancer Bodies a patient led campaign that put all cancers at the heart of its message. Seriously well done to all those involved! Of the 20 people in the campaign many different types of cancer were represented,  including breast, bowel, liver, lung, colon cancer and Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The aim is to enlighten the public as to what cancer really looks like, and I think they have done a great job.

I’ve always said that having cancer is like being in a members only club you don’t want to be part of, but this has shown how the cancer community has come together to try to make change for the better, so long may it continue.

Mind Your Language

More often than not it’s difficult for people to find the right words to say to friends and loves ones who have cancer. It’s not easy to work out the right thing to say and sometimes it can come out wrong and offend people, even with the best intentions at heart.

Macmillan Cancer Support recently launched a campaign on their Facebook page to help raise awareness of the language used when speaking about cancer, in the hope to start a conversation and make it easier for those in the cancer community.

Even though I can often use this language myself it can prove problematic. I am not ‘brave’ because I have cancer, I have no choice in the matter, and I didn’t decide on the path my life has taken. It’s not something I would have gone into voluntarily, and trying to stay alive is not a choice. It’s isn’t as though I am picking if I should have jam or peanut butter on my toast in the morning.

People telling me to ‘keep positive’ implies I am not allowed to show how scared I am, and therefore show weakness. I’ve been trying my best to positive for years, but do moments of sadness show that I am weak and negative? It took me a long time to accept I needed help in the form of antidepressants, and I think part of that is the expectation that just being positive would be enough to help me through. News flash: cancer doesn’t care if I am positive, or anyone else for that matter. Cancer doesn’t discriminate. Yes, It doesn’t wonders for my mental health to be in a good frame of mind, but this suggests those with negative mindsets die from cancer, or their symptoms will progress, and if a person keeps positive they will one day walk free. Are the people who live the only ones that fight hard enough to stay alive? Wrong.

I am positive the majority of the time, but I have stage 4 cancer and there is no chance I will live my life without this burden, and I continue to learn to live with it as best I can. I am just getting on with my life, going to work, coming home and attempting to be normal (whatever that is!). I am doing the best I can, but sometimes the language used suggests I am just not trying hard enough!

I don’t look like a typical cancer patient and present; I have my own hair and am able to hide my portacath and surgery scars easily. When I explain my situation to new people they often seem shocked, maybe I don’t look ill enough to be a cancer patient? Especially a stage 4 cancer patient who has metastatic cancer that has spread to multiple organs. What does cancer look like anyway? Its not like an identity parade to spot a criminal. I don’t look disabled but I have a free bus pass and monthly disability benefits just the same as others who have a physical disability.

I might look well on the outside, but looks can be deceiving, so I always try keep in mind that I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, you never know what’s happening underneath. If someone looks tired I’ll try to ask them what they’ve been up to, rather than tell them they look like they’ve not slept for days, it doesn’t aways help to be told you look crap!

I am not annoyed at others for saying something that might come across as insensitive, it’s not exactly straight forward and it all depends how I feel on any given day. Macmillan’s aim is to help change the way cancer is spoken about to make it better for those going through it. In the time is taken me to write this post I’ve seen two of their support adverts on television, so well done to Macmillan for continuing to raise awareness and helping others avoid a classic case of foot in mouth!