The C Word

The C Word was shown on TV for the first time this week. For some this was was too tricky to watch, too upsetting and too close to home. For many  though, this was an opportunity to see how a life living with cancer really is.

Our very own Alison Gordon read the book and watched the TV programme. Ali has also experienced cancer first hand.  The C Word story shares several similarities with the coming together of the complete strangers of Annabel's Angels, or The class of 2012, as described so well by Ali below. Please take a few moments to read on: 

"I found Lisa Lynch’s book The C Word back when I was nearing the end of my active treatment for breast cancer. Her honesty, and outspokenness appealed to me. I loved her humour, and saw a lot of my own crazy coping strategies in her descriptions.

She became my idol, a champion, someone that had taken on ‘the b*llshit’ and beaten it. It gave me increased confidence that I could do the same. Someone that wasn't just surviving, someone who was living.

I was devastated to hear that she’d had a recurrence and died, it wobbled me to the core. I learnt of this in the first year after my own treatment ended, the time when everything seems so uncertain, perhaps the only certain thing is the recurrence of thoughts and fears that it will return. At the time when those closest to you feel relieved the worst is over and let out a sigh of relief. After the initial adrenaline surge, you emerge with wobbly legs, mistrusting your body, becoming hyper sensitive to every twinge, or pain and losing the ability to switch off worry and anxiety. However this all lies beneath the surface, as on the outside you (attempt) to appear composed, as your hair begins to grow, and the rounded steroid cheeks deflate and you aim to shake the Tamoxifen pounds.  Life beyond diagnosis can be difficult.

The C Word was brilliantly brought to life this weekend, and I imagine many people wept into their tissues as the story unfolded, and many sadly avoided watching as had been personally affected by a similar experience. I hope that many women felt prompted to check their breasts as a result, and sincerely hope that they continue to do so. The story highlights the importance of support, of friendships and humour. The touching scene of the three friends meeting up in Brighton for the day, although sadly never really happened, plays on the importance of sharing with others and how peer support is essential.

There are many complexities to being a younger woman with breast cancer, apart from the obvious fact we’re below the age for routine screening. There’s being the token youngster in a sea of older faces at oncology departments, and given the ‘head tilted’ look that you are too young to be here.  We all know cancer can affect you at any age, but why do we never see peers at the hospital when you are waiting? At times like this you need to meet people in a similar situation to yourself to really feel the support, to fit in. Groups like the Younger Breast Cancer Network are a blessing and have grown from strength to strength over the past 3 years. No subject is taboo, thankfully! 

Just like Lisa, I found comfort in blogging, posting my first blog just 2 days after my diagnosis. I reached out to Macmillan’s Community Forum for support, not really knowing what else to do, if I'm honest. I needed to find someone else who felt the same, a safe place to say what I really felt. There had to be someone else out there with a boob that was trying to kill them too wasn't there ? The anger, fears, frustration all the things you daren't say out loud could be unloaded. I typed away under my alias, I could be real, let all those emotions spill out over the keyboard.

I never really expected to find friends, but I did, and these friends were there throughout the night when family members lay sleeping beside you unaware of the terrors in your mind. Tales of side effects, sharing coping skills, exchanging (poor) humour, and reassurance. We filled the online forums and threads with our messages of support for one another. More details were swapped and shared in private messages. A support network of anonymous women around the world swapping stories and tips, part of the ‘club’ no one wants to join.  As our friendships evolved, our confidence did too and a group of us, the Class of 2012, swapped our exchanges from Macmillan to Facebook, where we became real, sharing images, videos, and positive posts of encouragement to one another. We weren't hiding behind our nicknames any more, we’d let other people into our real lives.

Annabel’s Angels was born out of this friendship; when Annabel died, we, the Mac mates, The Class of 2012, were devastated and transferred our support to Simon and Annabel’s family and to each other.  Our friendship became tighter, and we became closer. It’s been 3 years since the Class of 2012 formed, we've lost some friends along the way, some have developed secondary cancers and are undergoing treatment and some are busying themselves with life beyond diagnosis. I am incredibly proud of my Mac mates, they are the most incredible, tenacious, remarkable women ever and the gift of friendship we extended to each other has seen us through challenging times. My mother whilst undergoing treatment for Leukaemia always said, ‘It’s a great life if you don’t weaken.’ I wholeheartedly agree, and I’d add, life is nothing without friends."