Shine takes cancer support to Yorkshire!

Linz was diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer and the BRCA1 gene just after turning 38, and she’s passionate about bringing people together to help deal with cancer. In this post, she writes about her first Shine event: a weekend away with Shine North East in the Yorkshire Dales.


The weekend was full of promise: I was coming to this event as a newbie, all the way from Edinburgh to gate-crash a weekend of ‘folk like me’. The setting was a lovely holiday home called Springwood Cottage near Huddersfield, and the background music was the soundtrack from ‘The Greatest Showman’. The idea was simply for a group of young adults with cancer to share a cottage for the weekend: no plans, no itinerary, no rules, and no barriers.  All just pitch up, pitch in, and enjoy ourselves.

I had come across Shine Cancer Support only a few months previously, just by doing a search on Facebook.  I am a member of various cancer support groups on Facebook and Twitter, but aside from a lovely lunch ‘tweet up’ in Manchester a few months back, I had not actually engaged much with other people going through cancer treatment. There certainly isn’t much for us ‘in-betweeners’ aged 20-50. Talking to people online is great but meeting up in person is so much better! In total there were going to be 17 of us on this weekend – all walks of life, all different types of cancer and associated treatments.  All in all, a lovely bunch of people who are much more than the ‘cancer tag’!

After getting there, two of us went for coffee and cake as we waited to pick up some of the group from the train station five minutes away.  Finding the train station was easy but finding my way back to the cottage each time meant a little detour… oops!

Friday evening was a relaxed affair, introducing ourselves and getting ourselves set up in the rooms.  The location itself was amazing as we had our own hot tub, as well as a rooftop patio!  For some, the thought of sharing rooms with strangers was possibly a little odd at first, but actually it all turned out grand. Dinner was spectacular, and after a few drinks of own choosing we all attempted the icebreaker of making ourselves a cardboard crown with various craft materials.  Some people are exceptionally talented in this area. I am clearly not!

It was really interesting to talk to people about what cancer they have/had, and the treatment plans and side effects/consequences of treatment they experienced.  It was also good to hear about their personal lives, both pre- and post-diagnosis.  To be quite frank, I am at that stage where I question everything about my life, who I am, and what I want to do now. For a little while I had become quite insular and cancer was all I could focus on.  But even more important for me over this weekend was actually to see and hear how other people live their lives post-diagnosis and treatment, in terms of families, holidays, adventures, and work.  dsc_0584.jpg

Given that this was very much a weekend where everyone pitched in and helped, it was almost like an episode of ‘Big Brother’ without the cameras…! In a non-threatening, non-competitive way, of course!

Saturday was relaxing, too. First off, two of the women produced a spectacular cooked breakfast. I honestly don’t think I have eaten so well anywhere!

Afterwards, a beauty therapist visited to offer sessions ranging from facials and massages, through to reflexology, for those who were interested.  Some of us decided to take a few cars over to the nearby town of Holmfirth, West Yorkshire, which is where ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ was filmed.  There was actually a folk festival on that day, and it was great to soak up the atmosphere and find a wee secluded beer garden, then search for ice cream. Other people in the group opted to walk around and soak up the wonderful weather that we had that weekend too.

Later that night, after another amazing dinner, most of us sat down to watch Eurovision and play some games.  Many of us also took the opportunity to jump into the hot tub and let any lingering strains and tensions melt away…

Sunday morning saw another spectacular cooked breakfast before some of us took a gentle meandering walk up the road.  A Sunday roast completed the weekend for me, before I headed home into the sunset…

Overall, it was a great weekend, and I feel that I have made some new friends that actually get everything I have experienced and inspire me to get through the post-treatment slump. It was also not all about the cancer! We laughed and joked, and I even managed to use some of my professional skills to help others, too.

If you’re ever thinking about coming to an event like this one, then I would definitely recommend it!

I’d like to say a HUGE thank you to Shine North East network leader Rachel, who organised the whole weekend.  She’s a special and wonderful person who is spectacular and lovely and kind. Thank you for letting me come!  I know how much effort it takes to organise an event like this, and that makes both Rachel and Shine very special indeed.

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Melanoma: more than ‘just skin cancer’

In this blog post, we’re bringing you a cancer experience story written by Caroline, a member of our community who was diagnosed with a rare form of melanoma at the age of 29. She’s keen to raise awareness of skin cancer and share the impact that it has had on her life. As always, please share this blog post and let us know what you think!


I’ve been worried about developing skin cancer since I was 14 years old. I had been stocking up on my favourite fruit-scented toiletries from a certain well-known beauty retailer, and the shop assistant had slipped a leaflet on sun protection into my bag. I’m pale, red-haired, and freckled – and since reading that leaflet, my delicate skin has barely seen the sun. I cover my shoulders in summer, wear sunscreen in winter, and pride myself on staying as white as possible. So how did I get skin cancer?

Mucosal Melanoma

I was diagnosed with mucosal melanoma, a rare form of skin cancer, in May 2017. I was 29 years old. Mucosal melanoma develops on mucosal tissue such as that in the nose, mouth, and sinuses, or in the gastrointestinal tract. In women, it can develop in the vagina, and on the vulva. In men, it may be found in the penis. I’m not going to tell you where my small tumour appeared – but suffice to say, you’re unlikely to see any of my surgical scars!

I spotted a suspicious growth in December 2016, but it took several months – and several

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Guest blogger, Caroline

doctor’s visits – before I had a biopsy. It’s hard not to feel angry about weeks of missed diagnoses, but my disease is so rare that I can’t blame the doctors who dismissed my symptoms. However, I knew that something was wrong, and I’m glad I persevered with return visits until I finally had a diagnosis. I learned early on in my cancer journey that there is nothing more important than being your own advocate. Melanoma can spread quickly, and more than one medical professional has told me that if I had not kept returning to clinics, I might not be here now. It’s a sobering thought.

Initially, my treatment plan was the same as the treatment plan for cutaneous melanoma (the one with the moles): I had a surgical biopsy to determine the diagnosis, and then went back into surgery a few weeks later for a wide local excision and a sentinel node biopsy. The wide local excision involved taking a larger section of tissue from the area around the tumour to make sure that there were no more cancerous cells. For the sentinel node biopsy, two lymph nodes in my groin were removed and tested for melanoma cells. Thankfully, there was no melanoma in my lymph nodes – but if there had been, my diagnosis would have been changed from Stage II mucosal melanoma to Stage III, and I would have had advanced cancer.

Unfortunately, my wide local excision found some more melanoma cells in-situ (pre-cancerous cells, which have the potential to develop into cancer) – so a few weeks later, once I’d healed, I was wheeled back into surgery for a third operation. Then, once I’d healed from my third operation, I had a fourth. And then a fifth. Each surgery delivered the same result: a small area of amelanotic melanoma in-situ. ‘Amelanotic’ means that the melanoma isn’t pigmented. In fact, it’s invisible! In the space of eight months, I went from a healthy, active, young woman who had never even set foot in a hospital, to a cancer patient who had been through five surgeries in attempts to rid her body of a now-invisible aggressive cancer. I can scarcely believe it.

Wow, you look so well!

One of the most difficult aspects of my diagnosis has been looking well. Melanoma doesn’t respond well to chemotherapy, and it is not an option for me. When I first ‘came out’ about my cancer, I was asked a lot of questions about chemotherapy. When would I have it? When would I lose my hair? How could I have a serious illness, but look so healthy? And (the worst): did I actually have a serious illness? Despite all my rounds of surgery, and the trauma that comes with any cancer diagnosis, I began to feel as if my specific ‘flavour’ of cancer was being downplayed. If I mentioned melanoma, I felt as if I had to explain that I had always looked after my skin, and actually my diagnosis was not down to any irresponsible behaviour. As an aside: just wear your sunscreen! And no, I have no idea if that mole on your arm is dodgy…

Cancer messes with your head

Although I know deep down that my diagnosis is serious, it took me a long time to stop feeling like a cancer fraud. Not only do I look healthier than ‘the average cancer patient’ (fun fact: there’s no such thing!), but I can’t relate to many support group discussions about chemotherapy and radiotherapy side effects as I had never had that experience. Even if my cancer progresses, chemotherapy will be a last resort.

Through Shine, I’ve been able to meet others who have ‘just had surgery’ and can relate to some of the feelings I’ve described. It’s unlikely that I’ll ever meet someone who has the same diagnosis as me (if you have mucosal melanoma, please make yourself known!), but it is wonderful to be part of a community that acknowledges all the effects that a cancer diagnosis can have. I don’t have to explain or justify myself anymore!

I’ve only lived with cancer for a few months, yet the experience has already taught me a lot about myself. It matters less and less what other people think or believe about my illness. Instead, I focus on how I feel, and my own perceptions of my strengths and limitations. I’m finally giving myself the space to listen to my own needs – and that could be anything from needing to burn off some energy at the gym, to requiring a lazy day of nothing on the sofa.

It is so important to listen to yourself.

Great Escape: reunited!

2018 Escapee Caroline shares her experience of our Great Escape Reunion, a one-off event celebrating five years of weekend retreats for young people with cancer.


I was lucky enough to be able to attend the 2018 Shine Great Escape (read my fellow Escapee Rosie’s blog about it here), and I was invited to the Great Escape Reunion almost as soon as I had accepted my place on the Escape itself!

It turns out that 2018 was a year worthy of celebration: the Great Escape that I attended was the fifth weekend away for young adults with cancer that Ceinwen Giles and Emma Willis had organised since Shine began. In March, Shine organised a reunion event in London, inviting all of those who had attended a Great Escape to come along and celebrate the anniversary with them.

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Some of the 2018 Great Escape attendees reunited!

The afternoon began with tea, cake, and conversation, which gave us time to chat with our fellow Escapees and meet those who had attended in previous years. While it was a great opportunity for many to catch up, for the 2018 attendees it was also a chance to get to know each other better. Although we all feel a strong bond with our ‘tribe’ as a result of the Escape, there are still so many things that we want to learn!

Once we’d warmed up and helped ourselves to a piece of flapjack or four, the Reunion continued in true Escape style – with Sharpies, crafts, and collages. Although some Escapees remain defiantly unartistic, everyone took part in creating collages to show how the experience had affected their lives. It was amazing to see how much one weekend away could change our perceptions about cancer and our attitudes towards living with the disease.

After the activities came a potted history of the Shine and the Escape from Ceinwen and Emma, including stories about how they’d manage to convince friends and friends of friends to sign up to voluntarily spend a weekend at a hotel in Bournemouth with a group of young people with cancer – hardly the most glamorous of mini-break ideas! We are all overwhelming grateful that they pulled it off, as the next portion of the afternoon showed. Representatives from each Great Escape gave short presentations about their experiences and gave us an insight into what everyone had been doing since their Escape. This part of the afternoon was emotional for many reasons. It was fantastic to see photos of weddings, exciting trips abroad, and new babies, which gave us optimism for our futures beyond cancer. However, the moving tributes to those who have sadly passed away since attending their Escape reminded us all about what it is that brings us together. After the presentations, we raised a glass not only to Ceinwen, Emma, and the volunteers, but also to the wonderful Escapees who are no longer with us.

And as for the 2018 Escapees? Although we weren’t convinced that we would have much to report after only a few weeks apart, we had managed to achieve a surprising amount: a few new jobs, several dates, a couple of people returning to work, and some meet-ups already in the calendar for later in the year. And then, of course, the few thousand (!) WhatsApp messages we had exchanged with each other since leaving Bournemouth. It seems that a Shine Great Escape isn’t a Shine Great Escape without a very active WhatsApp or Facebook group!

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Fond memories of the Escape…

The reunion came to a close with a group discussion about the future of Shine, and how we could ensure that more young people are able to benefit from everything the charity has to offer, then a delicious buffet.

 

I’ll leave you with a few comments about the day from my fellow 2018 Escapees. Thank you again for everything Shine, and all the volunteers who have contributed to the Great Escape!

‘It was great to chat to previous attendees and see that they are still benefiting from the Escape and have gone on to make good progress. Also, it was nice to see that they are still good friends with each other years later. The Escape has a long-lasting impact and doesn’t just fizzle out after leaving the bubble of The Grove.’

‘I get really tearful thinking about our Escape and the Reunion. I feel like I belong with you guys, where I don’t belong anywhere else.’

‘[Our group photo from the Reunion is] my work screensaver!! I look really happy, which makes me smile, and when I have a tough day it reminds me that we’re in this together.’

What is a ‘Great Escape’? To learn more about the Shine Great Escape and how you could apply to take part, check out our website here

Introducing Kate!

Five years ago, Shine didn’t have any staff. In fact, we were really just getting the ball rolling on this young adult cancer charity whole thing. Looking back at where we started makes it even more exciting that we’ve just welcomed our FOURTH employee!

Read below to find out more about Kate – she’ll be supporting our 14 Shine Networks across the country. We’re still a tiny charity (with big ambitions) but we’ve grown a lot in the last few years and we couldn’t be happier to have someone new on our team!


Hello, I’m Kate!

Trying to put almost 40 years of life into a few hundred words isn’t easy AND I am not one for talking about myself, but I wanted to introduce myself and give you a bit of insight into why I do what I do.

Born in Northumberland (very proud of this!), we moved south to Bedfordshire when I was nine so my accent didn’t have a chance! Aged ten, I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes which had a huge impact on my education as I missed so much school. There was an underlying cause of the diabetes which wasn’t discovered until I was 16, so it was IMPOSSIBLE to manage!KJ PP

As a young teen, I wanted to go into medicine, but all the health stuff got in the way and I wasn’t able to finish my A-levels or go to university. Then, when I lost most of my sight in my early 20s because of diabetes, I really felt that the odds were stacked against me. Fortunately, with little sight I was still able to do some studying with the Open University, which was brilliant. After hundreds of bouts of laser treatment and a month in Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge, I thankfully regained a lot of my vision and this remains fairly stable to-date.

Handling all this stuff at such a young age had a massive impact on my mental health and I really struggled with anxiety and depression, but it made me particularly interested in the impact that physical health challenges can have on our mental health. As I found it difficult to get into work, I started volunteering for a tiny mental health charity based in Luton, and before I knew it I was working with them full-time and loving it. I worked with people who had various mental health challenges, helping them to write and perform small drama pieces for health care professionals and the public to help them understand what life is like with a mental health condition. Although I was most definitely not into the drama side of things, I found it incredibly rewarding to be able to bring both sides of the coin together and to challenge perceptions, leading to changes in clinical practice. Nowadays, this would be called something fancy like ‘co-production’ – but nearly 20 years ago I don’t think that term existed!

KJ Beach 1Fast forward to today, and I have had the privilege of working for several charities including Mind, Crohn’s and Colitis UK, and most recently Cancer Research UK. My focus was volunteer management until 2015, when I took on a patient engagement role which brought patients and clinicians together at local and national levels to improve services. Over the past few months, as well as working in patient engagement, I have started to talk about my own experiences as a patient. This has been so rewarding. I have been able to get involved in an NHS Improvement initiative for patient leaders and I have also done some work with finance and insurance company American International Group (AIG), helping their managers to become more inclusive.

I am so happy to be part of Shine Cancer Support, and I feel that all the professional and personal experience that I have had fits perfectly with the role of supporting and developing Shine’s local networks. What excites me the most is working with all of you to help Shine grow and reach more people while keeping true to the Shiny vibe! What you say, what you need, and how you feel about things really matter, and together we are such a force for good. I am really looking forward to getting to know all of the network leaders, and understanding how we can work better together across Shine’s community. Without all of the amazing network leaders, Shine would simply be four people desperate to make a difference to the lives of young adults who have had a cancer diagnosis.

I get what it is like to be ill when you are just getting to grips with yourself and life: to have that rug pulled out from under you, and to have so many hopes and dreams shattered. That said, I wouldn’t change my past as it has brought me here. 2018 is a big year for me as I turn 40 in November and I am already planning the celebrations! I never expected to reach my fortieth birthday, so it really will be a big party (parties…?) and I will be more than happy to accept cake when I am out and about.

See you soon!

Taking care: How and why ‘carers’ also need support

A few years ago, the partners of a couple of Shine members approached us about starting a ‘Plus Ones’ group. Having cancer is tough, they noted – but so is supporting someone with cancer. We started our Plus Ones group online and it’s continued to grow over the years. As we’ve worked more on supporting the supporters, we’ve also learned more about the issues that they can face.

In this blog, Dr. Jason Spendelow (one of Shine’s original Plus Ones) outlines some of the issues that ‘carers’ often face when supporting someone with a life-limiting illness. We know a lot of Plus Ones don’t consider themselves carers (78%, according to a recent survey that Shine carried out!) but we hope this gives you some insight into the support that someone looking after a young adult with cancer might need.


 

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Those who provide significant levels of care to another person are more than twice as likely to suffer from poor health than non-carers.

While carers do report many positive experiences, the physical and psychological wellbeing of this group is often compromised due to the stress associated with the support they provide. Those who provide significant levels of care to another person are more than twice as likely to suffer from poor health than non-carers (Carers UK, 2004). When asked directly, the vast majority (84%) of carers said that caring had a negative impact on their health (Carers UK 2013). Carer wellbeing, then, is a particularly important topic in cancer and other chronic illnesses. Carers provide a huge amount of support to loved ones affected by these illnesses. This means it is even more crucial that we take care of the carers.

Mental & Physical Health

We have an increasingly large pile of research available on carer wellbeing. From this, we know that psychological issues are among the most commonly reported difficulties amongst carers (Stenberg et al 2010). An important concept here is ‘carer burden’, which refers to negative emotional experiences that occur from providing care. The level of carer burden varies from person to person, with higher levels of burden being linked to female carers, living with the care receiver, spending large amounts of time caring, being socially isolated, under financial stress, and having no choice in becoming a carer (Adelman et al 2014).

Carers can experience a range of psychological difficulties. Some of the most common issues tend to be low mood and depressive symptoms, elevated levels of stress and anxiety, and lower quality of life (see for example, Braun et al 2007; Pinquart 2017, and Easter, Sharpe and Hunt 2015). Rates of depressive and/or anxiety disorders are higher amongst adult carers when compared to the general population. These figures do not mean that you are destined to develop such psychological issues, but carers are clearly more vulnerable. In late 2016, Shine carried out a survey of Plus Ones and found that 58% had experienced stress, and 77% had experienced anxiety.

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Shine’s first Plus One workshop covered how to cope with anxiety.

In addition to psychological difficulties, carers can experience decline in their overall physical health. Physical health problems vary and range from fatigue to insomnia, headache and gastrointestinal issues (Jassem et al 2015).

Positive Experiences

Despite the physical and psychological challenges discussed above, many carers can also identify positive aspects of their experience. Some of the reported positive experiences included being able to give back to someone, knowing the person is being well cared for, improved relationships, personal growth, and an enhanced sense of meaning or purpose (American Psychological Association 2018). Finding meaning and purpose is an experience reported across several groups of carers (Carers UK 2004). Being able to help is a source of satisfaction for many carers, while ‘giving back’ to someone and having an equal or reciprocal relationship are other positive outcomes (Spendelow, Adam and Fairhurst 2017; Buchanan et al 2009), Ribeiro and Paul 2008). The relevance to wellbeing is that experiencing positives from caring help people to cope better with the stress that comes their way.

Taking care of yourself

Your wellbeing is influenced by many factors. Believing that just one ‘thing’ is the cause of any experienced psychological difficulties is usually inaccurate and unhelpful. Attempts to improve your wellbeing, therefore, usually involves taking several factors into consideration. Look, I could bang on here about all the things you know you should be doing already: getting plenty of sleep, exercising, and eating vegetables. Yes, this is all true and fundamental to your health. But I won’t repeat the same advice given millions of times already.

Perhaps a more useful strategy is to ask ‘What barriers stop you from taking better care of yourself?’ and, more importantly, ‘What can you do about these barriers?’. Some barriers are physical: for instance, you don’t think you have time to look after yourself. Other barriers are psychological. For example, some carers feel that it is selfish to prioritise themselves over the loved one they support. Asking what barriers exist (and why) helps work out what might have gone wrong with previous failed attempts to take better care of yourself. These barriers need to be directly addressed, otherwise it doesn’t matter how many times you are told to go for a walk and eat some broccoli.

It may be that you need to discuss this issue with a sensible person that you trust in order to make progress with your wellbeing. Having said this, here are a few questions you can ponder to get you thinking more about barriers to better self-care:

  • What emotions might you experience if you put more time into self-care?
  • Why do you think you would experience those particular emotions?
  • What do these emotions say about your attitude to self-care?
  • What would have to change in your life to result in more time given to your wellbeing?
  • How might the wellbeing of the person you support be negatively affected if you spent more time looking after yourself?
  • What would be the worse thing someone could say about you as a carer? How does that influence your self-care?

 The Bottom Line

Carer wellbeing matters, both to the quality of life of the carer, and the wellbeing of the loved one that the carer supports. To cope with the huge challenges brought about by cancer, you need to be thinking of self-care strategies that are positive and sustainable over the long-term. If you fall over, both you and the person you care for will find things even tougher. Thinking about barriers to self-care can be a useful way to better understand your current approach to your health, and how you can improve it.

Jason is a clinical psychologist with a special interest working with people and their carers affected by chronic illness and disability. He also supported his wife through cancer. He runs his practice in Surrey. See more at www.jasonspendelow.com

To join our Shine Plus One Facebook group, click here. To join the mailing list for Shine Plus One events, please email plusone@shinecancersupport.org.

 

How I told my five-year old I had cancer…

In this post, Shine member Steph tells us how she talked to her son about her diagnosis. What are your experiences of talking to young children about cancer? Please share this post and add a comment if you like.


When I was diagnosed with cancer in July 2016, my first thoughts were ‘I just need to get through this for him’ – ‘him’ being my nearly five-year old, Theo. We’d arranged a fantastic party for his fifth birthday and all I was concerned about was being there for it.

As it happened, the first part of my treatment was booked in for a week after the party. This was such a relief. The sun shined brightly that day and it couldn’t have gone better.

I knew, though, that I had to tell him about my cancer because there were going to be things he’d see, and things that would come as a surprise to him. Perhaps everything he was used to might change. Who knew at this point?

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Steph and Theo

I read a book that was written to help you tell your children about a cancer diagnosis, and I was genuinely saddened by it. It talked about the family getting angry and the diagnosis not being the child’s fault, and about parents getting cross but telling the child not to blame themselves. Then there was a picture of utter chaos: dad was in the kitchen in his pyjamas, there was a knife in the fish tank, the dog was eating the kids’ cereal and the kitchen floor was flooded. It was absolute carnage – it simply looked to me like daddy wouldn’t be able to cope. This was not at all what I wanted Theo to see or understand. The book and the tale it told just really didn’t work for me.

A different approach

I wanted something that said, ‘no matter what happens, Mummy is doing her absolute best for you, and doing everything in her power to be OK’. So I decided to write a poem. I needed it to be personal to Theo to help him understand that the future might look different for a while, and that Mummy wasn’t going to be well.

Dear Theo,

Mummy has written this for you, it’s a rhyme, 

And wants to read it to you from time to time.

For now, mummy does feel a little sick,

But a cuddle from you would do the trick.

Sometimes mummy will stay in hospital for the night,

The nurses will take good care of her, she’ll be alright.

You know you take medicine from a spoon,

Mummy has medicine too which’ll make her better soon.

The doctors are doing all they can to make her well,

Why not even wish her a get well soon spell?

Mummy is trying her absolute best,

But sometimes she needs a little rest.

You are all she thinks about day and night,

And dreams about you and her flying your kite.

As always be the loving person you’ve always been,

You’re the bravest boy mummy has ever seen.

Theo’s reaction

The first time I read it to Theo, he smiled and said ‘wow, it rhymes!’. I knew, though, that he’d heard the underlying messages. I was lucky too that when Theo was with his dad, he’d read it to him as well. Theo heard the poem over and over again, and even asked for it sometimes. I think it prepared him for the next few months and taught him that there was likely to be a fair amount of change coming.

As changes were on the horizon, I told him when they were going to happen: a stay in hospital, surgery (and therefore he’d have to be extra careful and not jump on me) and losing my hair. Theo never really asked any questions and dealt with it all very matter-of-factly – a little like me, I think.

Theo really didn’t like my wig though and wanted me to just ‘be me’ and not hide behind it. My hair is growing back now, and the other day he asked if I could shave it again as that’s what he preferred! It struck me that no matter what, children love you unconditionally – and even if I’m feeling different or unusual, to him I’m normal and I’m his mummy.

I also visited Theo’s school as I didn’t know how he would be affected by my illness and if it might come out in class. The school were fantastic: they set up an Emotional Learning Support Assistant for Theo, with whom he had a chat with once a week. It seemed that no matter what was happening, I was still his mummy, and he simply told them what was going on at that point in time. It gave me a great peace of mind to know that the staff were looking out for him when I wasn’t able to do so.

Looking back

I find my poem hard to read now as it brings back so many difficult memories. At the time, my priority was to make sure that Theo would be okay, and that I got through everything as easily as I could for him.

I’m so glad that I didn’t go in all guns blazing with that book, and that I took some time to think about what was right for us.

If you like the poem or think it would work for you, too, then feel free to read it to your children.

If you’re affected by any of the issues that Steph has discussed, you can join our private Facebook group and find peer support.

If you’re free on 19th May, join us at Shine Connect 2018, our annual conference. We’re having a session specifically for parents going through cancer who want to support their children. More information at shineconnect.co.uk.

You can also look at the list of useful organisations on our website

Looking for a job after cancer

In the second of two blog posts on looking for work after cancer, recruitment consultant Ash Holmes answers some of the questions that were put to him via our private Facebook group. If you’re looking for work, make sure to check out his original post too. And good luck!


 

How should I deal with gaps in my CV? I don’t want the time I took off for treatment etc. to be seen as a red flag to an employer.working after cancer

This is probably the hardest question to answer as there are so many variables, and it will depend on your individual circumstances and how open you wish to be.

If you’re returning from a career break, no matter how long or short, it is best to at least address it in some way on your CV. Don’t leave it up to the individual reading your CV to wonder and draw their own conclusions.

Depending on how open you plan to be, simply putting ‘career break due to personal reasons, happy to discuss during a call/interview’ could be enough to stop a potential employer from wondering and instead focus on the rest of your CV and application.

Wording here is very important! As a reader, the difference between ‘personal issues’ and ‘personal reasons’ is huge. Try to think carefully about any language you use and avoid sounding negative. Ask for a second opinion, and get someone else to read through your CV.

If you do not want to talk about your reasons for having a break, then simply putting ‘career break’ with the relevant dates is still better than leaving a gap. By being transparent and addressing any empty spaces head-on, it stops any reader from trying to guess what’s happened. This is your chance to ‘control’ the reader’s impression.

Most recruiters and hiring managers will make a quick judgement about a CV, and finding an extended gap between dates is often one of the first things that they will want to ask about. Bearing that in mind, it’s important for you to be able to provide a reason for the career break, even if you are not going to talk about cancer. People take career breaks for a number of reasons, including: concentrating on family/a hobby or passion, feeling they have achieved everything they wanted and needing time to consider the next step, the end of a contract, or a change in circumstances (professional or personal) that meant they did not want to rush into a new position.

Where can I find good examples of CVs for different types of jobs?

For all CVs, there are core principles to be followed:

  • Make it clear and easy to read (do not try and fill every bit of white space with boxes of text)
  • Be concise (the ‘two pages’ rule is a good guideline, but it’s only a guideline!)
  • Make sure the content is relevant to the position you are applying for (you might need to create a few different versions of your CV)
  • Make sure key information is clear and well positioned (name and contact details at the top)
  • Don’t be afraid to use bold, underline, italics, or bullet points to emphasise information
  • Triple-check for grammar and spelling – and ask a friend to check it
  • If you are speaking to a recruitment consultant, ask for their advice

It’s useful also to consider the standards in your industry. A web designer might create their own website with examples of their previous work, for example, or a graphic designer might have a portfolio.

If you have recommendations on LinkedIn, you might want to include a link to your profile in your CV. If you are wondering how to ask for recommendations on LinkedIn, one of the most effective ways is to complete a recommendation for someone else. Once accepted, they might complete one without asking. Alternatively, explain that you are returning to work and that you would really appreciate a recommendation.LinkedIn

Professional CV writers do exist, but I would be very wary about paying anyone money. You will likely receive similar advice to that which you can already find online. The majority of job boards also have blog posts and CV templates readily available.

You can find a sample of my CV at the end of this blog.

Should I mention my cancer in an interview? What’s the best approach to mentioning time off without scaring employers?

First of all, it’s important to note that you are not obliged to disclose a cancer diagnosis and it is actually illegal for an employer to ask about your health in an interview. Once you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, you’re covered by the Equalities Act 2010 which provides legal protection against discrimination relating to employment, including during the recruitment process.

Having said that, whether you want to mention your cancer diagnosis is your choice. Personally, I think you need to focus on why you are the right person for the job, what you can bring, and how it will be beneficial for the employer/hiring manager. If you are going to discuss your illness, it is probably better to bring it up in person, during a later stage interview. Here, you can gauge a potential employers’ reaction and reassure them of your capability to do the role – and by this point, you already have your foot in the door. You can also control the conversation by providing relevant information and answering any questions.

When your cancer experience is relevant to your job and could be beneficial (in that it provides a useful perspective), how should you bring it up? I don’t want to present a sob story!

Dream jobIf you feel something is relevant and it will help you to be better at your job… mention it! Sell your strengths/experiences. Here is where a cover letter on an initial application might be the right approach. Just saying ‘I’ve had cancer’ isn’t enough: you need to explain why and how that will make you better at the job.

If you think your cancer experience could provide you with a ‘competitive advantage’ over other candidates, then maximise it! Don’t discount your experience and what you’ve learned through it.

Should I Google myself when I’m looking for work? Will an employer do this? What kind of stuff do they look for?

Some employers will carry out a Google search and social media check, and some won’t. It will often depend on the type of role and industry. Is the role public-facing, for example? Does it involve work with young or vulnerable people? It is always best to be on the safe side and use common sense. Here is where a professional profile, such as LinkedIn, can help you to present the best impression.

For some roles, employers will carry out police background checks, but they must ask your permission before doing this.

If you are concerned about your online image, there are often ways to make your social media profiles private. Do a quick Google search to find out how to do this for each specific platform. Many teachers, for example, change their name on social media to make it harder for pupils or parents to find them.

What’s the best way to look for a new job? Should I go online? What can a recruiter offer me?

The best approach is to combine online and offline activity. Reach out to former colleagues, friends, and acquaintances – anyone in your network who may be able to help. Hiring managers are more willing to talk on the phone or offer an interview after a personal recommendation, and if you talk to people you know then you may also hear about jobs before they have been advertised online. The process can feel less formal and more relaxed, helping you to demonstrate your skills and ability.

A huge part of the recruitment process is online, with a drive to make the process automated in many industries. Job boards are the best place to start. There are several main boards that cover a number of industries and experience levels (Indeed, CV Library, Total Jobs, Jobsite, Reed, and Monster). Alongside these are more specialised job boards. Do a Google (other search engines are available) search to find yours.

A large proportion of recruitment agencies and employers are now posting their roles on LinkedIn, so make sure you set up an account and take look.

Remember that applying via a job board or careers website is just the first stage. To stand out, it is important to follow-up via a call or email. Don’t be afraid to use social media to your advantage: if you know the hiring manager’s or recruiter’s name, add them on LinkedIn. Or ask the company for an update via Twitter!

Unfortunately, now that we have automation and most recruitment processes are online, receiving a generic rejection email is common. From May 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into force. This means that you can request any application to be reviewed by a human instead of through automation.

Contacting a recruiter can be a great way to learn more about market conditions, industry-specific job boards, suitable roles, realistic earning potential, and which employers are more flexible with employees than others. The key to building a relationship with a recruiter is to do your research and make sure that they are working in the relevant industry to you.

A word of caution though: recruiters are sales people. Some will be very helpful and answer your questions, but others won’t – especially if they do not feel that they will be able to place you into a role.

Feel free to contact me on LinkedIn to see if I can recommend a recruiter based on your career goals/background.

Ash Holmes has spent the last seven years working in the recruitment industry. As well as working with thousands of candidates, Ash has created and delivered employability training to college students and individuals who are not in work, education or employment.  Ash has placed candidates with organisations as varied as Red Bull, Olympus KeyMed, Tottenham Hotspur, and Red Gate Software. He is more than happy to answer any follow-up questions and connect on LinkedIn.

Here’s a sample CV – Ashley Holmes

Borough, London, SE1

E: example@e.com. M: +44 (0) 00000 0000000

L: http://linkedin.com/in/ashholmes14

An experienced operations and marketing professional with over 7 years’ experience within the recruitment industry. Looking for a role and organisation to be able to continue my development, expand my experience and match my ambition. I have recently returned from spending a month in North America and am now looking for a new role.

I bring a wide range of experience and skills to the role including:

  • Strategy
  • Communication
  • Change management
  • Systems and process
  • Project management
  • Marketing & social media, including ress
  • Internal recruitment
  • Third-party management (suppliers, etc.)
  • Sales & account management
  • Training

As part of my personal development I completed a Level 6 Diploma in Professional Marketing from the Chartered Institute of Marketing in January 2017. The Diploma has helped me to understand the role that marketing plays within business, study key business-focused modules including Change Management, and to view marketing from a much more strategic position.

Employment History

Etonwood Ltd. (UK)

September 2017 – November 2017

Operations Director

Brought in to put in place the systems, process, and policies to help the organisation double in size. Implemented:

  • Trainee & senior attraction & interview process
  • On-boarding process & creation of ‘Welcome to Etonwood’ book
  • Mapped career progression & formalised job descriptions
  • Put in place appraisal process based on the above
  • First stages of GDPR policy
  • Created brand guidelines
  • Created social media strategy & reached over 100,000 LinkedIn impressions from 0
  • Put in place all health and safety policies

Raw Talent Academy Ltd. (UK)

May 2011 – August 2017

Operations, Marketing & Recruitment Manager

Joined as first full-time employee. The role evolved as the organisation grew to include marketing, operations, and finally managing the recruitment team.

Key Responsibilities:

  • Member of the Senior Management Team providing input on company-wide strategy
  • Creation & implementation of Marketing strategy to drive B2B lead generation & candidate attraction in line with company objectives
  • Marketing & Operations budget
  • Management of team of three recruitment consultants & one administrator – increased delivery from 73% (H1 2016) to 123% (H2 2016)
  • Account-managed two key accounts
  • Project-managed rebrand and launch of new website (launched 2017)
  • Project-managed development of a Digital Recruitment Assessment tool (SiD Digital)
  • Management of IT & processes, including: CRM/ATS, Office365, Data Recovery, IT support
  • Managed key external/supplier relationships (CRM, developers, graphic design, video creation, job boards)
  • Contracts, terms and policies (employee contracts, Health & Safety, etc.)
  • Press releases & award entries – existing relationships with recruitment industry journalists and publications, as well as some national publications.

Key Skills:

  • Microsoft Office
  • Adobe Photoshop, InDesign
  • iMovie
  • Basic HTML

 

MarketMaker4 (UK)

Technology Company

March 2011 – May 2011

Consultant

 

Travelling in Australia

January 2010 – February 2011

 

RightNow Technologies Inc. (Australia)

International Information Technology Company

April – December 2009

Assistant to Marketing Manager APAC / Business Development Representative APAC

Key Responsibilities:

  • The building and purging of customer and prospect databases to ensure the correct contact is listed along with correct contact details
  • Arranging and organising events for, and in partnership with, the Marketing Manager to ensure customers and prospects have a positive customer experience at the events
  • Helped in the development of and provided feedback regarding Marketing campaigns so that they have the maximum impact and highest response rates
  • Engaging with customers and prospects in the run-up to company events to encourage attendance
  • Identifying and contacting prospect and target accounts to create business opportunities

Foodnet Ltd. (UK)

International Food Trading and Production Company

June 2008 – March 2009

Purchasing and Sales Admin

Education

The Chartered Institute of Marketing (UK)

November 2015 – January 2017

Level 6 Diploma in Professional Marketing

Modules; Strategic Marketing, Marketing Metrics, Driving Innovation

Chesham High School (UK)

September 2006 – April 2008

3 A-Levels A-D

Amersham School (UK)

September 2001 – June 2006

9 GCSE’s A-C

Interests

Sport and music are my two main passions. I am a keen runner and have completed three marathons to date (London, Paris and Nice to Cannes). I also regularly attend live music.

References available on request.