The power of music: our Shine cancer playlist

In this blog post, Shine Network Support Officer Neil shares some of the songs that helped members of our Shine community during and after cancer treatment.


At Shine Cancer Support, we know first-hand the difference that music can make when you are going through cancer treatment. When I was going through radiotherapy I banned the staff from playing their music (One Direction and Abba – not my cup of tea!) and played my own music instead to feel like I still had some control. After treatment finished and some of the real difficulties with my physical and mental health emerged, I found that music was the key to helping me deal with my emotions.

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Blog post author Neil, who is not a fan of One Direction

After a few posts in our private Facebook group regarding music, we thought we might create a Shine playlist. These are the songs that members of our community feel have helped them. Hopefully there are a few gems here that you can uncover for yourself!

Katy Perry – ‘Roar’

Our Oxford Network Leader Sam said that this song helped her get up and about during recovery.

Coldplay – ‘Up&Up’

Angela said that her friend played it to her during chemotherapy and the lyrics make her very emotional – especially the last line. Listen for yourself and see what you think!

Mellah – ‘Cigarette Lighter’

Sean suggested this song, so I checked it out. It’s something a bit different and really worth a listen. I really like the line ‘I’ll keep walking’.

Sia – ‘Angel By The Wings’ and Jess Glynne – ‘I’ll Be There’

Hazel said that Sia’s music really helped her – especially this song, with the lyrics ‘You can do anything.’

“This is the one song I played repeatedly whilst undergoing treatment – the lyrics perfectly matched how I was feeling. it repeats ‘you can do anything’; she almost shouts the line out at the top of her lungs and it made me feel empowered. It’s just such a powerful, beautiful song.”

Hazel also listened to the Jess Glynne track ‘I’ll Be There’ a lot.

“It’s an uplifting song, great for singing along to and, whilst I guess it is meant to be about people being there for you, it actually helped me to feel I could support myself. After feeling let down sometimes by others during my illness and treatment, this song made me think ‘I’ve got my own back’.”

The Greatest Showman – ‘This Is Me’

Shine member Rachel found these lyrics apt, if a bit cheesy!

Foo Fighters – ‘These Days’

Joe said that this Foo Fighters song helped his wife. He encourages her to play it at his funeral as a message to anyone trying to tell her that things will be OK.

Soul Fly – ‘Fly High’

Shine member Neil thinks that this is a really positive song.

Elton John – ‘I’m Still Standing’ and Mary J Blige – ‘No More Drama’

According to Jacqui, her first song choice doesn’t really need an explanation! She related to ‘No More Drama’ a lot and would blare it out in hospital.

Avenue Q – ‘For Now’

Jenni told me that this song reminded her that whatever she is going through, it will pass.

Marconi Union – ‘Weightless’

Yulia recommended this track for some relaxation and meditation.

Rag‘n’Bone Man – ‘Human’

I picked this song from a long list of Jenny’s favourite music. It’s one that a lot of fellow Shiny folk could relate to!

Fleur East – ‘Girl On Fire’

Jo chose this song because it reminds her of a great friend and fellow Shine member who died.

Sara Bareilles – ‘She Used To Be Mine’

This song resonates with Karen, who relates this song to her feeling of becoming a different person after cancer.

RuPaul – ‘Champion’

Lauren had loads of song suggestions, but she really enjoyed blasting RuPaul at her treatment in hospital so I think that this track deserves a place on our list!

Keb Mo – ‘I’m Amazing’

Daniela finds this track really relaxing and highly recommends it for meditation.

Destiny’s Child – ‘Survivor’

Rosie has lots of favourite cancer songs.

“They’re all super cheesy but I don’t care! A few days after I was diagnosed, I took part in the Cancer Research Pretty Muddy race with one of my close friends who had been diagnosed a year or so before me and her team. It was touch-and-go if I’d still take part [in the race] because I knew it was going to be really emotive, but I decided to get over myself and do it anyway. As I arrived, before meeting up with the others, ‘Survivor’ was playing. Yeah, it made me cry, but it’s what I needed to hear at that time.”

Ben Howard – ‘Keep your Head Up’

Marbellys listens to this song when she’s feels down. Music has really helped her in training for a half marathon too, and this is one of the tracks on her motivational playlist.

P!nk – ‘Just Like a Pill’

Angela told me: “This is the perfect treatment song, and it reminds me of my lovely Great Escape crew belting it out together in karaoke.” Karaoke is part of the evening fun at our twice-annual Great Escape retreats – but don’t worry, there’s no obligation to sing!

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At Shine we love a good singalong!

Bon Jovi – ‘Have a Nice Day’

Mike said that Bon Jovi’s ‘Have a Nice Day’ helps him when ‘the world gets in his way’!

Epica – ‘Delerium’

A great symphonic metal track, and Irene’s ‘it will all get better’ song.

Sia – ‘Unstoppable’

I think we can all recognise the helpfulness of this song – just like Shine member Liv, who nominated it for the playlist.

The Spice Girls – ‘Spice Up Your Life’

The Spice World – 2019 tour went on sale just as Joe was given his first chemotherapy date. The boppy, upbeat nature of the Spice Girls’ music really helped push him through the whole experience. This song took him back to easier times in life.

Florence + The Machine – ‘Dog Days Are Over’ and Bring Me The Horizon – ‘It Never Ends’

To finish the playlist, here are my two choices! I love the lyrics in the first song, especially ‘happiness hit her, like a bullet in the back.” I love lyrics, as shown in my next song choice. ‘It Never Ends’ is heavy and loud, and I listen to it on a bad day when I’m feeling down. The line ‘That I’m OK, that I’m fine, that’s it’s all just in my mind’ is one I can relate to a lot – especially with my day-to-day symptoms.

 

Fancy listening to all these songs? We’ve put together a Shine YouTube playlist just for you! Listen here. What songs would you add to our collection? Let us know in the comments.

Ten things I’ve learned in ten years of cancer

In our latest blog, one of our founding Directors, Ceinwen, writes about what she’s learned in the ten years since she was diagnosed with cancer.IMG_3361


On 4 February it will be exactly ten years since I was diagnosed with Stage 4 non-Hodgkin lymphoma. It’s also World Cancer Day, though I probably can’t claim that’s all my doing.

Cancerversaries can be a weird time. For me, I’m usually mentally taken back to being told that I had an aggressive blood cancer that had spread throughout my body. I had a six-week-old premature baby – and was then told I had a 40% chance of living two years. One of the most awful things I’ve ever faced was looking at my tiny child and wondering if I’d get to see her grow up.

In any case, I’m still here! It turns out that my haematologist was right – spending six months in the hospital on a high dose chemotherapy regimen offered the best chance for my survival and got me into long-term remission. It was, as one doctor told me, a question of short-term pain for long-term gain, and I’m incredibly lucky the gamble worked. The thing that no one warned me about was that there would be some longer-term pains too; pains that aren’t easily ignored or put to rest because you have to learn to live with it in some way. So with that in mind, here are ten things I’ve learned over the last ten years…

1. It really is the simple things that matter

Spending six months in the hospital, largely in isolation, gives you a lot of time to think. When I wasn’t feeling awful, I did manage to squeeze in some guided meditation between Homes Under the Hammer and the relentless taking of my ‘obs’. 

The guided meditation that I followed had this section at the end where you were supposed to focus on something you wanted to realise in the future. The only thing I ever focused on was walking hand-in-hand with my daughter on her way back from school. My daughter is 10 now (and almost at an age where she doesn’t want to hold my hand!) but every time I pick her up from school, a little part of me smiles because there is so much joy in feeling her little fingers in mine.

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Hanging out with this little person (and her dad) makes me happy.

We often think it’s the biggest things that matter the most, and that we have to ‘make memories’, but one thing I’ve learned is that the very best memories can also be the simplest.

2. You can’t come out the same way you went in

In his book the Emperor of all Maladies, Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee recounts the story of Carla, a patient with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia who, like me, spent months in the hospital while receiving treatment. 

“What went into that room and what came out were two different people”, Carla says – a thought that resonated profoundly with me when I first read it.

Through Shine, I’ve spent years working with other younger adults with cancer and I can think of very few who were the same people afterwards as they were before. This isn’t always a bad thing and in no way means that they’re ‘defined’ by their illness, but it’s hard to have a life-threatening disease and stay the same. I think it would probably be weird if you did. 

There’s a lot of grief that goes with a cancer diagnosis and treatment, not least because you lose the sense of invincibility that you didn’t even know you had. For a lot of people I know, this can be a useful realisation: once you realise that time is limited, life can simplify. Why waste time on people you don’t like or a job you hate when you’re staring death hard in the eye? 

3. Find your peace of mind

I don’t really like yoga or pilates (and believe me, I have tried). Once you’ve got cancer though, everyone seems to think you need to do them to relax. One thing I’ve learned is that finding a way to quiet your mind is important – whether that’s through yoga or something else. For me, that something else is running. 

Part of my treatment involved having chemotherapy injected directly into my spine – a specific type of horror that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. I survived each injection by mentally picturing myself running up Parliament Hill on Hampstead Heath. If I could just get to the top, the chemo would be done and the needle would be out of my spine. 

47ecf11f-6c4a-46a0-8bd2-518bfd0c9f38Once I was out of the hospital, I found running was one of the only ways I could calm my mind and rid myself of the constant worries about dying. Writing in Wired magazine last year after the death of US runner Gabriel Grunewald, editor Nicholas Thompson noted that running had helped him too: I still run and train in no small part because it’s a reminder that I’m alive. At times, I’ll snap back to the months after my treatments, and times when I felt like I could barely walk, and remember how beautiful it is to be able to run.” 

I couldn’t have said it better myself and to mark my ten years I’ll be running 10km in May with (at least) ten friends – and hoping to raise £10,000. If you’d like to donate to help me reach my goal, please click here! And if you’d like to join us on the run, let me know! 

4. There is no magic cure

I really wish there was a magic cure for cancer or that Big Pharma was hiding ‘The Truth’ but as far as I can tell, neither is true. Through Shine I’ve met some of the world’s leading cancer researchers who themselves are disappointed that there isn’t a magic bullet out there (or a conspiracy that they can be part of!). As our knowledge of cancer evolves, we’re increasingly learning that cancer isn’t one disease but many, meaning the chance that one thing is going to cure all cancers becomes less likely. That kale and wheatgrass shake your mother’s next-door neighbour has made you? Also unlikely to cure you.

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Sadly, this will not cure your cancer.

And if anyone tells you to forgo chemotherapy while following their specific diet or plan, ask yourself ‘who is making money from this?’. Yes, Big Pharma makes money from their drugs but that guy selling you a raw juice diet is making money too – and only one of them has been proven to work.

5. You don’t always need to be positive

If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, chances are that more than one person has told you that you just ‘need to be positive’. But do you, really? 

Being diagnosed with cancer isn’t a positive experience. It sucks and, even ten years later, I’d give it all back in a heartbeat if I could. Very early on in my treatment, my haematologist told me that while being positive might have an impact on my quality of life, it wouldn’t have any impact on the success of the treatment. At the time, I’m not sure I believed him. Months later, as the sadness of my situation fully hit me, those were words I often clung to. Feeling sad wasn’t going to make me any physically worse and there was a relief in knowing that. That’s not to say I was never positive, but I didn’t force myself to feel good about something that was pretty crap just because someone else thought I should. What I focused on instead was having a good time when I could, hanging out with my husband, laughing with friends, and reading celebrity magazines to relax.

6. Cancer patients get the flu too

My cancer treatment gave me a chronic immune deficiency which requires an infusion at the hospital every four weeks, and every time something physically goes wrong, I tend to blame cancer. It turns out, though, that I’m still able to experience what I think of as ‘Muggle Problems’. 

CrunchieA few months ago, I chipped a tooth eating some Halloween candy and became convinced that my teeth were crumbling due to my cancer/cancer treatment/immune deficiency. It was actually, as my dentist said, ‘wear and tear’ which was not helped by eating copious amounts of Cadbury’s Crunchie bars. I mentally take any physical illnesses a lot harder now because I’m so aware of how drastically and quickly things can go wrong. I also try a lot harder to push myself when I’m not well, just to prove that I’m not really ill. Unfortunately it turns out that even regular people need sick days – and there isn’t much benefit in trying to push through them.

7. Animals are amazing

If you’ve been to a Shine conference or Great Escape lately, you’ll know that we’re big fans of therapy animals – from dogs to alpacas. I always liked animals but post-diagnosis I’ve become a much bigger fan. Why? Probably because animals can offer unconditional attention while asking for little in return… selfish, I know, but also very joyful. If you can’t have a dog, I’d highly recommend giving Borrow My Doggy a look (I met a great canine friend this way!). 

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My cat

I have also just got a cat and I’m loving having another creature in my house. Given his feline manner, his is a more conditional ‘feed-me-and-I’ll-love-you’ type of attention, but it’s still very therapeutic**!

8. Cancer isn’t an immediate death sentence

Before I entered Cancerland, I thought a cancer diagnosis was pretty much a live-or-die situation. Perhaps the biggest and best change I’ve seen in the last ten years is that more and more people are living longer with cancer. I know many people with Stage 4 bowel cancer who have defied the odds and now have ‘no evidence of disease’, while many other friends have been treated with immunotherapies and are living far longer than they would have ten years ago. That’s not to say that living with cancer is easy: it’s not, and it presents us with new emotional and  physical challenges. That said, if you know someone who is diagnosed with cancer then remember that treatments are changing all the time, and that there is an ever-widening gap between a diagnosis and the end of the line. 

9. Pace yourself

I’m going to be honest here and say that while this is something I’ve learned, it’s not necessarily something I practice

Fatigue is a huge post-diagnosis issue and, thankfully, one that is getting more recognition by doctors and researchers. Yet that doesn’t make it easier to deal with. If I overdo it, I’ll wake up feeling like I’ve been hit by a truck, and cancer-related fatigue doesn’t go away after a good nap. While I have always used a more of a ‘crash-and-burn’ type of approach, I have learned that pacing can be valuable, if annoying (why do I need to pace myself when no one else has to?). I’ve learned that exercise can help to manage fatigue – and also to acknowledge that if I have overdone it, there’s nothing wrong with taking some time out. 

10. Find your people

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Me and the Shine team at our October 2019 Great Escape

Some of the first people I met back when we started Shine also had babies and cancer. Others I met had had their careers dramatically interrupted. They were exhausted, and they were suffering from anxiety. That may not sound like a fun bunch, but I probably laughed longer and harder with my Shine friends than with anyone else, partly because we had the kind of shared experiences that bond you together in a powerful way. Many of those people remain my close friends and there is something amazingly comforting about being surrounded by people who just ‘get it’. I have a great husband and wonderful friends and family, but having friends who truly understand what living with cancer and its aftermath is like has given me the strength to keep going in my darkest times. If you haven’t found your people yet, give Shine (or another group) a try. You’ve got nothing to lose and very possibly an awful lot to gain!

**As I was writing this, my cat left a dead mouse on the doormat, which my daughter then stepped on with her socked foot. Perhaps not the therapeutic experience I was looking for. 

Coaching and cancer: Karen’s story

Karen Myers is a blogger, baker, knitter, traveller, theatre-goer and escape room addict. She was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in July 2018 and has blogged about her experience at atozeeofbc.com. In this guest blog post, she writes about her experience of Shine’s coaching programme.


A cancer diagnosis tends to throw a spanner into the works of your life. The various cogs of your relationships, your career, your health, your lifestyle, your hobbies, and your free time are all whirring away quite happily until a doctor says ‘you’ve got cancer’. Then everything comes to a grinding halt. Through no choice of their own, many people with cancer have to put large parts of their life on hold as they go through treatment. But when that active treatment is over it can be hard work to get the engine of ‘normal’ life started again. The physical and psychological drain on your energy and enthusiasm can leave you feeling directionless. I certainly felt that way – my cancer diagnosis came after a difficult redundancy from a job I had loved, and when a year of treatment and surgery came to an end I had no clue what my next step in life should be. I felt totally lost.

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Blog post author Karen Myers

That’s when Shine’s coaching programme appeared on my radar. I took the leap of applying in the hope that it would give me some guidance, some direction and maybe a little oil to get my engines running again. I had no real understanding of coaching but I learned quickly that the Shine coaching programme is flexible and open. The programme can help you focus on whatever you need: whether that’s your career, your relationships, your work/life balance, your search for better health, or your financial or personal wellbeing. Maybe post-cancer you wants to find a new direction, personally or professionally, or maybe you want help to rebuild normality after cancer has crashed through your life. Under Shine’s coaching programme, the end goal is entirely down to you. And if you’re not even sure what that end goal might be, that’s OK too. 

Now in its fourth year, the Shine Coaching programme starts with a fun, informative workshop where those being coached can meet and start devising the goals that will become the focus of their coaching sessions. These goals can be specific and detailed (‘I want to become an astronaut’) or, as in my case, woolly and vague (‘help, I need to change my life’). The goals can shift and change throughout the process, but initially they’re used to match you to the most appropriate person in Shine’s stable of experienced, skilled (and quite frankly, lovely) coaches. The opening workshop is also a crash course in what coaching should be: non-judgemental, flexible, open, and safe, and focused on exploration rather than sticking to a rigid, expected path. 

After the workshop you receive three full coaching sessions via Skype. What happens in those sessions is entirely up to you. What I found most surprising (and initially terrifying) about coaching is the freedom you have to plough your own furrow. Your coach isn’t there to steer you down particular routes or give ‘you must do this’-style advice, but rather to act as a sounding board. An experienced, skilled coach, like those on the Shine programme, know that their role is to ask you the right questions so that you can guide yourself towards your goals. Sometimes those questions can be challenging, asking you to peel back some of the layers of your self-perception. But your answers are heard with compassion and understanding and, surprisingly, it can be refreshing to be confronted with your own fears and self-conceits in such a safe environment. However, coaching is not therapy or counselling. Although my sessions occasionally became emotional, the focus was always on a positive way forward, on ways to reach the future ‘me’ I was trying to find. 

My coaching sessions were focussed on what work after cancer would look like for me. Having been in the same industry for nearly 20 years, the shock of a cancer diagnosis had me in a panic. I wondered whether I needed to become someone entirely different now. I really felt the pressure of all those ‘I had cancer and I started my own multi-million pound business/ran 20 marathons/climbed all the mountains’ stories. My coach’s steady, guiding (never leading) hand made me realise that I’m not ready to make a big leap just yet. I need some stability and security after an earth-shattering trauma to my life. And my coach led me to realise that that is OK. Coaching doesn’t have to lead to major changes. It can help you reclaim and reframe normal, if that’s what you want. 

Even Shine’s stellar coaching programme might not give you the ultimate answer to life, the universe and everything (that’s 42!), but it might just help you find the right questions to ask. 

What the doctor learned

Dr Charlotte Squires was diagnosed with advanced Hodgkin lymphoma in November 2018 when she was 30. In this guest blog post, she writes about how her diagnosis and treatment has changed the way that she approaches her career as a doctor.


Lymphoma is known for being tricky to diagnose: it can present in strange ways, or with signs that may not seem that concerning to people without medical knowledge.

As a doctor, it was surprisingly easy to work out what was going on. My partner and I were living and working in New Zealand on a year out between stages of my UK medical training when I realised that I was losing weight. Initially I was pleased, as many of us would be, and I put it down to healthier eating. But then the weight kept coming off, the night sweats began, and it started sounding less like a reason to buy new skinny jeans, and more like a cancer diagnosis waiting to happen. I wrote a list of what I thought could be wrong – each illness more worrying than the next – and took it, terrified, to my own GP. He thought I was just anxious but he took some blood tests anyway, expecting to be reassured. The next day I was on call at the hospital, seeing acutely unwell patients in the emergency department, when my GP phoned. My results were more abnormal than those of the patients that I had spent the morning admitting, and they were highly suggestive of cancer. Over the next week I had a CT, then a biopsy, and then confirmation of advanced lymphoma – the illness that had been at the top of my worrying list. packed up our things in three days and flew home. I found myself tipped from the end of the hospital bed, headfirst into it.

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Charlotte during treatment for Hodgkin lymphoma

Becoming a doctor involves a lot of learning. Medical professionals spend long years memorising anatomical diagrams, the routes of nerves and blood vessels, the causes of different symptoms, and what different organs look like under a microscope. We spend hours speaking to patients, trying to understand what it means to have an illness and to undergo treatment. We learn about drug doses, side effects, and the likelihood of successful treatment. We learn how to break bad news, and how to explain complex diseases.

And yet, there was so much I didn’t know.

I didn’t know what it means to have a mouth so sore that you can’t bear to drink. I didn’t know how it feels to lose all of your hair on your birthday, or how hard it is to know that it will take several years to grow back fully. I didn’t know the paralysing misery of severe nausea, or the gripping pain from bone marrow-boosting injections, or what it’s like to nearly faint in the middle of the Aldi Christmas aisle due to severe anaemia. I didn’t know how it feels to face down your mortality, or to lose friends, young and beautiful, to terrible illnesses similar to your own. I didn’t know what it was like to feel afraid, and so vulnerable that it’s as though your skin has been flayed from your bones. I didn’t know just how often the health service gets it wrong, or sends things astray, or just forgets, and how sometimes it doesn’t really seem to care. I didn’t know what it means to feel unable to trust your own body. I didn’t know how much bravery it takes, every day, to live with and through a cancer diagnosis. There is much I’ve had to learn.

I’ve learned what it means to wait, like Schrodinger’s patient, both relapsed and in remission at the same time, until the scan result arrives. I’ve learned how to sit anxiously, in quiet waiting rooms, afraid of what might happen on the other side of a closed door and wondering whether I’ll be able to find the words to tell my family if it’s yet more bad news. I’ve learned to try to sit with this, to own it, and to keep living whilst I wait.

I’ve learned what it means to be unable to plan ahead, or to have multiple caveats around treatment timelines, scan results, and the major impact of fatigue. I’ve learned what it means to cancel an anniversary dinner at the last minute after vomiting spectacularly in a restaurant car park, and how it feels to be the awkward one with special requirements, who needs others to be flexible, and who can no longer work those long hours without a second thought.

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Our blog author Charlotte

Now, eight months later, after four cycles of chemotherapy and more tablets and injections than I care to remember, I am back at work, on the easiest end of the stethoscope. My hair is slowly growing back, and I am beginning to feel more normal. But it is a slow process, full of peaks and troughs and unexpected detours. As a patient, I was often frustrated. As a doctor, I try to look for those frustrations and acknowledge them, even if I can’t always fix them. One of the biggest things I often think about is how as a doctor, I see my patients for 20 minutes in clinic and often have little knowledge of their lives beyond the hospital walls – and of what it means to have your life suddenly turned upside down. These days I try to ask, to listen to the stories, and to say, honestly, that managing illness takes more effort than treating it. As doctors, we’ve learned a lot to get to where we are, but there is still so much that we don’t know.

Adoption after cancer

In this guest blog post, Emma Owen from PACT discusses adoption after cancer and finds out the answers to some of the Shine Cancer Support community’s burning questions.


As a charity that finds adoptive parents for children in care, we get all sorts of questions from people who want to find out more about whether adoption is right for them. We get asked frequently:  “Do I have to be married or in a relationship, or can I adopt on my own?”, “Do I need to own by own home?” or “Can I adopt if I’m gay?”. 

The answers to these question are straightforward – Yes you can adopt on your own, no you don’t have to own your own home, and yes, you can adopt if you are gay!

But when it comes to health there is no one answer for all. Every single case is individual and different to the next person. We frequently get asked whether someone who has had cancer can adopt. The short answer is – possibly.

The first thing to remember is that having had a cancer diagnosis and treatment does not automatically prevent anyone from being accepted, assessed and approved as an adoptive parent.

In fact, tenacity, resilience and positivity that people have demonstrated while undergoing treatment for cancer are great qualities for adopters. But this needs to be balanced with ensuring that an adopter has the energy and strength to parent their child into adulthood and beyond.

As well as thinking of your own hopes and dreams for a family, you must also think of the needs of the child. An adopted child will already have suffered loss, and possibly trauma, and any adoptive parent must be emotionally, as well as medically, fit to care for a child who has had a difficult start in life.

As part of the adoption process you will need to have an adoption health assessment with your GP and this will need to be seen by PACT’s medical adviser. Your treating consultant will be asked for a reference and their view will be influential in the decision as to whether you can proceed with adoption.

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PACT’s medical advisor Dr Efun Johnson said: “The assessment process seeks to explore individual strengths to parent, using available health information on health status and likely risks that may impact on meeting the physical, emotional and developmental needs of a child.” 

I asked Dr Efun to answer some of the most common adoption questions we get asked by people who have suffered from cancer.

Q: Do you have to wait a certain length of time after you finish treatment before adoption agencies will accept you? 

Dr Efun: “Every cancer differs and detection could be at differing stages. After treatment and remission or cure we would ask that you give yourself a year or two to settle before you apply to adopt. In some cases you may need to wait up to five years. 

Q: What if you have disabilities after cancer treatment and your partner had cancer too or has health issues – is adoption still an option?

Dr Efun: “It is the capacity and ability to look after and parent a child that is looked at as well as both yours and your partner’s health. Yes adoption is still an option. 

Q: What if you have cancer long term but it’s not currently life-threatening, can you adopt then?

Dr Efun: “It depends on the individual situation.”  

We also have some more general questions, which I put to PACT’s Adoption Team Manager Mandy Davies.

Q: If cancer leaves you unable to adopt, would it be possible for your partner to adopt a child in their name only? Then share parenting commitments? 

Mandy: “While a couple are living together there would need to be a joint assessment.  If we were not able to proceed due to cancer it is likely to be because of a limited life expectancy.  If an adoptive parent were to die, this loss would have a huge impact on an adopted child who will have already lost their birth parents and probably foster carers.”  

Q: What are the first steps if I want to find out about adopting?

Mandy: “Do your research into what’s involved in the process, the children waiting and all the things any adoptive parent needs to consider. We have a Guide to Adoption on the PACT website which is a great place to start. Then I’d suggest coming along to an information event. At PACT information events we have talk from a social worker about the process and an adopter to tell their story and you have the opportunity to ask any questions.”

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At PACT, we have many survivors of cancer who have successfully been approved as adopters and gone on to have a family through adoption.

Marcia and her husband adopted their two daughters after she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and successfully treated with an aggressive course of chemotherapy and a mastectomy. 

She said: “We were devastated, but the prognosis was positive. The oncology and fertility consultants worked with us to ensure I could have some eggs removed, and we had our embryos frozen. Post chemotherapy, we had to wait two years until we could have the embryos implanted. We had two unsuccessful attempts of IVF. 

For the next six months we took a long needed holiday and took the opportunity to consider our future as a family and we agreed to continue to explore the option of adoption.”

Marcia and her husband were approved through PACT and became parents to two sisters, aged one and two at the time. 

“We were really lucky, the girls took to us and their new home immediately. All the preparation work and transition went really well and they could just get on with being children.”

Marcia is a wonderful example of someone who has created her family through adoption after cancer. And in a society where there are three times as many children waiting than there are approved parents we do need more people to consider adoption. So don’t let cancer be the reason you don’t think about it. Every single application to adopt will need to be considered on an individual basis so do get in touch if you’d like to know more.

About PACT

Parents And Children Together (PACT) is an independent adoption charity and family support provider which last year placed 93 children with 64 PACT families through its adoption services. It is rated outstanding by Ofsted and provides award-winning adoption support to its families for life.

PACT is one of 34 voluntary adoption agencies in the UK which find, assess, approve and support adoptive parents. VAAs work in partnership with local authorities to find homes for children in care who are unable to stay with their birth families. To find out more about adoption visit www.pactcharity.org or to find a VAA local to you visit www.cvaa.org.uk

Emma Owen

Emma Owen

Emma Owen is PACT’s Head of Marketing and Communications.

Our craziest ‘cures’ for cancer

In this post, blog editor Caroline demystifies some of the wackiest ‘cures’ for cancer that have appeared on our radar recently.


Cancer is difficult for everyone. When you tell someone that you have cancer, they might not know what to say. After overcoming their initial shock, many people’s first instinct is to want to help. Sometimes help comes in the form of a hug, or a casserole – but often it can come as an ill-advised miracle treatment from the depths of the internet. Who knows where your friend or neighbour read this information? Are they even certain that it applies to your type of cancer? Chances are, you probably weren’t looking for a miracle cure and a huge Amazon shopping list when you shared the news either. When we share our medical history, most of us are probably hoping for some quiet understanding – and it can be frustrating and hurtful to be given dubious healthcare advice instead.

At our Great Escape retreat, we run a workshop that encourages young adults with cancer to engage critically with news stories and homespun ‘truths’ about cures for cancer. We discuss everything from apricot kernels to naked mole rats, and look at ways to check the authenticity of any alleged cancer ‘cure’. We often find that the stories doing the rounds lack rigorous scientific evidence, or the findings of one small study have been incorrectly extrapolated and interpreted by non-specialists. Or the proposed treatment does have some benefits – in mice.

We asked our Shine community to share the craziest ‘cures’ for cancer that they’d heard recently – and here’s what they told us.

nery-montenegro-lemons

When life gives you lemons…

Lemons

Maybe that famous saying should be ‘When life gives you cancer, make lemonade’, as so many members of our Shine community recall being told by well-meaning folk that lemons are the secret cure for cancer. According to one chain letter that keeps doing the rounds, ‘blend a whole lemon fruit with a cup of hot water and drinking it for about 1-3 months first thing before food and your cancer will disappear’! Well… it won’t.

Tropical fruit

Not keen on citrus? That might not be a problem! We’ve been told that pineapple, dragon fruit, ‘papayas… all the papayas’, and noni fruit are five-star cancer slayers. Unfortunately, munching your way through a pile of notoriously stinky noni fruit will not cure your cancer. There’s no evidence that pineapple, dragon fruit, or papaya will either. As the American Institute of Cancer Research points out, ‘no single food or food component can protect you against cancer itself’. If someone tries to convince you otherwise, you might like to point them in the direction of US cancer hospital Memorial Sloan Kettering’s excellent resource About Herbs or Cancer Research UK’s diet and cancer information pages. Always check with your doctor before making any major changes to your diet.

Crystals and moon beads

kira-auf-der-heide-HU1pjVyVdXI-unsplash

Crystals for external use only

One Shine member was told that she could cure her cancer by using special beads that are supercharged by the moon! And have you heard the one about crystals? Opal won’t cure your cancer (or ‘remove all the cancer-causing negative energy from your house’, as a young cancer patient friend of ours was told), but crystals of a different kind have proved vital in modern cancer research. Best to enjoy minerals like rose quartz and malachite as decoration, though.

Dog wormer

In April 2019, a lung cancer patient in the US hit the headlines when he proclaimed that dog-worming drug fenbendazole had cured his metastatic disease – which is probably why we’ve heard about it from our Shine community recently. The internet is awash with tales of self-medication for advanced cancer, and at least one study of the effect of fenbendazole on cancer cells has been carried out. Crucially, however, there have been no clinical trials on cancer patients as yet and thus its effectiveness remains unproven.  Don’t go rushing to Pets At Home this afternoon!

Taxi drivers

Not one, but two Shine members told us that taxi drivers had personally intervened to ‘cure’ their cancer!

‘He clasps my hand and absolutely goes “into one”. I am talking full-on, TV-show-style mega prayer, calling the spirit of [insert religious icon of your choice] to help rid me of cancer. This went on for a few minutes and I was so stunned I just sat there. He’d had the good grace to turn the meter off.

Anyway, he’s calling everyone under the sun down to channel through him and into my body (creepy!) and rid me of cancer. Then, just when I thought we were done (I’m still holding my hand awkwardly in his), he says this:

“Cancer… GO!”

I mean, all of a sudden, he shouts “cancer… GO!” so loudly that it actually makes me jump and squeal.

Then he turns to me, gives me back my hand, and smiles sweetly as he says “there, you are cured.”’

Unsurprisingly, we don’t have an explanation for this one. Nor do we have any evidence that it works.

The truth is out there

It’s not all citrus fruit and Uber drivers. We also heard from young people who had been told that they could cure their cancer through things like veganism (one of our vegan members was told that she must have been ‘doing veganism wrong!’), wheatgrass, and foraging for mushrooms in Regent’s Park. And somehow we’ve managed to reach the end of this blog post without mentioning everyone’s favourite super cruciferous, kale.

So what can you do when someone tells you that they know exactly what to do in order to treat your cancer? If they’re your doctor, lean in. If they aren’t? You might want to direct them to this excellent infographic that clearly explains the difference between relative risk and absolute risk – and shows why your bangers and mash is unlikely to kill you. There are some excellent resources available for people who wish to understand more about the science behind the headlines. You might like to check out Sense About Science, the Cancer Research UK Science Blog, or Quackwatch – a doctor-led website that has been busting myths and outing quacks since 1997.

Ask for evidence, do your own research, and remember to talk to your medical team before making any diet or lifestyle changes. And if you’ve had to bust a cancer myth recently, let us know in the comments!

 

Lemon slices photo by Nery Montenegro on Unsplash

Crystals photo by Kira auf der Heide on Unsplash

My experience on the Shine Great Escape

Guest blogger Sam was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in February 2019 at the age of 28. After six months of chemotherapy, she found out she was in remission the day before attending the Manchester Great Escape. In this post she writes about her experience on the Escape and why she found it so valuable.  


Shine Great Escape Manchester 2019 - deckchairs

In October 2019 I made my way up to Manchester for the Shine Great Escape. This free weekend brings together young adults in their 20s, 30s, and 40s who have been diagnosed with cancer. During the 3.5 days retreat there are various workshops that explore issues that affect young adults with cancer. It’s also an opportunity to have fun and meet people who just ‘get it.’

After a two-hour drive from Birmingham, I arrived at the hotel in Manchester on Thursday afternoon. I checked in with the Shine team at reception and everyone seemed really chatty and friendly, so I immediately felt at ease. After dropping my bags off in my room, I was introduced to my peer supporter and peer group. We had the opportunity to chat for a while before everyone headed into a room where Emma and Ceinwen (the founding directors of Shine) introduced themselves and we started to get to know each other.

In total there were over 20 of us attending the escape. Everyone seemed so different, but the more we talked the more I realised how much we also had in common. Although we had been through different experiences, it struck me how there were some things we could all relate to.

Over the next few days, I attended workshops on topics such as managing anxiety, relationships, and working after cancer. I can honestly say every single session I attended was invaluable. My brain was buzzing with information by the end of it. I even started saving snippets of advice in my phone so I wouldn’t forget things!

Each session was around 45 minutes long (sometimes shorter) and there were plenty of breaks built-in. There was also no pressure to do anything you didn’t want to do, and you could take a break or go for a nap in your room whenever you needed to.

When I told friends and family I was going on a “cancer retreat,” some assumed it would be a very sad and sombre occasion. Although the sessions covered some serious and sometimes painful topics, we generally maintained a light-hearted feel throughout.

Before coming on the escape I wasn’t sure how I’d feel sharing personal information about my life to a group of strangers. However, it didn’t take long before I felt completely comfortable. It felt good to know I could speak openly and honestly without fear of being judged.

Sam wearing an orange shine tshirt

Blog author Sam

What did I enjoy most about the Escape?

When I think back on my highlights from the Escape, there are a few moments that spring to mind.

On our first evening, we were given an icebreaker task to complete during dinner. Each table had to create a sculpture using pipe-cleaners, tin foil, and other random materials. The winning team’s Gwyneth Paltrow-inspired creation was brilliant! My team won the prize for ‘Best effort’ (which I’m trying to tell myself wasn’t just another way of saying ‘Congratulations, you came last!’).

When they bought in the therapy dogs on Saturday afternoon I had the biggest smile on my face! Then, on Saturday evening, we went into Manchester city centre for a meal before some of us headed on to karaoke. If you watch the video of the weekend, you’ll see I was really getting into it! Karaoke is something I used to enjoy doing before I was diagnosed (even though I’m a terrible singer!), and it felt so good to be doing it again.

In fact, this weekend really reminded me that cancer hasn’t changed me completely. I used to think of myself as a *fun* person, before chemo and hospital appointments took over my life. The Escape reminded me that I am still that person. I laughed and smiled more in those 3.5 days than I had all year!

During the final day of the Escape, we headed to Quarry Bank, a beautiful National Trust property around a 20-minute drive from the hotel. This was the location for our fundraising walk. It was very muddy, but luckily the rain held off. In total we raised almost £2,500, which will help fund places for the next Great Escape.

Shine Escape ready for fundraising walk

Would I recommend the Shine Great Escape?

Absolutely. The advice and information I received has been so helpful, and the memories I made will stay with me forever. I hadn’t been coping very well since finishing treatment, but the Escape helped me realise everything I’d been feeling was normal. That I wasn’t alone.

Our next Great Escape takes place in Bournemouth from 23-26 January 2020. Applications for the Escape – which is free to attend – are open until 15 November 2019. Apply now!

A version of this blog post was originally published on griffblog.co.uk.