We’ve got news!

Are you wondering why you haven’t heard from us in a while? The Shine Cancer Support blog has migrated to our brand new website (yessss!) and we’re now sharing our latest posts there.

We’re working on moving across all our regular subscribers, but in the meantime why don’t you check out our blog’s new home?

Last week we shared a Shine member’s insight into the realities of living with incurable cancer, and over the coming months we’ll be sharing more stories from our Shine community. Stay tuned for features on patient advocacy, cancer and computer games, our very first workshop for young adults with incurable cancer, and more!

The world may be in turmoil at the moment, but we remain committed to supporting people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s who are living with and beyond cancer.

How has Covid-19 affected you? We’re collating young adults’ experiences of cancer and Covid-19 and we would love to hear your thoughts. Complete our quick survey to let us know how the pandemic has affected your cancer treatment.

Or maybe you fancy sharing your experiences with us on our blog? Get in touch at blog@shinecancersupport.org.

Our Great Escape!

In this guest blog post, Shine member and new network leader Daniela writes about her experience on the January 2020 Shine Great Escape.


Blog post author Daniela

I became involved with Shine after my cancer diagnosis in April 2019. Since then I’d heard a lot about the Great Escape from various people and I so wanted to take part! Phrases like ‘surrounded by people who just get it’ and ‘friends for life’ inspired me to apply and made me really look forward to going.

Initially I wanted to meet like-minded people who were younger and needed a little support to find their way after diagnosis. Although I had had counselling post-surgery, I really wanted to discuss, share and learn from others who had been diagnosed with cancer and have the freedom to not have to explain – just be understood.

The more I found out about the Escape, the more I realised how much could be gained from the experience. I began to think about the issues that were still troubling me. I called them the ‘spaghetti junction’ thoughts and emotions. I hoped that they could be untangled so I could find a clearer direction for the future and begin to understand my thoughts and feelings more, rather than just experience them.

In reality, the Escape far exceeded my expectations. Yes, I was surrounded by people who got it. Yes, I do believe that I’ve made friends for life. And yes, I have begun to untangle the spaghetti junction of thoughts and emotions – but I can’t even begin to express how much more I gained.

The Escape is completely safe, giving you the freedom to explore your thoughts and feelings without judgement. There is a whole lot of love, support and understanding from Shine Directors Ceinwen and Emma, the peer support leaders, the counsellors, your fellow ‘Escapees’, and this year even from some rather lovely alpacas!


The stars of the show?

All Escapees are at different stages of their diagnosis, all different ages, family backgrounds, and so on, but somehow none of that matters. As the weekend progresses, it’s as if a glue (metaphorical, of course!) is spread across the group and bonds you together. In some discussions you may take more of a lead and provide support and understanding for others, and in other discussions the group will support you. There are no boundaries and no trump cards on the Escape. There were some tears, but most importantly there was empathy, advice, guidance, and lots of hugs.

What I took away from the weekend, apart from a few extra pounds after having a cooked breakfast every morning (optional of course!), is a greater sense of perspective and acceptance. On diagnosis, my thoughts were ‘this is such an inconvenience, I really don’t have time for this’. Then I realised that no matter what I did or felt, I had to put my faith in my doctors and take one day at a time.

Now I am not in so much of a rush to get back to the way I used to be. Instead, I have begun to accept that there will be a new normal. I accept the need to be kind to myself and allow myself the space and time to heal both physically and mentally. Life can change in a moment, so now I try and fill my time with the people I love and who love me, doing what I actually want to do – or not do, as the case might be. It’s all about JOMO now!

I feel proud of everyone I met at the Escape, and proud of myself, for everything we have endured and still do. You know what? We are a pretty awesome, tough, and (dare I say it?) brave and inspirational bunch!

For anyone pondering the Escape, please take the step and fill in the application form. The Escape is not a ‘relaxing spa weekend’ and at times it can be emotional. You do end on a high, though, and it’s a big one! If you are reading this and have any doubts about applying, please don’t worry and do it. It will be a weekend that will stay with you for life (in a good way!), and you get a free t-shirt. It’s a win-win!

I must give a special shout-out to Ceinwen, Emma and all the volunteers (including Tatum’s yoga balls!) for their time and support. On my return home, I’ve described the Escape as 10 counselling sessions condensed into a weekend. It sounds intense and it is, but words don’t even begin to do justice to the support it brings.

Shine has been the main charity to support me since diagnosis. My experience of the Great Escape has cemented in my mind that I want to become a more active part of the Shine community. I am now becoming a London network leader (exciting!) and I would also love to be a volunteer peer supporter at an Escape in the future. Maybe I’ll see you there one day? I hope so!

windy escapees

We did it! Our Bournemouth 2020 Escapees

My year on a clinical trial

In this post, Shine blog editor Caroline shares her experiences of participating in a clinical trial for advanced melanoma.

When I was diagnosed with mucosal melanoma in May 2017, the outlook seemed bleak. NICE guidelines for this rare form of skin cancer were still in development, so there was no agreed, defined treatment pathway for clinicians to follow. I had multiple operations to remove my primary tumour, but the pathology results after each procedure showed residual cancer cells. No other treatments were available. I was told that the cancer would ‘almost certainly’ spread, at which point it would become incurable.


Blog editor Caroline

I’d never heard of this type of cancer, nor had many doctors. There are only 1.5 cases of mucosal melanoma per one million people, so nobody was talking about it. I considered becoming an advocate, perhaps educating primary healthcare providers about the symptoms that several GPs had failed to spot. Then I met a new GP who proclaimed that my condition was a ‘once in a career’ diagnosis. Advocacy started to look a lot less appealing. How many GPs would I have to reach in order to find just one who would later diagnose mucosal melanoma? I wasn’t about to give the rest of my life to this disease. Instead, I resolved that if – or when – the cancer returned, I’d play my part by participating in as much scientific research as I could.

In January 2019, events forced my hand. Melanoma spread to my lungs the previous autumn. My new diagnosis of stage IV cancer had made me eligible for cutting-edge immunotherapy – often heralded as ‘the future of cancer treatment’ – and I’d completed the course in December 2018. But the immunotherapy didn’t work. There were no more standard treatments in the newly-published guidelines (melanoma is notoriously resistant to chemotherapy), so we would have to start experimenting.

As a patient, applying for a clinical trial felt a bit like applying for a job – only with no control over how I worded my CV. My oncologist had presented me with a couple of different options to pursue, and I selected a phase 2 trial which used a drug to target a specific genetic mutation in my disease. My primary tumour had been genetically tested in 2017 so we knew that I had the relevant mutation, but I had to undergo several tests to make sure that I satisfied the other trial criteria. Regular brain MRIs can be scary enough, but they take on a whole new level of meaning when you know that finding just one small brain tumour (a reasonably high likelihood when you have advanced melanoma like I do) can end your chances of treatment.


One husband, no cancer treatment

The trial application process took around one month to complete. Between hospital visits and drafting my end-of-life care instructions, I also managed to get married and go on my honeymoon to Athens. My life was full of extreme highs and extreme lows – with the question ‘what if I don’t get in?’ always buzzing away in the background.

I was cycling along the beach when my clinical trials nurse called to say that I’d been accepted onto the trial. A few days later I returned to hospital to see my oncologist and complete the trial paperwork. In three years of cancer, I’ve signed multiple pre-treatment forms that acknowledge ‘risk of death’, but reading and signing the trial documentation felt more monumental. Although I felt physically well, the likelihood of death loomed large. And this medication was experimental. Who knew what would happen?

All clinical trials are different, but they usually share one commonality: patients are observed. A lot. My trial medication is in tablet form so the regimen doesn’t seem too intrusive, but I follow a strict twice-daily dosing schedule and have to record the exact times that I take the medication on a special diary sheet. If I don’t take my tablets, I have to note why not. The two pre-defined options on the form are the somewhat critical ‘forgot?’ and the oddly cheery ‘vomited?’ – but I’m pleased to say that I’ve never had to tick the latter! I have very few side effects from my current medication, and as a result I’ve been able to live a relatively normal life. I even took my trial drugs with me on a once-in-a-lifetime holiday to Uzbekistan in the autumn!


I never dreamed that I would make it to Uzbekistan

I see my oncologist and trials nurse in clinic once a month. Each visit involves a full physical exam, blood tests, a pregnancy test, and an ECG. After the tests I go to the hospital pharmacy to collect my medication for the next four weeks. I usually spend around three hours in hospital, but weirdly I quite enjoy it! The staff are lovely and as a ‘frequent flyer’ I’ve got to know some of them quite well.

The cancer is currently responding to treatment but it remains incurable. One day it will work its way around the trial medication. Nobody knows when that will be. As I write this, it has been almost three months since my last scans, and the tumours may well be growing again already. I’ll keep taking my drugs and undergoing regular observations until the treatment is no longer beneficial – but then I’ll be back to square one.

Life is never the same after a cancer diagnosis. After so many months of envisaging death on the horizon it feels strange to have a reprieve. While the trial may not change the course of treatment for mucosal melanoma on its own, the results will form part of the bigger picture of the disease and help to determine researchers’ and clinicians’ next steps. For me, it’s been a lifeline – and regardless of what happens, I’m immensely grateful for this extra year.

You can explore what clinical trials for cancer are recruiting in the United Kingdom using the Cancer Research UK trials portal. Alternatively, cancer.net is a good resource for looking at trials on an international level.

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.


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!


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.


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.

clear glass bottle filled with broccoli shake

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!). 


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


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.


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.


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.


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.