At Shine, we’ve always believed that there is a lot to be gained from being around others who just get what life with cancer is like. We now run 11 networks across the UK which have men and women who have experienced a cancer diagnosis meeting up for coffee, drinks, dinner and occasionally some (very bad) bowling. Once you’re diagnosed with cancer, many people feel like they’ve lost something; in our latest blog, Ellie Philipotts explores both the losses and gains that come with cancer and tells us why she thinks a cancer support network is so important.
Cancer, cancer, cancer. If you’re reading this, you can probably say you’ve been there, done that and got the t-shirt – but lost a number of other things in the process: hair, body parts, confidence, friends….
Going through all of this is almost second-nature to us Shiny people, but not to the average Joe, (which can seem like another term for ‘every person in the world but me’.)
I think there’s an irony in the fact that cancer itself is formed of millions of little cells going haywire, leading to what feels like millions of medical procedures to solve the problem and yet it’s one of the most isolating things a person can go through. Despite the amount of people who’ve also had this diagnosis, when your own journey begins, it definitely doesn’t feel like millions of others know how you feel, either mentally or physically. What I’ve discovered though is that probably the biggest cancer perk (yes, they exist!) can be found in a new, post-cancer support system.
I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2011 when I was 15. Less than two months later, I went on my first ‘cancer trip’, to London with Teenage Cancer Trust. We completed a music workshop backstage at the Royal Albert Hall; met Roger Daltrey and saw The Who perform in aid of the charity. The next day was full of exploring Camden and realising how lucky I was to have been given such a great break from chemo and steroids.
From then on, during the rest of treatment and beyond, I’ve been heavily involved with Teenage Cancer Trust. My Birmingham Children’s Hospital group went on social events like meals every month and trips to London; sailing with the Ellen MacArthur Trust, two incredible Find Your Sense of Tumours; Look Good Feel Better days on the ward; Clothes Show Live tours…the list goes on!
In September 2014, I moved away from home to study English Literature and Journalism at Cardiff University. Obviously this was a big change – leaving the life I’d always known for a four hour round-trip away. Cancer barges into your life without warning, but after a while it becomes a part of your identity, so although by this stage I was no longer a patient, I was still leaving my hospital and support group at home. I’m not someone who wanted to forget about cancer as soon as I finished treatment. Instead, I’ve really liked being involved with different charities, and although my life definitely isn’t cancer-orientated now, it is nice to have my security blanket there.
In January 2015, I attended my first meet-up with Shine Cancer Support, this time in my new home of Cardiff. I heard about Shine Cardiff randomly after noticing Rhian, Cardiff’s co-founder, featured on the Humans of Cardiff Facebook page. I soon went along to a meet up at a local café which was lovely.
Despite being the youngest person in the Cardiff network (as well as the longest off treatment), I’m so happy I joined and I still find that I can relate to the others’ issues. More importantly, we definitely don’t just talk about cancer and we’ve had a lot of fun chats during our Friday ciders, Sunday coffees and Cardiff Bay dinners!
And that’s why I think Shine is so important: despite the different ages and life stages (some are married with children; I’m a student; others were diagnosed last month) we all have one big common ground and understand how it feels to have cancer. Verification that you’re not alone in feeling the way you do; a chance to make new friends; and bonding over past experiences are why cancer support groups are so important. Cancer is the reason these groups come together, but the laughter and other bits of conversation are also often one of the best ways of taking your mind off the cancer. Of course, our other friends are fantastic, but they can’t quite understand what we’re going through, because they haven’t been there themselves. The Shine crew is different! We can lose a lot through cancer – but a support group means you gain, gain, gain – friendship, happy memories, giggles, and probably weight – but weight gain from biscuits over a natter is surely preferable to weight gain from steroids, right?!
Ellie Philpotts is an aspiring journalist and student at Cardiff University. You can keep up with her on her blog.