I’ve written before about my experience of cancer. My husband Doug was diagnosed aged 30 when we were swimming merrily along, a couple of years in to married life and expecting our first baby.
Without being overly dramatic, sitting next to my husband while he was diagnosed with a rare stage 3 thyroid cancer and the subsequent few months was probably the most life-changing thing I’ve been through. It was so unexpected and so consuming. The diagnosis, the telling people, the treatment, the test results, the ever-changing plan at each step, the keeping busy. On occasion those dark times when your mind takes over and you’re imagining yourself at your husband’s funeral telling people why he was such a wonderful fucking person and then you’re sad, and then you’re angry. Furious. Why is this happening to us? I was in a cycle of about three days where I’d feel like I was coping and then I’d crash, and I needed people around me to help me back up again.
It almost feels like that didn’t happen to us. And yet as there’s a 1 in 2 chance of getting cancer, it’s something that pretty much everyone will go through, either themselves or as a loved one. Trying to come to terms with the idea of there being something inside a person’s body that is trying to kill them.
Some days you can rock it – you’ve got perspective, you’re fresh thinking, you can feel optimistic. Other days – even years later – it catches up and all the ‘what ifs’ gather momentum until you can’t breathe. Seven years ago it entered conversation daily. Now we carry on as two tired parents of two (soon-to-be three), bickering about mundane stuff, but every now and then stopping to go ‘God that was horrible. I hope we never have to go through that again’.
I met Stand Up To Cancer a year ago and immediately it made total sense that we should ‘do’ something with the charity. Don’t Buy Her Flowers has been a huge part of our lives for the last three years, and I think Doug’s cancer actually gave us the ‘what have we go to lose’ we needed for me to quit my job and plough our savings in to starting a business. They say life’s too short – there’s nothing like a bout of cancer at 30 to clarify that you really, really don’t know what is around the corner.
When we started the business it was as gifts for new mums, because the idea came from my experience of feeling exhausted and overwhelmed and sore and wondering why the hell flowers – beautiful as they are – were a go-to gift when someone has a baby. Since then Don’t Buy Her Flowers has adapted and grown to Thoughtful Gifts for lots of different occasions. We get messages every week from someone asking if we can tweak a package for someone they love who has cancer.
The first thing Doug said when we started talking about creating a new package was that cancer is intensely personal, and that really stuck with me.
Depending on diagnosis, treatment, circumstances and many other factors, what might offer some TLC or practical comfort varies greatly. Each person’s mindset will be different, as well as massive physical variations. One person might crave cold things while another can’t stand them; some people might want food as comfort while others lose their appetite; skin can be sensitive, some people feel the cold more and others suffer hot flushes. Some people will want to use their brain and others want a distraction. And the loved ones alongside them, well they need looking after too.
The Stand Up To Cancer Care Package is our first fully bespoke, build-your-own package with over forty products to choose from. We worked with four amazing women, each with a different experience but a common thread – cancer has invaded their lives. Deborah, Emma, Helen and Elizabeth each provided insights about what products have helped them or what they wish they’d received. It’s another occasion when a bouquet is a bit of a go-to – the people around them wanted to help but often didn’t know how, they all talked about being surrounded by well-meaning blooms, and as Helen said ‘When it comes to cancer, flowers just aren’t going to cut it’.
5% of the retail price of every package sold will be donated to support Stand Up To Cancer’s ground breaking research. In the summer, I went on a tour with Cancer Research of the labs at Imperial College, and the treatments and techniques they’re developing are mind-blowing. I personally found it heartening to see these groups of very clever people (frankly, I’ve never felt more stupid) dedicated to finding answers to something that affects so many of us. It was also sobering as some of our group have or have had Cancer. Their lives are literally dependant on these mind-blowing treatments and they can’t be developed soon enough.
We know this ourselves. I owe my life as it is now as well as Doug’s to the research and clinical trials that meant they knew what to do to give him the best chance they could. His cancer isn’t currently curable. You wouldn’t know – it has no physical effect on him whatsoever except for his annual check ups, which are a strange old time because both of us are anxious but not really saying anything, and when the results come back ok we collapse a bit from the exhaustion of pretending not to think about it while thinking about it a lot.
And as they promised seven years ago, the information and research has indeed developed rapidly and if we need it, the outlook isn’t as it was then. So we’ve quite a lot to be grateful to charities like Stand Up To Cancer for, and while advances have revolutionized cancer research, concur wholeheartedly with their view that they can’t afford to slow down now.
With a massive thanks to four kick-ass women – Deborah, Emma, Helen and Elizabeth. You are brilliant.
Main image from Rebel Mums Stand Up To Cancer photo shoot.