I know I said this series was about giving you a rest from me and telling the stories of other warriors but SURPRISE - here's one on me.
As this week marks 5 years in the clear of 2 x cancer I thought it was good timing to share my cancer story.
As with everything I do in Bravery, I hope my experience helps the warriors and their friends get through the shit show that is cancer.
Name: Emily Somers
Cancer: Hodgkin's Lymphoma - twice.
What was happening in your world at the time?
It was a week before my 27th birthday and life was dandy. I was living with 2 of my best mates in Richmond, working in advertising, traveling lots, going to festivals and had a great crew of friends and family. I had no symptoms apart from a lymph gland which had popped up under my collar bone for a couple of weeks. I wasn’t going to get it checked out but my Dad insisted and lucky he did, as it turned out to be cancer.
Cancer in 3 words.
Terrifying, shit-show, life-changing.
What helps you get through?
PERSON: So many, many people but my constants were my family, a loud and wonderful group of girls and a small scruffy black dog.
SUPPORT GROUP: Weirdly, I knew three girls that also had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Two were friends of friends and the other was a work mate. These girls were lifesavers as I could talk to them honestly and not have to stress that I’d scare them or make them worry. Also my chemo nurses were all amazing human beings.
FOOD: I changed my whole diet during my second stint with cancer. I cut down on meat, dairy and gluten and ate a load more vegetables. I learnt how to make sugar free treats and did a lot of green smoothies. However, despite the healthy change I never completely cut out the wine...
EXERCISE: Loads of walking and online yoga was perfect as half the time I didn’t have the energy to make it through a whole class.
BOOK: Kris Carr’s ‘Crazy, Sexy, Cancer’ and ‘How not to die of cancer’ were good and taught me loads about food.
PRODUCT: Anti-puff eye cream as crying becomes quite normal.
DRUG/MEDICINE: Senecot. Constipation is next level.
QUOTE : No quotes – just a load of swear words.
PIECE OF ADVICE: Book a holiday or something to look forward to while you're going through treatment.
RITUAL:Each chemo I’d tackle a new art project. Mum would take me down to the local Spotlight for all the supplies and then I’d spend the time between naps working on it. I made jewellery, photography, screen printing, paper pompoms, collage, etc. Most of the time I never finished the project but it gave me something to concentrate on that wasn’t cancer.
WAY TO STAY SANE: When my anxiety was sky rocketing, getting outside and walking was the best way to calm down. Also, keeping a journal beside my bed for the times I couldn’t sleep and my brain wouldn’t shut up.
Golden tip for the friend and family of a cancer warrior.
You are going to be put outside of your comfort zone and have conversations about bloody scary things but you need to keep it together and be a rock for your cancer warrior mate.
Don’t tell them about your Aunty/friend/ hairdresser/babysitter/dog that died of cancer.
Don’t tell them that your dental surgery was exactly like what they’re going through.
Agree that this is fucked, hold their hand, let them cry and then help them get through it.
Check in via text but try to end your message with ‘no need to reply.’ A good friend would do this and it took off the pressure to respond straight away as your inbox is always full and you have limited energy.
Also, try and make chemo days fun by going with them. A very organised friend set me up a chemo roster which meant I had a new person to accompany me every time. We’d read magazines, paint nails, play tinder and have a catch up before the nauseas set in.
The worst part of cancer?
Being told it had come back. My life shattered into a million pieces the day my oncologist told me they’d picked it up on a scan. I’d responded so well to treatment and I was so confident I’d beaten it – the thought of relapse never really crossed my mind. My body is pretty crap at giving me symptoms and I was fitter than I’d ever been. In a way the relapse was worse that hearing I had cancer the first time because it was like I failed and had to go back to the starting line.
Also, the feeling of being completely carefree is now out of my repertoire. There are always some pesky dark, morbid thoughts hanging around my head. No matter how much time passes, I’ll always be shit scared it will come back.
The best part of cancer?
The life shake-up. It gave me a breather from the daily rat race to figure out where I was going in life. It made it really obvious the things I loved and the crap I needed to cull. If you have your health, then life is pretty damn peachy to me.
How has the whole cancer ride changed you and your life?
The biggest thing it’s changed is my mentality. I’ve stopped stressing about little things like my weight, gossip, negative people or having the newest stuff. It’s a change in perspective that many people don’t get until they’re much, much older and I’m quite grateful for it. Understanding life’s short is also a great motivator to get shit done. It’s provided a good kick up the ass – especially when starting a business.
What has it taught you?
How to tie a headscarf!
Cancer theories: Do you think you were destined to get cancer? Or did something happen along the way?
For almost two years I was working a job that I was not cut out for. It was super stressful and I don’t think I ever turned off. I also lived in a house that had train tracks running either side so my sleep was never that good. But who knows – perhaps it was the pesticides on my food, one too many parties or the chest infection I had just prior to being diagnosed.
Golden tip for new warriors.
Don’t be scared to use the cancer card and ask for help - you have cancer for fuck sake! Your friends are going to be lining up around the corner and giving them a task will make them feel useful at a time they will feel really helpless.
Breathe. Learn to slow down and try to get used to FOMO because you can’t keep up with the lifestyle you had before. Be patient and kind to yourself. I know - all bloody hard things to do!
And find your cancer warrior tribe. Whether you connect online or meet face-to-face, these humans will just get it and you won’t feel so alone.
Any other nuggets worth sharing?
Unfortunately, cancer doesn’t end when chemo does. Life unravels when the routine of chemo and appointments ends and the weight of what just happened settles in. It’s a tough thing to get your head around and figure out how to go back to ‘normal.’ You will need your mates around then, as much as you do when you’re in the thick of it.
If you, or someone you know, would like to take part in the One Warrior series, please email firstname.lastname@example.org - I would love to hear your stories!