It’s very hard to start a conversation about cancer, because as far as medical conditions go, it has a huge amount of emotional weight. Firstly, because one in two people are diagnosed with cancer every year in the UK, so chances are that whoever you talk to about it, they have been personally affected. Secondly, people are scared of cancer.
The media is rife with fear mongering articles telling us how most things in our lives will give us cancer, and all this makes it very taboo.
In 2007, my mum was diagnosed with breast cancer, which she had caught early (her aged only 38, me aged 9). She went on to have a mastectomy (her breast removed), and was extremely fortunate in the fact that she didn’t need radiotherapy or chemotherapy and as of 21 April 2008, has been in complete remission.
Although she was all clear, she still had to have reconstructive surgery, and still has regular check ups.
I often feel a great sense of guilt and upset that I was too young to help my mum through her recovery and I wasn’t there for her nearly as much as I would be had I been ten years older, and although I’m aware this is hugely irrational, I think it quite succinctly illustrates the emotional impact that cancer has on those affected – and that’s only my side, I wasn’t even the one that went through it. My mum is unshakably beautiful and unshakably hardworking, ferociously witty and ferociously kind – the down to earth and logical energy I need in my very emotional and arty life.
She is there to stroke my hair when I am sad, make me tea when I’ve had a stressful day, watch trashy films with for no reason apart from that we want to – and as I have gotten older, the dynamic has flipped from solely parent-child, and has become one of a much more mutual level of love and connection.
I would hate for other people to miss out on this. We still argue and nag each other, yes, she still hates that I’m messy and I hate that she’s tidy, and she still tells me I wear too much eyeliner, but I would hate for someone else to miss out on this because their mum found her cancer a stage further on.
And I would hate for their mum to miss out on all the experiences that my mum has had, and the amazing clarity that she gained from what she went through.
This school of thought lead me to get involved with Coppafeel!, a charity that raises awareness of breast cancer in young people. Their founder, Kris Hallenga, was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer when she was only 23 – stage four being the most advanced stage. Despite trying to get it checked sooner, doctors had written her off as being “too young”, so her cancer got left undiagnosed for over eight months.
When she finally did get her diagnosis, she was shocked at the lack of information accessible to young people in regards to breast cancer awareness, as people didn’t know that breast cancer was something you could get whilst you were young – and even if they did, they didn’t know what to be looking for, or how to check themselves.
The fact that Kris (with the help of her sister Maren) set up a charity in the face of something so overwhelmingly life-changing and just straight up rubbish is potentially the most bad-ass thing I’ve ever heard, and to further extend that, Coppafeel!’s whole vibe is one of humour and fun.
I love the work they do to de-stigmatise cancer and their humorous and inclusive approach to boob/pec checking in general, and because of this I did work experience with them when I was 17, and now, at 20, I am the President of the UEA Uni Boob Team Society – their on campus representatives.
The Uni Boob Team is one of the great loves of my life – we raise money and awareness for an amazing cause (whilst also wearing glitter and a giant boob costume) and along with this, the people it attracts are some of the funniest and sunniest people I’ve ever met.
We put on a huge range of events, one of my favourites being BoobBall which is a big dodgeball tournament played with balls that look like boobs. At every single one, someone will ask us how to check their boobs, or what they should be looking for.
The fact that that happens so frequently and we are available and smiling with all the information needed makes me go home after every event we do knowing that me standing in a boob costume for five hours was more than worthwhile.
So as a new year of boob shenanigans begins, I would love to invite any newcomers to join in with what we do. It’s volunteering so looks great on your CV, and along with this, is huge amounts of fun with a hilarious group of people – you can get in contact with us via Facebook.
However, if you read this and check your chest in the shower tonight, then I know that I will have done my job as a Boob Leader.
Any questions regarding breast cancer facts and how to check your boobs, please either have a gander on the Coppafeel! website, or contact the UEA Uni Boob Team (we have a Facebook page).