I’d always wanted to go on a laboratory tour. Which is surprising considering the highly fretful person I’ve become since my own cancer diagnosis seven years ago. I’m the kind of ‘patient’ who can’t even read a poster on the underground advertising a charity coffee and cake morning without feeling my anxiety levels rise.
I’m the kind of cancer ‘survivor’ who runs silently screaming into another room when a commercial comes on the TV warning of the early signs of lung cancer. A cough for three weeks or more? It could be..
Aargh, make it stop! That’s enough for me. I’m outta here. Fingers in ears, la-la-la-la la.
So, why would I choose to sit in a room at Imperial College, London and listen to a Stand Up To Cancer funded researcher talk to us about the rise in cases of oesophageal and stomach cancer in men over the age of 50?
Why would I want to stand in a science laboratory and hear a PHD student wax lyrical about drug resistance and how flipping crafty cancer is? And why on earth would I want to take time out of my day to look at a primary breast cancer cell under a microscope? And then, excuse me while I shudder and shake, a secondary one?
But it was strange. I did want to listen and I did want to look. I did want to see what the little f**kers were all about. Somehow, for the first time ever in my cancer ‘journey’ ( hate that word) it gave me a bit of oomph, a bit of fire in my belly.
There were seven of us there that day. A group of women all eager to be part of the Rebellion. Because it is a rebellion, it needs to be. We’ve all had enough. Enough of an indiscriminate disease intent on nothing but destruction and devastation.
The potentially gloomy but fascinating talk followed by the sobering but mind blowing lab tour was part one of our itinerary. Part two couldn’t have been more different.
A photo shoot in North West London. Lifted out of our workaday uniform of mum jeans and Stan Smith trainers, one by one we were transformed into our chosen Rebel Heroes. The list was impressive. Lena Durham, Cleopatra, Boudicca, Angela Davis, Ripley from Alien, Princess Diana and little ol’ me – morphing into my teenage icon, Madonna. Wow. What a line up of strength, of power, guts and gall. What unity. Just as we’d learnt hours earlier how (metaphorically speaking) cancer cells link arms, unite and wreak havoc in the body. That afternoon we learnt that together, arms linked, hearts and minds connected, we can give as good as we get.
So I think it’s definitely time for me to take my fingers out of my ears and my head out of the sand. I think it’s finally time for me to be brave enough to ask those scary questions, to listen, to understand more about the disease that dominates my life and the lives of so many others.
Knowledge is power, right? Maybe I’m finally ready to face cancer head on. Unflinching and unafraid. Okay, not unafraid. It’s okay to be afraid. But I’m determined to channel my own inner rebel a little more often – my inner Madonna. Madonna would definitely tell cancer where to go. She’d strike a steely eyed pose, she’d get into the groove and she would definitely express herself (see what I did there?) In the face of cancer, Madonna would be at her most rebellious.
Cancer is clever but research is catching up fast and this year Stand Up To Cancer is asking us all to get tough.
Watch out, cancer – we really are coming to get you.
Who would your Rebel Hero be?