How was 365 Days of Breast Cancer born? – The Blog
I do hope you have enjoyed the podcasts so far. I have loved learning from everyone I have spoken to. I think since I was around 8 years old I’ve had an insatiable appetite for how other people tick and what shapes them into the way they are. It’s completely fascinating.
Doing the podcasts has made me understand how important it is that we talk openly about how we can support each other when times are tough. Maybe if we talked more openly in the first-place times wouldn’t get so tough. Just a thought…
I’ve had some amazing feedback from people – Listening to Brenda Jallum who lost both her siblings to cancer and then had it herself was beyond enlightening and made perfect sense why she now volunteers. She is such an asset up on that chemotherapy ward by the way.
Chatting to Chloe Leibowitz on how she can spot a friend that needs help and how she can step into the space and support when it is needed. And then there was the brilliant Debbie Burroughs whose son had a brain tumour. Such a harrowing time for Debbie but it gave her an insight also as to what needs doing to support someone.
I have learned loads since being diagnosed with cancer; not just about myself but about other’s behaviours too. I feel like I’ve been on an emotional rollercoaster and a learning – well I want to say curve, but there is no curve in it. It’s been straight up and still going! I’ve felt the good and the not so good in people too. It seems like you automatically put your hand up to invite people to say unthinking things to you when you have a cancer diagnosis and that can be hard. I have spoken to many cancer sufferers who have all had that experience. Weird, isn’t it? You learn to protect yourself and stand back in awe when it comes from people that you least expected it.
On the opposite side to that, you get to see the absolute beauty in people. Which to be frank is where my focus lies. I was diagnosed in February 2018 and had surgery as my first port of call. Which is when it all happened… the deliveries started. The postman started knocking more. The flowers and the cards arrived in grand style. 42 bouquets in under 50 weeks – Wow! I loved them all. Although my flower arranging skills were pitiful. I am a very creative problem solver and have a tenacity that annoys even me in that nothing that needs solving will get past me of any nature, but creativity in art and the like are totally absent! Weird as I was a great ballet dancer too which of course is an art form and something I’m still madly in love with but it’s a big fat no for drawing or flower arranging!
Back to the flowers. I wondered during that time – and I had quite a lot of time to wonder either lying on the sofa or in bed – how could cancer patients be best supported aside from flowers? Because let’s face it you can’t just have everyone that wants to support you knock on your door. You simply wouldn’t have the space to get well. For example, Chloe Leibowitz in the Podcast set up a just giving fund for me to help support my daughter through her college education. There were over 140 contributions on that page. Which makes me laugh because I bought 20 Thank You cards – they didn’t even touch the sides. In the end, I managed to track most people down on Facebook; including the people that I didn’t even know! But my point here is that over 140 people that I hadn’t even considered would want to help me, rushed in as quickly as you like to give. It’s what people want to do and don’t always know in which way to help.
Which brings me nicely – and eventually to the idea of 365 Days of Breast Cancer. Here’s where it all started… I had been to lunch with the brilliant businesswoman Kate Lester of Diamond Logistics who I have known for quite a few years now. I want to say about 5 to be precise but it’s all a bit hazy! Kate invited me to her house and we had a lovely time. She had incidentally sent me 3 bouquets during last year. Looking back at all those flowers, well, it makes me want to cry to be honest. But I’ll save you the treat of that! Kate suggested we had a business strategy session next time we met. I cannot begin to tell you how I felt unready for that. Once I had left her house I promptly forgot. Handy that
The next date we had set, wily Kate reminded me. Oh dearie dearie me. I mean, you have to just know I had sadly closed my business of 26 years down last year when I became to chemo’d up. During the year I had shown up for myself every day, all through the year, even in the thick of chemotherapy. But not on a grand scale and I needed the flexibility to be ill. Really ill. I landed in hospital for a week at one point just to give you an idea of how bad it got. But I kept going for myself in whatever way I could. And here is the deal – it doesn’t matter how you show up. It’s all useable in the end. I even won a National Mentoring Award in March. Which was amazing beyond measure. I’m not sure how I dragged myself down to those awards in London but it was a very special evening.
But back to Kate’s office! I went along and took lunch and china plates and crockery and linen napkins; it was a very nice affair. (I used to do that on treatment day too – take a picnic with all the crockery. I think they thought I was a bit mad. They’d be right!) We finished lunch and then she was up – Kate, in her zone of genius. We filled three massive whiteboards. I didn’t know I had that in my head! Here’s the key to that afternoon. Kate knows I have worked for myself since the day I left school. Which my friends is a very long time! She knew that was what I would be needing. Regardless of my brain of sponge that I felt I had. I didn’t tell her that! I didn’t tell her that jeepers there’s nothing in there. I had left it all stood at the chair before I sat down and got told I’d got breast cancer. Seriously I feel there is a ghost of me in that consulting room. It was dark and there were two screens up. By the way, I had not given it a second thought; even at that point; that there was anything wrong. As I sat down the doctor said: “we are here to talk about a tumour”. I honestly started to look round thinking wow! I’ve never seen a tumour before whose is it? Laughable. When I looked back at her she was just levelling her gaze at me and I said – “Oh. You mean my tumour.” That’s where the old Deborah is stood if you want to go and have a chat with her ever again. Otherwise, you are stuck with this version. A bigger (quite literally at the moment but that can be a conversation for another day) more passionate, more alive, more of me, version.
Where was I – oh yes with Kate and my brains of sponge. She was having none of it! Brains of sponge don’t exist in Kate’s world and she was having what I had in mine; to get me back on my feet. After she told me she knew what my biggest asset was and I had whispered back, I don’t. The patience she afforded me in the silence that followed, allowed me to squeak that I dived, kind of, out of bed in a morning to inspire others going through a tough time. Haha, you’ve got to know this fierce woman to understand her bellowing ‘thank F for that! That’s what you always do with everyone!’
The magic whooshed in after that. Kate suggested I send 365 messages to breast cancer patients because as she said you are perfectly placed to understand that pathway, you want to support breast cancer patients, you are at your best when you are inspiring people and on she went. I was sat with my mouth open and said to her “Can I just ask you something here? Have I told you already that I have written a cancer book?” “Nope”, she said. “And I haven’t told you what the book is called then?” “Nope – why what is it?” To which I said “It’s called 365 Days of Breast Cancer, not my story, there is enough of them out there. It’s 365 messages of affirmation, inspiration, hints tips and practical guidance and support.” Whoa!! Talk about ideas colliding. You can imagine for 2 entrepreneurial types that was a moment and a half! I’ll love Kate for that forever. Ooh and listen out for a podcast coming with Kate and me in a while.
Anyway, I headed off home with my head like a washing machine! It stayed like that for three days. Remember I was still in treatment and with that strategy session on top, I found myself asleep for nearly three days. Always the best thing to do when I’ve been wiped out. Just take good care of myself – which I urge you to do too. When my energy levels started to pick up again I set to it. Building, organizing, collaborating, like a whirling dervish. I was so driven to get this out to people going through this hideous situation. Everyone was very supportive knowing that it was a unique gift for the person giving it, to be supporting a loved one for a whole year, and for the person receiving it to be supported for a whole year by a loved one.
People swung, swang and even dived in to help me from all over. David Holland over at Exela helped me build the webpage and the backend support – enough to make my brain freeze! My two favourite collaborations being with two fabulous 17-year-olds that stepped into their own great space. Ky Swordy who shot my little videos. Patience of a saint that boy! I don’t do that kind of thing every day. It is not my natural domain. But you know I feel so passionate about supporting others that I just gulped and got on with it. Ky’s encouragement was invaluable. And then there is the supremely talented Sophie Williamson who is doing all the illustrations. All 365 of them. What a talented one she is. Her understanding and sensitivity have been incredible. I made a decision about 6 years ago to only work with people that I love. Clients and suppliers alike. It has paid off and Sophie and Ky both embody that.
There you have it. 365 Days of Breast Cancer. Up and launched in 5 weeks. Me at my best when I’m building and collaborating and creating a magical time. I am not daunted by a big challenge. And at the heart of this big challenge being 365 days of inspirational messages for breast cancer patients. It really is great to send flowers but it’s wonderful to send a gift that lasts a year and support that lasts a lifetime; just as my tagline says. The support that lasts a lifetime being the events that we run to help people having been through a traumatic time to get back on their feet. That bit is a gift for me to see. There really is nothing better.
We’ve already had some fab feedback in that the words are ‘beautiful’ and the drawings ‘a treat’. How lovely is that?
Here is a shameless plug to head over to 365daysofbreastcancer.com to gift a loved one going through breast cancer. Look out for details of our next event in September. And then the book which is being published in the autumn. Should keep me busy for a while and my mind occupied.
I think as a final note this is what I have learned over this year…
1. It is just OK to leave people behind that sit in judgement of you (even with a cancer diagnosis) because of their own fear. It is ok to leave them behind with no animosity on your part at all.
2. Always show up for yourself, every single day. I think there will more on what that means in the coming weeks.
3. Remain open-hearted and grateful for what you have around you. It would be easy to close yourself down in a traumatic time but that is doing yourself a disservice. The antidote to that for me at least is to love, even more, give even more and be even more.
And 4. It’s all about you; just as my podcast is called. It’s all about all of us. It’s all about supporting and caring for each other.