For the October issue of Good Living, we were lucky enough to interview the lovely Rachael Bland, Deborah James and Lauren Mahon about their chart-topping BBC Radio 5 Live podcast, You, Me and the Big C.
Sadly, on the 5th September, almost two years after being diagnosed with breast cancer, radio presenter Rachael Bland died at the age of 40.
In a statement following her death, Rachael’s husband Steve said: “She was an incredibly talented broadcaster as well as a wonderful and much loved daughter, sister, aunt, niece, wife and, most importantly to her, a mother to her precious little Freddie.
“We all take such huge comfort and pride from the amazing and tireless work she has done since her diagnosis to reduce the stigma around cancer and prove that it is possible to live life to the fullest even when facing huge challenges on a daily basis. At the end, even though her body was at its weakest, her voice was at its strongest and most powerful.”
Read on for Rachael, Deborah and Lauren’s inspiring interviews about treatment, friendship and putting the CAN in cancer.
"The podcast is my legacy to my son"
"I didn’t cry when I was told I had cancer. I just wanted to go home, have a glass of wine, watch I’m a Celebrity and forget the whole thing. It took a few weeks for it all to sink in.
"Once my treatment started, it became clear that the cancer was far more advanced than we’d first thought. Despite the treatments and surgeries, in April this year l was told my cancer was terminal. Sharing this news on the podcast was both difficult and cathartic. It was the first time I’d cried on air − but I know how important stories like this are. When I started my blog, I was amazed by how many women got in touch to say it made them feel less alone. That’s where I got the idea for the podcast. I found so many strong women on Instagram who were just carrying on with their lives and were very far removed from the grey, sickly images of people with cancer you often see.
"The three of us have so much fun making the podcast – even when we’re talking about the saddest topics we go from crying one minute to laughing the next. I feel as though the podcast is something for my little boy Freddie to remember me by, and I hope people will carry on benefiting from it.
"I NEEDED SOMEONE LIKE ME TO TALK TO"
Lauren Mahon, 33, from London is a social media specialist. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in August 2016. She says:
"Being told you have cancer feels like a bomb’s gone off internally – the world just drops beneath you. When I discovered, at 31, that I had an aggressive form of breast cancer, my first reaction was angry disbelief.
"I had 18 months of treatment – IVF to freeze my eggs as the process would make me infertile, followed by six months of chemotherapy, a lumpectomy, 25 days of radiotherapy, then a few months of drugs. During this time, my family were brilliant. My sister Hayley, 31, became my medical secretary, and my dad Gary, 55, and brother Ryan, 28, made sure I never had to go to a chemo session alone. My mum, Tina, 54, made me a playlist called You Got This, and sent me a new song every day to cheer me up.
"I began using the #girlvscancer hashtag two weeks before I started chemotherapy. I was tired of being given leaflets and advice designed for much older women. I was at a very different life stage – a single girl about town who lived in a flatshare, didn’t have kids and was establishing a career, so I started girlvscancer.co.uk, a blog designed to show, through my eyes, what it was like to go through cancer in your thirties.
"Deborah and Rachael shared a very similar frustration, so we worked together on the podcast, to talk candidly about our own experiences. Cancer is often considered this big, scary thing that can’t be spoken about, but with one in two people now suffering from it in their lifetime, it’s a conversation that needs to happen.
"We always say we talk about cancer on our podcast as if it’s EastEnders – the way you’d chat about it over a cuppa with your best friends. It’s not clinical or cold – on the pod, we like to have a laugh. In one episode, we chatted about “playing the cancer card” to get out of parking tickets and doing the housework, and we’ve interviewed the lovely Irish singer Linda Nolan. It’s emotional, too, and can be very draining at times, but it’s worth it to know we might have made someone else’s experience a little easier. I’d love to see the podcast used by hospitals to give patients going through treatment something that offers support and a giggle."
Lauren was given her one-year all clear in May 2018, and continues to campaign and raise funds for breast cancer charities. Follow her on Instagram @girlvscancer
"it's not the end of the world if you have cancer"
Deborah James, 36, is a journalist and author. She lives in London with her husband Sebastian, 38, and her children Hugo, 10, and Eloise, eight. She was diagnosed with bowel cancer in December 2016. She says:
"Telling my children I had cancer was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Of course, they asked all the typical questions, from “Are you going to lose your hair?” to “Are you going to die?”, which was so tough.
"Being diagnosed with bowel cancer was such a shock but, looking back, I had all the classic symptoms: I was losing weight, I was tired all the time, and I was finding blood in my stools. Surgery was the first step, but it was quickly discovered that the cancer had spread to my lungs and I then needed four operations, followed by 21 rounds of chemotherapy.
"Unfortunately, it has recently come back, this time near my liver and, in this case, the only treatment is a special type of radiotherapy.
"I thought having cancer would alter my life a lot more than it has. I still exercise all the time – I ran my fastest 5k on the way to the hospital when I was told it had returned. However, the biggest change has been to my career. I was training to be a headteacher, but decided to take a break during my treatment and started writing a blog. I now contribute a weekly column to The Sun about living with the disease.
"The podcast has been a lifeline, and Lauren and Rachael are my support network. I’m grateful forall the things I’ve done since being diagnosed – from my career to meeting inspirational new people."
Deborah’s book, F*** You Cancer (Vermilion), is out on 4 October. Follow her on Instagram @bowelbabe