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.
I have learned loads since being diagnosed with cancer; not just about myself but about others behaviours too. I feel like I’ve been on an emotional rollercoaster and a learning. You could say it was a curve but there was no curve in it. It was straight up and still going! I’ve felt the good and the not so good in people.
It seems when you are put in a very heavy place that you automatically put your hand up to invite people to say unthinking things to you, and when you have a cancer diagnosis 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, a friend set up a Just Giving fund for me to help support my daughter through her college education (you can hear all about that in the podcast – Chloe Leibowitz). 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 who I have known for quite a few years now. Kate invited me to her house and we had a lovely time. She had incidentally sent me 3 bouquets during my treatment. 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 had 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!
Sadly I had closed my business of 26 years down when I fell to pieces during chemotherapy. 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 peace to be ill. Really ill. I landed in hospital for a week at one point just to give you an idea 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 during that year 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.
Back to Kate’s strategy! 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.
So Kate had my brains of sponge but 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.
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. My two favourite collaborations have been with two fabulous, then, 17 year olds that stepped into their own great space. Ky Swordy who shot my 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. Which started off as 365 of them. What a talented one she is. Her understanding and sensitivity has 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.
We’ve had some astonishing and humbling feedback. One person wanting to go round again. I advised her not to do that and she jumped straight into 365 Days of Brighter Thinking instead which had just been launched quietly. I will be sharing some of the very deep testimonials soon in a blog. They are not to be left for my eyes only. I may as well make your eyes water too!