Rebecca's Macmillan Story

Written by Bec Ellul

When people hear terrible news, they can react in many different ways. For me, I go into this sort of out-of-body experience, where the scene immediately crystallizes into my memory. I can still recall the smells, temperature, light and surrounds - even the gentle breeze - for many years on. This has happened to me every time I have heard the news that a family member has a lump, and today it happened with one of my best friends, Sophia*, on a painfully beautiful, sunny day in a central London park, surrounded by squirrels. Sophia is 27.

Cancer is really common.

Every two minutes, someone in the UK is diagnosed with cancer.

Every two minutes, someone in the UK is diagnosed with cancer. One in two of us will face it. If you haven’t experienced the profound impact that cancer can have on you or your loved ones, you are extremely lucky.

It’s also much more common amongst those who carry particular genes. The BRCA2 gene runs in my family, and I also have it. Most of the women in my family tree have had and survived breast cancer. The process is physically and emotionally depleting and its effects are long lasting - much beyond the “all clear”. It makes you (rightfully) paranoid. So, this year I elected to have both of my breasts removed (a bilateral mastectomy) in a preventative operation, because the prospect of an 80% probability of developing breast cancer, and then having to go through the rigmarole of fighting it, just didn’t stack up for me personally.

My surgery went perfectly, without complication, and with a cosmetic result that now makes questioning what it means to feel feminine seem totally trivial. I had absolutely incredible surgeons, nurses, counsellors and care from the NHS and the Macmillan Cancer Centre. I had exceptional support from family, friends, coworkers and my guiding community. I received loving, handmade cards covered in sequins and feathers from my unit.

And yet, it was still the hardest thing I have chosen to do. I am still recovering and it’s been five months. I’m infamously impatient and have to constantly reassure myself that it’s a process. In time, I will feel, and move, and look, and sleep better.

And still, I am lucky. I have not had cancer, and now have a less than 2% likelihood of breast cancer, which is considerably lower than the UK average of 16% amongst women - unlike Sophia, my family, my other friends, friends of friends, and the millions of other men and women in the UK.

Real bravery is the courage that these people have every morning to fight their fight. To remain resilient and mentally healthy, while having to reassure distraught loved ones. To get up and get dressed (and shout out to the glam women I saw at the Macmillan Cancer Centre who put on beautiful scarves and make up!) and just get on with it. To know there is an uphill battle and to continue to put one foot in front of the other, because they are strong. To go through not only chemotherapy treatment but also fertility treatment. To travel far from home and wait patiently in stuffy and packed waiting rooms, even when so tired.

And real bravery is the army of brilliant people who help our loved ones fight their fight. The receptionist who knows what you’re going through and smiles kindly. The counsellors who have endless boxes of tissues. The nurses who know you by name and tell you your boobs look cracking while delicately cleaning your wounds. The surgeons who painstakingly mark you up and are the guardians of your body while you are unconscious. The cleaners who keep your hospital space spick and span. The administrators who keep everything going. The support groups of people who share stories and compare notes over biscuits and tea. The geneticists who run continual studies to better understand how cancer works. The researchers who are working tirelessly figure out how to prevent it. The many people who fundraise millions each year to support this entire ecosystem.

You can be one of those people too. By taking part in Girlguiding LaSER's Macmillan Challenge, in partnership Macmillan Cancer Support, you are helping them care for the many people that Rebecca is talking about here. By raising money through a World's Biggest Coffee Morning or a Mile for Macmillan, raising awareness within your unit and among your peers, and giving your time to help Macmillan do what they do, you can make a difference.

The Macmillan Challenge comes to an end this 31 October. If your unit has already contributed, thank you. If you haven't, or you'd like to keep on helping, then hold a World's Biggest Coffee Morning in your unit before the end of October and your girls will earn the WBCM badge. If they have already earned it, then they can earn the Volunteering, Awareness and Macmillan Challenge badges too, because they're giving their time and raising awareness at the event - so they could get the whole set! Just make sure you submit funds and badge orders by the 31 October.

*name changed

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