THE BLACK WOMEN RISING

Back in late 2018 I put out a casting call for the latest GIRLvsCANCER campaign. I wanted to put the cancer community front and centre so it was paramount that those involved reflected the cancer experience in all its forms. So as you can imagine when I was met with a sea of white faces and I was like woah. I’d been speaking with our angel babe Saima frequently about the whitewashing of the cancer narrative and it infuriated me beyond belief. Being the bad-ass she is Saima was taking part on an awesome exhibition showcasing the scars and stories of women of colour impacted by the Big C. Sai invited me down to Peckham to hear her chat and to have a gander at the work of Leanne Pero and her Black Women Rising.

The rest as they say, is history.

As soon as I met fellow Londoner Leanne there was no doubt we were cut from the very same cloth and that the incredible and overwhelmingly necessary movement she had created needed amplification. Over the last couple of spins around the sun I have had the honour of working with Leanne and Black Women Rising across my GIRLvsCANCER campaigns, on the You, Me & The Big C podcast as well as standing shoulder to shoulder with this queen on many boob cancer related projects.

Here at GIRLvsCANCER our aim is to support fierce humans affected by cancer irrespective of gender alignment, age, religion or race. This can only be done by listening and getting a greater understanding of ALL cancer experiences. Cancer is not one size fits all. By having a blanket approach to cancer symptom awareness, diagnosis, treatment and side effects we are failing people. None more so than minority communities. And people are both suffering and dying as a result.

You can’t be what you can’t see.

And you can’t triumph over what you don’t know either.

As we have seen from the Black Lives Matter movement this year black health and pain is minimised owing to systemic racial bias in our healthcare sector.

Cultural nuances are not being recognise and explored. Accurate and in-depth statistics are a myth mate.

It’s vital that we challenge the reasons why this is happening and bring about tangible change. We can’t change the past but we must acknowledge it, learn from it and fight for better outcomes in the future of the black cancer experience.

THAT we have complete power over if we shout loud enough.

I’m privileged to call Leanne a friend and a mentor. We soundboard of each other on the regs and have the conviction that there is strength in collaboration. This Breast Cancer Awareness and Black History Month I wanted to pass the mic to my girl and her gal dem to amplify the stories and experiences that are so seldom heard.

Moving forward Leanne and I have BIG plans to fundamentally change the BAME cancer experience.

It’s a big undertaking and divisive one but I reckon Leanne and I have the gobs and the grit to get the job done. Stay tuned team.

Until then you can book into Black Women Rising’s game-changing support groups right HERE.

Or listen to Black Women Rising : The Untold Cancer Stories HERE.

And follow on instagram: @blackwomenrisinguk

Now let’s grab a cuppa and say hiya and hello to some of Black Women Rising ladies who are smashing stigma as well as bringing the LOLs…


Melanie Bastein.
Age: 48.
Diagnosis: ER+ HER2 Positive Breast Cancer

Mel’s holiday to Cuba should’ve been full of sun, sea and sangria! Not finding a clump of sinister cells while putting on her bikini. It wasn’t her first rodeo! She’d had cysts and mammograms before but never had a biopsy so when a medical suit said one was happening, it was squeaky bum time.

Not only did Mel have one tumour in her tit, there was another hiding behind it in her chest; she needed chemo and a mastectomy. But Mel was not having chemo! No ma’am, nope, nope and no! Mel knew that chemo was gruelling after watching her sister go through it. The fear was REAL and she ain’t the only one who’s felt it. One day, something clicked; if her sister could do then so could she.

Next up, mastectomy! Mel wanted to know more about surgery scarring but quickly twigged that the bodies staring back didn’t resemble her skin. After adding ‘Black women’ to her search, Google sent her first class to the Black Women Rising exhibition. She saw herself in the women captured by the lens- young, vibrant and Black like herself. They were a godsend! Anything she needed, the women had her back! Nothing changed when it was time to say so long to treatment either.

These days, Mel is a cake-baking Goddess! Don’t forget her face cause we’re sure she’ll be on GBBO in the future serving up a boob-shaped signature dish.

Want to stay in touch? You can find Melanie at:

@mellymelba1



Sophie Sebaduka.
Age: 43.
Diagnosis: Breast Cancer

Having a holiday just around the corner and a new Dance-Twerk Fitness business, Sophie didn’t have the time for a cancer diagnosis but cancer gives zero fucks!

With it being breast cancer, Sophie was thinking tits-first. Thoughts of mastectomy scarring left her shaking in her boots. Would she snag a fella with no tits? Girl, can relate!

When Sophie began telling people, the Tumeric Warrior began coming out the woodwork. Fake friends told her to try a vegan diet instead of chemo! Thankfully Sophie stuck to her guns and went through with the chemo – she doesn’t even like vegetables anyway. She knew that she needed to do what she needed to do.

Sophie escaped needing major surgery but treatment left a stranger looking back at her in the mirror. Without any condensing Karens, Black Women Rising embraced Sophie and she learnt to love her new self.

No longer defeated by cancer, Sophie is back as a full-time twerking boss! Giving thanks to her God for a beautiful, healthy bod.

Want to stay in touch? You can find Sophie at:

@sofiyahsfitness



Shevelle Copeland-Kelly.
Age: 30.
Diagnosis: Triple Negative Breast Cancer.

South Londoner Shevelle was living her best life in Dubai only a week before being told that the pea-sized lump in her boob was cancer. A cheeky bevvie before sunset on a yacht was swapped for a Chemo cocktail in the oncology ward.

As if being diagnosed wasn’t shit enough, so-called mates began telling her if the cancer didn’t kill her, the chemo would. Black Women Rising showed her that wasn’t the case! Sheville finally saw what she’d been searching for – people that looked like her, that she could relate to and showed her that she wasn’t about to die. Seeing beautiful Black Women living happily and healthily after cancer flipped the switch. She could boss treatment. And she did!

Not only did Black Women Rising support Shevelle, they helped her daughter too. She knew her mum would live after seeing a picture of Leanne thriving after boob cancer.

Raise a glass of the strong stuff for Shevelle! She entered her 30s last month with her daughter by her side and without cancer in her body. There’s nothing better than that!

Want to stay in touch? You can find Shevelle at:

@msckellz_



Mai Salah.
Age: 33.
Diagnosis: Stage 4B Lymphoma.

When the doctor mentioned Lymphoma as a possible cause of her sudden weight loss, Mai was relieved. FINALLY, after six months of being brushed off by GPs and putting her symptoms down to the grief, someone had answers. Then he said ‘chemotherapy’ and she realised he was talking about cancer.

Mai’s family remained her native Egypt, where cancer = death, talking about her funeral while Mai was alone in the uk worrying about how she’d get her body home.

Black Women Rising became Mai’s home away from home. The support group became a safe space filled with hope, showing her that the things she heard in Egypt about cancer weren’t correct. Cancer didn’t automatically equal death.

Mai’s Black Women Rising sisters didn’t leave her side after her relapse in 2019 – literally, there was always someone at her hospital bedside during her Bone Marrow Transplant.

This hula-hooping dancing queen is now in remission (YES GIRL!) and left behind her ‘all-work-no-play” lifestyle. With a list of hobbies longer than your arm Mai isn’t just existing, she’s living!

Want to stay in touch? You can find Mai at:

@maity87


 


Dominique Bell.
Age: 50. (We know!).
Diagnosis: Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.

A biopsy the day before Dominique’s birthday confirmed the tumour on her right lung was Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma — mate, that ain’t a birthday present!

When doctors gave her the news, Dominique barely said a word. Dominique was busy comforting her sister sat balling her eyes out beside her and it just went over her head, so she just nodded along.

In the Caribbean, your cards are kept close to your chest; the personal is private and that includes cancer. Culture dictated that cancer was an old person thing, not for a spring chicken like Dominique. She only told her colleagues to stop them gassing and gossiping behind her back!

Stigma made her journey a lonesome one even though Dominique’s cousin was dealing with her own cancer diagnosis.

It was that cousin who took Dominique to her first ever Black Women Rising support group. Even though she doesn’t always speak up there, being in the presence of the Black Women Rising sisterhood and part of the community is enough for Dominique. They validate her experience and her existence – Black Women Rising makes her finally feel seen.

Dominique is living her life for herself nowadays – saying ‘yes’ to herself, doing what she wants and enjoying the woman she’s become.


 


Nina Lopes.
Age: 38.
Diagnosis: Triple Negative Breast Cancer

Mum to Lani, Nina was a jet-setting Menswear designer when her body began changing.

She hadn’t been self-checking on the regular but there was no mistaking that an unwelcome hard lump was setting up house in one of her lady lumps. After some to-and-fro with the medical suits, she was sent to the hospital so they could get like Sherlock and investigate. The culprit was uncovered as Triple Negative Breast Cancer, known for being an aggressive bugger.

Feeling isolated during treatment and lost afterwards, Nina had online support but needed something IRL.

Through word-of-mouth she discovered Black Women Rising and at last Nina could breathe again. With Leanne’s girls, she felt safe and seen.

Nina is now rediscovering herself, surrounding herself with good energy and learning how to tickle the ivories so she can give Ray Charles a run for his money.

Want to stay in touch? You can find Nina at:

@lopesnina