If were to say ‘bowel cancer patient’ to you – what scenes do you see?
The picture of a bowel cancer patient you have likely been painted is one of an older bloke, swigging pints and munching on mountains of red meat. Not a twenty-something athletic, vegan and chic-as-fuck Essex gal.
We know that cancer doesn’t discriminate gang, but the images of who gets diagnosed usually does.
But why give a shit?
Bowel cancer five-year survival rates if diagnosed at an advanced stage is 42% for men but for women it is terrifyingly-low at less than 10%.
More young people are diagnosed at late stages than the national average and more black people are told they have bowel cancer at stages 3 or 4 than their white counterparts.
Shocking scenes out here sis.
Lifting the lid (see what we did there) on the seldom seen bowel cancer experience – we gathered five bowel babes from the GIRLvsCANCER community to share their stories and challenge the status quo of how bowel cancer is portrayed. Flushing away what you think you know and covering it in sequins.
From dancing around their handbags to changing their colostomy bags our gals have gained VIP access to the coolest club they never expected to be a part of, but trust us, you’ll be forming an orderly queue to have a night on the tiles with every single one.
Get ready to flush the stigma around bowel cancer down the loo loves, because by tackling taboos we save lives.
Grab your lippie and get ready to make some mates in the bogs like any standard pre-covid Saturday.
Come on in and meet the Bowel Babes.
Sophie-Louise Brown (she/her).
Diagnosis: Stage 4 Advanced Bowel cancer.
Mumma-of-one Sophie fell in love with her son all over again after having surgery for advanced bowel cancer when she watched him take care of her. It was something she never thought she’d have to witness. Sophie’s tumour was found after surgery when one of her fallopian tubes were removed and her bowel was cut into. This happened eighteen months after her symptoms were fobbed off by GPs.
It was only when she discovered that she had bowel cancer – and having two stoma bags – that Sophie got to really be besties with her bowels. Like most of us she never paid much mind to it other than having a poo.
Since diagnosis our Soph realised that life is too shitting short to just muddle along and has decided to change careers! Sophie hopes to retrain as a stoma nurse, helping people to see that they can still live their best life even though their stoma will piss them off sometimes. An angel wouldn’t you agree?
In GIRLvsCANCER Sophie has found empowerment. Being on-set with our team revealed to Sophie that she really is the gorgeous, vibrant woman we told her she was. In her own words, “it’s given me courage”.
Some sage advice from our Reiki Queen – find your voice and keep pushing for answers. She doesn’t want others to have to think about – like she does – whether her cancer would’ve been caught sooner if her doctor listened.
Want to stay in touch with Sophie? You can find her at:
“Put a scar all the way down your body, half a vagina and two bags, it’s made me actually not worry so much about what others think of me because it doesn’t matter.”
Nat Woodward (she/her).
Diagnosis: Stage 4 Advanced Bowel Cancer.
Hailing from Devon to Hackney, our Nat has been on one hell of a ride. Finding herself passing out whilst passing her bowels and hella fucking fatigued – by the time doctors diagnosed why she’d been so poorly she was relieved to finally have answers.
But it was bowel cancer. Stage 4 inoperable bowel cancer.
Chemo and radio shrank her twin tumours but a rapid recurrence meant surgery was a no-go. Instead after some pandemic delays Nat had a pelvic exenteration. For those not in the know, it’s the mutha of all surgeries. Removal of sexual and reproductive organs, five spinal nerves, pelvic side wall, one kidney tube and bum muscle.
It ain’t been easy for Nat – understatement of the year alert – but she’s uncovered a newfound appreciation of her bod. For keeping her going despite everything that’s been thrown at it. Before finding us Nat felt invisible. In the hozzie ward she was the youngun and no one near her age could be found brochures about colostomy bags. In GIRLvsCANCER she has found a place where she fits. Where she feels seen.
Nat has since been gobsmacked by the gang of young peeps who’ve had bowel cancer and, like her, how many were dismissed by docs. She wants to see more representation of young folk in bowel cancer awareness. Ensuring their symptoms aren’t poo-pooed and they get answers, early.
Nat hopes to return to teaching dance soon and become a qualified Reiki healer so she can offer this service to others in the cancer community as a Maggie’s Centre volunteer.
Want to stay in touch with Nat? You can find her at:
“It’s too late for me to change my story but we can change other people’s stories by educating people, letting people become aware of their symptoms and normalising chatting shit.”
Debra Michaels (she/her).
Diagnosis: T3 N2 Bowel/ Colorectal Cancer.
We were feeling fancy when we got Debra on board. Why? She’s a theatre actress, darling!
Debra had some experience with bowel cancer before diagnosis; her dad had the disease too. She began noticing signs of something not-so-right for over a year before she heard that it was cancer – far too long to receive conclusive answers.
But it was finding out she had a vaginal fistula and that her ileostomy couldn’t be reversed that blindsided her even more than cancer itself. Debra cried for the first time since her first diagnosis. It was something she’d want to have known more about at the start of her cancer experience: the long-term outcomes and possible health issues of surgery. They had huge impact on her identity as an actress and her body image.
Dealing with cancer, treatment and health hang ups made Debra see that she needed to be more patient with herself. She might not be able to do things in the way that she did before but there’s still so much more that she can do, and that’s what matters.
In the future, she wants to see more women chatting bowel cancer in the media – but only if it shows the sisters as women first, not cancer patients or survivor. That’s right up our alley Debra! Fabulous and feisty – we know our lady will be leading the charge to change the narrative.
To Deb GIRLvsCANCER means empowerment. Embracing this life, scars an’ all. Finding our fam and being part of the GIVEASHIT campaign meant meeting fellow Bowel Babes who she can relate to and kick-ass alongside. She’s all about taking control and feeling fierce in the skin you’re in. And we are here for it.
Want to stay in touch with Debra? You can find her at:
“There [needs to be] more awareness through the media and more knowledge available and, to be seen as a woman first and not a bowel cancer survivor or patient.”
Monique-Lianne Buckingham (she/her).
Diagnosis: Stage 4 Advanced Incurable Bowel Cancer.
Animal obsessive Monique had her textbook bowel cancer traits repeatedly dismissed until a perforation left her on death’s door. Revealing a massive tumour nestled in her sigmoid colon.
Doing a module about bowel cancer at college Monique was well-versed in the signs of the disease and realised they were issues she’d been experiencing. She got right to the GP (yes girl!) but was told it couldn’t possibly be – too young innit pals. Nowt to worry about eh.
Over the following years she kept finding blood in her poo, her fatigue worsened and she began experiencing excruciating pain, but was dismissed my doctors on the daily.
By the time her cancer was uncovered it had spread across her entire body. And mere months after her 21st birthday, was awarded an incurable cancer diagnosis. With six months to live. People were shocked by her age but Monique wasn’t. So many more had been dismissed and diagnosed too late like herself. Something that she is fiercely charged about changing.
Four years later, Monique is still kicking bowel cancer’s bum She describes having a modern, fun campaign like GIRLvsCANCER’s as magical – which is exactly how we’d describe Monique.
Even though she’s been living with Bowel cancer for many years, it doesn’t define our doll. Monique is pup parent to a pack of sausage dogs and loves expressing herself through arts and crafts. And you better believe she will never let cancer hold her back from living her life. In her own words “If I want to climb the mountain, I’m going to climb that fucking mountain’.
Want to stay in touch with Monique? You can find her at:
“There’s that perception that if you’ve got cancer you’re life is gone, you don’t have a life anymore and that’s definitely not the case. There’s people with their own families out there, looking after their own children, people are still working amongst diagnosis and treatments… you can still live your life and thrive.”
Nav Johal (she/her).
Diagnosis: Stage 2 Bowel/ Rectal cancer.
Say hello to the legs of the campaign.
Nav went from competitive footballer to detective to bowel cancer patient – all before she turned 40. Even though she was experiencing symptoms, she never thought that they’d be bowel cancer based. She was young, super fit and a vegan. Not a chance. she’d only known bowel cancer crew who were double her age. In their 70s and 80s.
It took two visits to the GPs for her to be sent for testing but the cancer cells were contained in the tumour, found early enough for her to dodge chemo. West Londoner Nav still needed surgery; an ileostomy with a stoma bag. She had no clue that the stoma and that kind of surgery was even possible!
Avid runner Nav has gone on to glitter the turd by becoming an ambassador for Colostomy UK and a committee member for the Met Police’s Cancer Support Group. Through its buddy system she supports workmates returning to the beat after their own diagnoses, and hosts sessions for Line Managers schooling them about the cancer crew’s workers’ rights.
Not only has Nav become closer to her family and friends, GIRLvsCANCER has given her a whole new community who understand everything that she’s been through. They’re also a huge source of strength for her.
Being on set for the Time To Chat Shit campaign left Nav feeling a buzz that lasted for days! Even though we were all there to shout about Bowel cancer, she didn’t feel like a cancer patient and loved showing off her glamazon self. Coming on board for this campaign with us allowed Nav to find her voice and we couldn’t be prouder.
Want to stay in touch with Nav? You can find her at:
“Someone asked me what gives you strength and I think it’s other people. When you’re in that group with other girls going through the same thing you get strength from each other.”
have you seen the merch to support the GIVEASHIT Campaign yet? It’s the shit. Two organic cotton pieces with an oh-so-chic monochrome design that will have you feeling chic and shows you care. PLUS 20% will be donated to the brilliant Bowel Cancer UK.
Available on PRE-ORDER ONLY until 18th April 2021.
Art Direction: Lauren Mahon
Production Assistants: Perusi Kakaire + Emma Macauley
Location: Mama Shelter London
Photography: Holly McGlynn assisted by Conor Clarke
Behind The Scenes: Kaye Ford + Ben Lister
Make-Up: Laurretta Power + Alyssia Grant + Lauren Hogsden
Hair: Paola Sofia Pinto + Hayley McKee
Styling: Alessia Farnessi + Myra Williams