THE PILLOW TALK

Listening back to the interview tape with Andrea, Charlotte and Tara, we were amazed by them yet again (you’ve seen those pictures, you know what we’re talking about!). Condensing their words into our usual style of short profiles was a mission and a half; we wanted to include it all! So we decided to release the interview in her full glory! Grab a glass of vino, get comfy and get reading- you’re not gonna want to miss a word.

“Ello loves! You all absolutely smashed it on set. So proud of you all. Now it’s time to get down to the nitty gritty of our #FeelingMyself campaign. To start things off, did cancer affect your perception of your body and if so, how?”

Andrea – Definitely! I got diagnosed and probably about an hour later met with a stoma nurse and within an instant of being told I would have a stoma, my mind went ‘Oh my god my body is going to be different’. One of the first thoughts, which was silly, was about what my boyfriend would think. I struggled the first year after having a stoma and going through a long surgery recovery. Then there’s chemo! I didn’t realise until I was finished that chemo changed my body. My weight was fluctuating and [I was also] dealing with the bag and having to change the clothes I was wearing- It was a really weird time. It was towards chemo that my mindset started changing and I thought ‘you’ve got to accept the new you’. It has taken some time, but I’ve started to accept and become more confident in my body even with the stoma bag. I do get my down days when I hear it rustle or catch a glimpse of myself; I let myself have a cry and have a wallow but I remind myself that I wouldn’t be here without my bag.

Charlotte – Once on treatment, yes because the steroids made me put on weight and in the beginning I actually lost a lot of weight. I struggled with how I was looking once I was on treatment losing my hair and not looking like how I looked prior to being diagnosed. It was quite a struggle at the time but once the actual treatment finished and I stopped taking the medication, the weight dropped off and I started to fall in love with the new version of me. By that time, my mobility issues caused by the treatment brought up some confidence issues.

Tara – Ultimately, my perception has changed but it was a cycle of different feelings. At the beginning, I was hurt that my body had [developed cancer] and disappointed that cancer had somehow managed to form in my body even though, as far as I was concerned, I took pretty good care of myself. That changed a lot as I went through treatment because you end up with a huge appreciation for your body for how it somehow keeps going even with stuff like chemo when you’re poisoning it. I became really grateful for my body for just functioning and doing all the things you don’t think about normally like breathing.

“What about your sexual relationships? Did cancer affect them?”

Tara – Yes, quite a lot. Hot flushes are a big one because I could go with a hot flush all day but as soon as there’s skin-to-skin contact I’m ready to jump in an ice bath. One thing that was particularly hard was on my surgery side the area around my chest is numb so the first time my partner touched there, it was quite triggering. I ended up crying, which killed the mood, because I couldn’t feel it. There’s all these issues on top, like fatigue and physical discomfort, but that one felt quite hard because it’s a reminder. Even if you’re feeling great it brings you crashing down because I should be able to feel that but all my nerves have been cut so I can’t feel it anymore. Working on it but those first few times were a shock that I didn’t even expect.

Andrea – It definitely did. I didn’t even want to think about having sex, even the thought of it made me feel weird for about a year and a half. It wasn’t just the physical health effects of cancer but I was nervous of my body and getting naked. At the beginning I was really self-conscious. It’s like you’re back to the beginning of when you first started dating and have all the nerves. It’s like starting all over again because you never know what it’s going to be like or feel differently. Same person, new body.

Charlotte – I actually found an improvement. I was diagnosed at 17 and I found that my sex drive went up- I don’t know whether that was just to do with age but it did. It could’ve been down to a few things. My [treatment] side effects affected my nervous system so it could’ve made me very sensitive and enjoy things more, or it could’ve been down to the way I changed my lifestyle, my diet, drinking more water, exercising frequently, working on my mindset and body confidence, that also played a part in it.

“Did any of you experience physical barriers in your sexual relationships?”

Charlotte – Funnily enough, I haven’t. When it comes to my mobility, it’s not affected even how people have seen me, it’s more been to do with me feeling less confident to do certain things. There are no limitations! Even though I may have issues with my mobility, it hasn’t affected me in that way. I’m still flexible so certain things can still go on. That’s been blessing, yoga is key.

Tara – Quite a lot for me. Hot flushes are a big one because I could go with a hot flush all day but as soon as there’s skin-to-skin contact I’m ready to jump in an ice bath. There’s the general fatigue, lack of libido and physical discomfort around the arm and less flexibility. One of the things that was particularly hard, on the surgery side of things, was that around the chest area [on my mastectomy side] is numb so the first time my partner touched that area it was quite triggering, which killed the mood. We ended up crying because I couldn’t feel it. When you’ve been touched there before, it can be traumatising…because it’s a reminder. Even if you’re feeling great, it brings you crashing down because I should be able to feel [my partner’s hand] but all my nerves have been cut so I can’t feel it anymore. Working on it but those first few times were a shock that I didn’t even expect from myself.

Andrea – For me with my stoma, yes, because you never know, you poo as you go.Even the thought of that was a mental barrier because when I’m getting naked, I could be pooping, it could leak and go all over him. Plus when you put your tum out, it’s close to someone and you wonder if they want [feeling of the stoma bag].


“When you learn to appreciate yourself, you will see it being reflected in your life.” – Charlotte.


 

“Were any of you given any information about body image, sexual wellness and cancer, or did you have to seek it out if you wanted any advice?”

Tara – There wasn’t anything really. I think you get told about the side effects of zoladex and the menopause symptoms like dry vagina, but in terms of being explicitly told the other side of things, no. The only things I’ve learned have been from people on Instagram and support groups, and speaking to other people prone to similar difficulties. There certainly wasn’t anything in a clinical environment

Charlotte – I don’t remember being told anything. I was diagnosed back in 2007 and I was on a teenage cancer ward so it was never brought up. It was more a subject I began to understand as I felt down with my mobility and the way it looked when I walked. I began doing work with that, I didn’t go to see anyone or speak to anyone about it because I didn’t know it was a thing that loads of people go through. I thought it was down to my mobility, not going through cancer as a whole.

Andrea – I wasn’t given lots of information either. My stoma nurse touched on it but they didn’t say much. They said you can still have sex and feel sexual, but it was kind of more just that. I’m sure if I asked more, they would’ve been more open but at that time I didn’t think of asking for help about sex. I looked online and did a google. There are charities that talk about it but it’s very matter of fact and doesn’t really help. For me, the best way of doing it was being open and I spoke to my boyfriend, I made sure he saw it. I thought if I don’t show it straight away, it’s going to be harder going forward.


“We need…an emphasis on intimacy not just meaning sex- there’s lots of other ways to be intimate and it doesn’t mean that your sex life is over.” – Tara.


“So, and this might be a silly question considering your answers, do you think that there is enough accessible support out there?”

Charlotte – It is still a very taboo subject that not a lot of people want to talk about. I know one lady who has been starting to raise more awareness because of her own experience but other than that I don’t know anything else out there.

Andrea – I don’t think there’s much out there. Even on social media, I’ve only come across one sex and cancer account. There’s not much out there even from charities [supporting younger people]. Even in online cancer forums there’s no subjects or set topics about this to even start the conversation.

Tara – The support I’ve had is from the community, not through something official. The stuff I’ve found is what I’ve gone hunting for really. Maybe there is and I wasn’t looking in the right place but nothing was being pushed through by my Breast Care Nurse or surgeon or CNS. Like a lot of the cancer literature, there is a lot that is aimed at the older woman. Even though it is important for older women, I felt kind of forgotten about. It doesn’t feel applicable to me, I don’t think I’ve had anything available that made me feel seen.

Andrea – I did a few courses with Maggie’s ‘What Now?’ for when you’re in remission. They touched on it but because it was such a mixed age group, it wasn’t a focus. It’s definitely something we all think about but brush off.

Tara – The only place with anything that felt relevant and available was GIRLvsCANCER in terms of age-appropriate stuff.


“When you fall in love with your body again and when you have that confidence, it pours over into your sex life…Don’t be scared to explore you body because when you know what you like, you can vocalise that to your partner. If you don’t know what you like, you can’t expect someone else to know.” – Charlotte.


“Thinking about your experiences, for you, what would the best case of scenario look like in terms support and advice about the impact of cancer on sex, relationships and body image?”

CharlottePeople need to be made more aware that when they go through treatment, their body may change and this may affect their relationships.

Tara – It seems embarrassing to talk about and I don’t think it should be. That’s probably why there aren’t loads available or widely shared. We need things readily available that are open and honest, that feels like it’s been written by someone under 40 that has been through it with practical advice about lubes, dilators and different types of vibrators, and all those types of things that might help. And an emphasis on intimacy not just meaning sex- there’s lots of other way to be intimate and it doesn’t mean that your sex life is over.

Andrea – I think a lot of it comes down to your CNS or Macmillan nurse because they’re your first point of contact, but I know people feel awkward. I think it’s about getting a charity, or a group like GIRLvsCANCER, access to a psychosexual counsellor. You need someone who specifically looks into sex and relationships; people will be more likely to open up if they know that’s their speciality because when you have a general person you don’t think that’s what they’re there for. And it’s about talking to one another because then you don’t feel alone or like you’re the only one going through it- maybe a community network.

Tara – Genuine authenticity from other people who have gone through it in this age range. I’ve seen people from the community speaking loudly about it but there needs to be more of it so people know there is a safe environment and it’s not so isolating because it is an isolating place.

Charlotte I know some people struggle with a low sex drive and they need to be made aware of this and having people who can give top tips. Letting people know this is a thing so they don’t feel alienated or alone. Raising more awareness will help with that.


“[We] need someone who specifically looks into sex and relationships; people will be more likely to open up if they know that’s their speciality because when you have a general person, you don’t think that’s what they’re there for.” – Andrea.


“On our Feeling Myself shoot, you all looked like a million quid and radiated confidence! Do you have any advice or tips for the GIRLvsCANCER community for dealing with their sexual relationships, intimacy and perception of their bodies?”

Tara – I’ve got quite a few but I started watching RuPaul’s Drag Race just before my diagnosis and binged it during chemo. It filled me with so much joy and confidence, it helped me so much. When I had my surgery, I didn’t want it to be a big deal about my body. As soon as I came round from the anaesthetic, I pulled my gown forward, I looked down and took a picture in my slightly-anaesthetised state. I needed to confront it and start processing it. Everybody’s different but that’s how I coped with it by tackling it head on. I was having my drains in; it made me feel really uncomfortable in the run up to my surgery. I was literally dreading it! I couldn’t deal with this notion of having this thing hanging out of my body it freaked me out but when I came round it was fine and I was like ‘actually Tara this isn’t as bad as you thought’. It is not just about cancer stuff. It’s about lots of other things like diet culture and I am kicking myself that it took cancer to give me a slap round the face to appreciate my body. I want everybody to celebrate their body whatever form it’s in and be grateful for it and be kind to it.

Charlotte – One thing I think it’s really important for people to work on is self-love and body confidence because when you fall in love with your body again and when you have that confidence, it pours over into your sex life because when you’re confident in your body, your partner feels more comfortable in the space too…And exploring your body! Don’t be scared to explore your body because when you know what you like, you can vocalise that to your partner. If you don’t know what you like, you can’t expect someone else to know.

Andrea – It can be hard but talking about it and being open and letting your partner understand what you’re feeling. It can be nerve-wracking even if you’ve been with them for some time but try to be open and honest and show yourself to make each other feel at ease. Body image and sex is so related. Take it slowly, a day at a time. It doesn’t matter if you don’t necessarily love your body or want to get jiggy with your partner for a year. It will happen, it might take a long time but you will find your new acceptance and confidence. Accept and appreciate my body, that’s become my little thing. when I need to feel a bit more confident I look in the mirror and have a moment. I always touch my stoma bag, play with it and look at it in the mirror; it makes me feel like if I look at myself, I’m accepting myself.

Tara – In my past job I did a lot of Change Management training, and unbeknownst to me at the time it prepared me really well to go through this. Part of it is acceptance and stages (I think it’s part of a grief psychology model) and I’ve always had that in my mind. I needed to get to the acceptance part and it would be okay. All the stages before were valid and I needed to get through them as part of that process. Rapidly accepting and working with what was happening rather than against it. For me there was no good wishing that it wasn’t happening to me, it was a case of let’s get on with it while also allowing myself to have those days where I felt like shite because it’s realistic.

Charlotte – Affirmations! Saying affirmations naked in front of the mirror where you can see your body and speaking love and positivity into your body. Talking about how you love each part of your body. And taking care of your body mentally, emotionally and physically. Doing the yoga- stretching is great for flexibility and strengthening. Eating wholefoods- getting your fruits and vegetables is good for your skin and hydration. Hydration is going to help with vaginal dryness, so drinking enough water as well.

Tara – Speak to yourself how you’d speak to a friend because we speak to ourselves awfully and we’d never speak to a friend like that. If I was supporting a friend through cancer, what would I say to them? You’ve got to be kind to yourself.

Andrea – It’s about making yourself feel comfortable too. Putting on something on, clothes and undies, that makes you feel good. It does such a difference if you have a really cute, sexy pair of undies on, it’s going to make you feel a bit more confident. You’ll stand up taller! Put a bit of red lippy on and do your hair, things like that give a boost.

Tara – When I was going through treatment, what really helped me was feeling like me; I didn’t want to lose who I was. I’d get up and when I had the energy, have a shower, put a bit of makeup on and get dressed out of my pyjamas and put on hoop earrings- they’re a big thing for me when I put them on I feel like I’m in go mode. Even if I was just going to sit on the sofa, it made me feel better. I think a lot of it was preparation for what would make me feel nice when I felt like shit, so I got them ready and they were available- I bought nice turbans so I felt nice when I had no hair. Having a really nice bra that I felt comfortable in whether I wanted to wear a prosthesis or not. I also wanted to get a swimsuit or bikini, and once I had those sorted I felt a lot better because I didn’t want to be feeling better after surgery but having to go here, there and everywhere because I didn’t have the right stuff. And I wasn’t in a position where I could wear my existing stuff because they were wired. I didn’t have to spend loads- my swimsuit is a postsurgery one from Asda and it’s fab!

Andrea – It’s on the outside but it helps. It’s about looking after yourself, getting to know yourself, accepting and appreciating what you’ve been through and wearing or doing something that makes you feel comfortable.

Charlotte – When you learn to appreciate yourself, you will see it being reflected in your life.


“One things that was particularly difficult on the surgery side of things, was that around my chest area [on my mastectomy side] is numb so the first time my partner touched that area, it was quite triggering…Even if you’re feeling great, it brings you crashing down because I should be able to feel [my partner’s hand] but all my nerves have been cut so I can’t feel it anymore.” – Tara.


“Wow, thank-you for sharing those with us and the community, I’m sure they’ll resonate with so many people! Bringing it back to the campaign, what does being part of the Feeling Myself campaign mean to you?”

Andrea – It was so nice to be around a group of girls chatting about all sorts with the other models and the crew but this campaign is so important too! With sex, relationships and body image not being an open topic, it’s good to start the conversation. Body image and looking at yourself or feeling yourself is so hard for a lot of people! By doing this hopefully we’re going to help others know that you can totally be sexy, totally be hot, and dress or do what makes you feel good. It’s so cheesy but it’s true! It’s a good reminder that even if you don’t think it, you are sexy and other people are seeing it even if you aren’t. This campaign is reminding you that ‘yeh, you are sexy!’

Charlotte – For me, it showed me that I can still be sexy and confident no matter what mobility issues or cancer I’ve gone through. I can still love myself and look beautiful. I never normally wear make-up but when the make-up girl put it one me I was like ‘daaamn is that you yeh?!’

Tara – It feels like a pivotal moment for me and has come at the right time. I’ve finished my treatment and frankly have been feeling crap about gaining weight from treatment and all that body-hating shite that I want to reject. I used to be that person who hated their body even though there was nothing wrong with it. It was intact and whole, and I don’t believe in that stuff anymore. I was silly but I’ve learnt now and it’s a shame that it’s taken this for me to learn to appreciate my body. Being part of this campaign and celebrating that, the process has been stirring in me and this feels like a powerful moment and I feel so proud of myself for doing it. It was a really inspiring experience that made me feel confident and like I’ve got a bit of my mojo back. I felt really empowered and stunning, and I met some amazing people. Everybody there felt so empowering that it felt natural- why do we even wear clothes?

100%! Who needs clothes?! Thank-you so much for being part of the Feeling Myself campaign and talking to us today about body image, sexual relationships and intimacy- we know it ain’t always easy peasy. We’re super grateful to have you on board shattering stigma with us!

And if you want to stay in touch with our gals, you can find them at:

Andrea @goodasgold_akr
Charlotte @charlottecrowl
Tara @nottodaycancernottoday

“You will find your new acceptance and confidence. Accept and appreciate my body- that’s become my little thing. When I need to feel a bit more confident I look in the mirror…I always touch my stoma bag, play with it and look at it in the mirror; it makes me feel like if I look at myself, I’m accepting myself.” – Andrea.


DON’T FORGET…

From May 10th 2021 to May 31st 2021 we’ve got into bed with some bloody brilliant brands to give it to you in the form of delectable discount codes and BBE (big bundle energy) to stimulate smiles you won’t be able to fake. Many of these reductions and commodities will climax with a donation, to us, here at GIRLvsCANCER. Allowing us to invest back into the cancer community and make this an inviting environment that will keep you coming back for more.

What are you waiting for? Go down on… this page… click the button and see what tickles you.

GIRLvsCANCER CREW

Art Direction: Lauren Mahon
Production Assistant: Emma McAuley
Location: Mama Shelter London
Photography: Kaye Ford + Alex Cameron
Videography: Rosalind Alcazar
Make-Up: Laurretta Power 
Hair: Julie Ganina
Styling: Alessia Farnessi