Lauren Honey, 22, is studying politics in Newcastle and loves travelling. She’s also a Cancer Research UK Campaigns Ambassador. These vital supporters help with our political campaigns in local communities, persuading policy-makers to bring in new laws and increase investment in cancer services that will ultimately save lives.
Last year Lauren was about to start a year of study abroad in Hong Kong when her mum Julie was diagnosed with breast cancer. Lauren’s story is just one of the stories featured in our Annual Review, highlighting the work we do and why it’s important.
‘It seemed ridiculously ironic’
I’m a long-standing supporter of Cancer Research UK. I’ve run Race for Life and because I study politics at Newcastle University, I thought it would be a natural progression for me to work with politicians and promote Cancer Research UK campaigns. So I decided to become a Campaigns Ambassador for the charity and raise awareness of cancer in the community.
It starts by getting local communities on board. That’s where you get the support you need to persuade parliament to actually change things. My first campaign was the plain packaging campaign for cigarettes. Seeing the law get passed through parliament was really cool. It goes to show that campaigning really makes a difference.
Half of all people in the UK are going to get cancer at some point in their lifetime. It’s literally happening everywhere. But you always think it’s going to happen to someone else.
Mum is an example of that. To be honest, it seemed ridiculously ironic. You take on work with Cancer Research UK, and then your mum gets cancer.
‘I wanted to do something positive’
I remember Mum being invited for a mammogram, which she went to. She hadn’t had any lumps, bumps or symptoms beforehand, so I don’t think she was worried.
But during the scan they saw something that worried them, so they asked her to come back for a second scan. While she was waiting for the second scan Mum noticed a lump in her armpit. At her scan appointment she told the radiographer and they decided to take a biopsy of her lymph node too. When the results came back they showed Mum had cancer. She was diagnosed with invasive ductal breast cancer in June 2015.
Mum had kept the news under wraps to start with. I think she didn’t want to worry me and my brother. But once she was diagnosed, she kept us in the loop. She’d been through this before with her parents, but back then people were really secretive about that kind of thing. She didn’t want that for us. She had a full mastectomy in the July to remove her left breast, and also had some lymph nodes removed.
Once Mum told me she had cancer I wanted to do something positive to deal with it. Because of my work as a Campaigns Ambassador I knew who to ask for more information. This was the time when having a bit of inside knowledge came in really handy.
Cancer Research UK was really supportive and gave me the information I wanted, and said that if I needed anything explained to let them know.
I was meant to leave for a year of study abroad in Hong Kong a couple of days after Mum’s surgery. She really encouraged me to go. When I left, Mum was in high spirits and was dealing with everything really well.
But when I was away it was horrible.
‘There’s new research coming up all the time. It’s fantastic. It needs to keep going.’ – Lauren
There were places where I couldn’t get in touch with her, and when I did manage to I was worried. She was doing really well after the mastectomy, but the chemotherapy was a whole different thing. I could feel her going downhill.
I was in these amazing places but I couldn’t relax and enjoy myself, so I decided to come home to be with my Mum.
I remember Mum saying how having me home was a huge support. My work with Cancer Research UK meant that I knew where to go for answers, and I think she found that reassuring. Mum having cancer made it not just professional, but personal too.
‘Mum held the lady’s arm and comforted her’
It was nice to be able to keep Mum company during her chemotherapy sessions. I remember one particularly well. We were in the waiting room before Mum’s fourth round of chemotherapy. We both noticed an older lady looking our way. Mum smiled at her, and the lady got emotional. I watched Mum hurry over and sit on the floor next to her. The lady apologised and told Mum her cancer had returned after several years, and she was having to go through chemotherapy for a second time.
Mum held the lady’s arm and comforted her. She started cracking jokes and trying to make her laugh, telling her: ‘Honestly it’s not even that bad’, and ‘Everything will be fine’ – Mum’s favourite catchphrase! It was a genuine moment, and so nice to witness such a kind gesture from someone who was ten minutes away from her own encounter with chemo. Mum hid how scared she was to help someone else and I really admire her for that.
After her chemotherapy, Mum had radiotherapy later that year. Now things are on the up – Mum’s hair is coming back and she’s started to recover from the radiotherapy. She has to take tablets for the next five years as well.
The whole experience has had a profound effect on the whole family.
‘It’s changed everything’
Today I’m in a very different place from where I thought I’d be. Mum’s cancer has shown what my priorities actually are.
It made me realise that university is less important to me in the grand scheme of things, compared to my family. It’s changed everything, but luckily for us it’s only temporary.
It’s made me a lot more passionate about my work as a Cancer Research UK Ambassador and made me want to do a lot more.
To anyone thinking about becoming an Ambassador, I’d say just go for it. It’s so important, and there’s so much that can be done. Being an ambassador has made me realise how important it is that cancer research is part of the political agenda. With the spending cuts and reviews, keeping cancer research a priority helps the work to continue and progress.
A lot of people don’t realise how Cancer Research UK works – I certainly didn’t. They do so much with the media and with campaigns as well as the research. There’s so much you can get involved in and you can see the positive changes happening.
Without the work of Cancer Research UK and their ambassadors, lobbying and raising awareness of cancer and keeping it at the top of the political agenda, progress might tail off and we don’t want that. There’s new research coming up all the time. It’s fantastic. It needs to keep going.