"I'm not done yet!"
I’m Sherin and I was thrilled to be asked, by Breast Cancer Now, to write an exclusive blog entry to mark International Women’s Day this year.
I am doing so from the perspective of a patient diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer who – relatively recently – has begun to rediscover her identity and purpose within a community of (mainly) women and her passion for writing, inevitably shaped by her experience as a woman.
I had dealt pragmatically with my two previous cancer diagnoses in 2016 and 2017, respectively, receiving the usual therapies and treatments and then emphatically drawing bold lines under them and thrusting them into the darkest recesses of my consciousness, defiantly throwing myself back into work and routine and people and dogs and chatter and mirth. And life.
But the sudden onset, in 2019, of severe, metastatic disease – my third, and this time, incurable cancer diagnosis – shrouded and erased any semblance of what had previously been my normal.
The disease was and remains painful and unrelenting and sickening and infinite. Disease progression is cruel. My cells have gone rogue, infiltrating my bones and bone marrow absolutely everywhere. Even before the inevitable diagnosis, I had lost the ability to walk, I had become invisible to the able-bodied and I was overlooked by those with vigour and rigour.
Inevitably, my focus shifted and then perished. Work became infrequent and increasingly impossible. Pastimes became irrelevant. I forgot who I was, what I was capable of, what had driven me for five decades.
I was lost.
And then I came upon the Trinny Tribe.
I had no idea what it was. But I saw what it was not. It was not a place of vacillation or prevarication or aggression or condescension or division or confusion or misapprehension or transgression. I saw a community of (mainly) women – “normal”, everyday, regular women with regular concerns – congregating purposefully, dynamically, triumphantly in a secluded, safe corner of the internet to interact, respond, comfort, uphold, cheer on, encourage, motivate, validate, redeem and belong.
I figured I had nothing to lose.
The Tribe filled in gaps of which only my subconscious was aware.
The friendships I have made within the Tribe – or rather the friendships that have found me – are no less solid for having been established in a virtual reality. They are founded upon honesty, mutual respect, a willingness to factually express vulnerability, an acknowledgement of kinship, an assertion of solidarity.
It is within the safe environs of the Tribe that I am rediscovering my love for writing, for rhyming, for versing and for reciting.
A simple, honest message I posted on the Tribe pages was where it all started. The response was astounding, the cascade of incoming messages stupefying. And among those messages stirred the rudiments of what would become resilient bonds, ties and friendships.
At a time when I had forgotten how to smile, the Tribe – my safe space – gave me permission to laugh and then showed me how!
For the first time in a long, long time, I am allowing myself to be relentlessly kind to myself.
For the first time in a long, long time, I am allowing myself to be relentlessly kind to myself.
The Trinny Tribe is my destination when I seek solace, companionship, comfort, support, authenticity and the kind of rumbling belly-laughs that bubble up between and among friends and then cushion those friends against marauding forces and challenges.
What’s a little cancer between friends?
I first came upon the Tribe while browsing idly one pain-filled day; I worked backwards to the products and I liked what I saw. I saw a community of members obligingly watching and swatching products and going out of their way to help and support others on the Tribe pages in their choices and in boosting their confidence or reinstating lost confidence. Tribers could be found animatedly discussing the sultry merits of Valentina, the subtle delights of Eugenie, the joyous sweetness that is Veebee! I saw that the products were often a quasi-excuse for Tribers to gather, bleat and blether, for it is in that process of gathering and communicating that they experience a sense of community and belonging.
Whether on Instagram, Facebook or YouTube, or via the company’s own portal, customers, aficionados and Tribers can voice their opinions, ask questions or just soak up the atmosphere, conjured up by Trinny herself or by the various, real-life “models“ who demonstrate products and their method of application. I saw that models are, more often than not, Tribers, too, and span generations – from teenagers seeking a fresh alternative to conventional, rather heavier makeup, to those in their eighties who find themselves embraced by the brand’s inclusive appeal. Universality is emphasised: the makeup – and the vocabulary the makeup engenders – bind us, each to each.
It goes without saying that Trinny London makeup boosts confidence, but also worthy of note is the fact that the brand subscribes to the “less is more” mantra that seeks not to conceal but to reveal the wellness of skin, that aims not to obliterate but to play up features, an approach that inspires confidence and allows a finely honed appreciation of colour, shade and light – and knowing when enough is quite simply enough, echoing the well-known guidance that suggests deliberately removing one piece of jewellery after getting ready for an evening out so as to ensure that the overall look does not overwhelm or confound.
I’ve touched upon the fact that I was embraced by the community early on in my engagement with the brand. During a live interaction last summer, Trinny told me – quite out of the blue – that a decision had been made to name a Lip2Cheek product after me. My reaction was – in the first instance – stunned silence and then a sort of garrulous outpouring of emotion off-camera!
To this day, I remain somewhat shellshocked at the honour conferred upon me. I know that I am far from the only Triber to be confronting a diagnosis of incurable cancer: I just hope to be able to highlight the insidious nature of this disease, the critical work being done by medical caregivers engaged in this field and the fact that people just like me are waiting with bated breath for research to come good and offer us that miracle cure that we crave. There is much to be said for complementary therapies: massage, aromatherapy, reiki, acupuncture, hypnosis, meditation – components of regimens running alongside conventional medicine – are designed to ease the burden on cancer patients.
Healing comes in many guises. Lip2Cheek in Sherin is akin to a pain patch for my psyche.
I am also privileged to have been given the opportunity to nominate a charity of my choosing to receive a meaningful proportion of the proceeds generated from the sale of this product.
What I dearly hope is that those facing health and other personal challenges of their own will find a slice of their own narratives reflected or paralleled in mine and will likewise refuse to acknowledge what giving up looks like. The possibility of that miraculous cure bursting through the miasma of disease and destruction years from now keeps me and so many others going.
Every time someone opts for a Lip2Cheek in Sherin (that still sounds so surreal!), they are doing more than they potentially know. They are aiding the cause, furthering research, helping their neighbour, their sister, their mother, their child… wiping away their tears – and helping them smile. And smiling is what lips do best and to greatest effect!
Lip2Cheek in Sherin fills me with humility, pride, enthusiasm, serenity, satisfaction – and hope. It is symbolic of my resolve to indulge in self-care and refuse to admit defeat. When the product was unveiled to me for the first time – off-camera, I saw instantly that it was exactly the tone of my lips – just a couple of shades deeper. Uncanny. A more accurate match simply couldn’t have been conjured up.
It just felt right.
Deemed extremely vulnerable, I have been shielding for over a year. On days when I am able to get past the bone and nerve pain, the tremors and the spasms, I continue to delight in shade and light, hue and tone: effective skincare and makeup are cathartic and can lift my mood in an instant. Lip2Cheek in Sherin is now inextricably bound up with the thrill of transformation and renewal.
My response to illness is something I examine dispassionately from time to time. There have been huge lapses in my care and treatment over the past few years. I can choose to be bitter, or not. My mindset is a choice I am privileged to exercise; I cannot change variables, but I can control and adjust my response to those variables. Lip2Cheek in Sherin thus represents empowerment.
I remain compliant but questioning. I do my own research to remain as informed and empowered as I possibly can, a participant in my care plan. Yes, I am that annoying patient who arms herself with a list of questions the length of my arm before an appointment with my oncologist! Lip2Cheek in Sherin is emblematic of that thirst for knowledge, too.
I have learnt not to reserve my nicest things “for best”. This IS my best. Post-swelling, I can no longer wear any of my jeans and trousers, and neuropathy has put paid to any footwear ambitions I might have had, but I still show up and dress up! I make choices every day – and I choose to dress and get ready for myself. Lip2Cheek in Sherin is a symbol of guilt-free self-indulgence and self-care in this very moment.
Pre-launch, I indulged in Lip2Cheek in Sherin practice sessions in the sanctuary that is my miniscule bathroom! Post-launch, Lip2Cheek in Sherin has become my signature shade and the hero product in my collection. The shade is fast becoming part of my identity: it’s hard to explain, but it makes me feel invincible! I consider Lip2Cheek in Sherin to be a symbol of strength, individuality and optimism.
Originally established in 1973 and reformed in 2015, Breast Cancer Now (BCN) is the country’s leading research and care-focused breast cancer charity, a cause that I began to identify with some years ago when I was diagnosed with primary breast cancer for the first time. This charitable organisation is doing incredible work in both outcomes-orientated research and support-focused care, its “Action Plan” and avowed aim being to ensure that, by 2050, all patients with metastatic breast cancer survive and that they are supported to live well.
Ours is the generation of transition, paving the way for the generation of transformation. By assigning their objective a definite end-point, BCN becomes accountable and makes progress measurable.
Breast Cancer Now has accompanied me in a variety of ways and at a clutch of touchpoints as I’ve progressed along my five-year cancer “journey”, which I fervently wish I had never had to undertake.
Still, I could not have asked for a more supportive or effective mentor and companion. Early in 2018, shortly after primary cancer diagnosis #2, Breast Cancer Care, later to merge with BCN, mentored me within the group setting of an initiative called ‘Moving Forward’, a nationwide support programme designed to equip primary cancer patients with a host of resources and tools to enable them to find the wherewithal to proceed with their lives and flourish. The programme helped me more than I had thought it would, bringing me together with other primary breast cancer patients who had either completed treatment or were still undergoing treatment, and making me feel less alone, less of an anomaly.
One of the continuity resources that the ‘Moving Forward’ course moderators recommended to me was the cancer counselling service within an allied charitable organisation, the Wessex Cancer Trust. The process was seamless, and, once I had completed radiotherapy, I received a series of counselling sessions, which – again – were useful to me at the time and allowed me to work through my emotions and aspirations and find resolution and peace of mind.
In 2020, a year after my third (metastatic) cancer diagnosis, I participated in a 12-week study, the LIBERATE (LIving BEtter with Advanced breasT cancEr) Feasibility Study conducted by BCN in alliance with the University of Leeds, the Leeds Cancer Centre and The Leeds Teaching Hospitals’ NHS Trust. The study researched the utility and effectiveness of a supportive, self-management-focused website for women living with secondary breast cancer. I was glad to be helping the cause and saw clear merit in equipping patients with a self-management tool, thereby empowering them to take charge of their condition and their response to their condition.
I have recently registered for an online course “Living With Secondary Breast Cancer”, again facilitated by Breast Cancer Now. I hope to benefit from community insight and experience and to share my own narrative and thereby help others as I draw upon the support offered by the course content.
And so my association with Breast Cancer Now continues: this latest cooperative initiative between BCN and Trinny London, focused upon a cosmetic product behind which lies this Trinny Triber’s personal narrative, takes it to another level, bringing an entirely distinct audience into the third-sector fold and, conversely, presenting Trinny London protagonists with a fresh and meaningful perspective and cause behind which to coalesce and rally.
It is no coincidence that Lip2Cheek in Sherin, the latest shade in this product category from the Trinny London stable, is being launched on 8th March, International Women’s Day 2021.
Elsewhere, I’ve touched upon the qualities and attributes that I associate with Lip2Cheek in Sherin: transformation and renewal, empowerment, the thirst for knowledge, guilt-free self-indulgence and self-care, the present moment, strength, individuality and optimism. These could well be leitmotifs in a narrative describing the movement for women’s rights. Commemorating the cause on this day every year the world over aids a collective focusing of the mind and encourages scrutiny of the path followed by the feminist movement. It also permits reflection on the position of women in today’s rapidly changing society, spanning viewpoints ranging from protest to celebration.
For evolution, change, transformation to take place, the status quo must be challenged. The #choose to challenge campaign taps into this insight, exhorting people to challenge the status quo and keep the world alert.
The starting point is the recognition that each of us is continually responsible for our own thoughts and actions. The campaign states:
*“We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality.
We can all choose to seek out and celebrate women's achievements.
Collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world.
From challenge comes change, so let's all choose to challenge.”*
“Hand up high” is the pose they are asked to strike, making them instantly recognisable as proponents and supporters of the cause.
Within the Trinny Tribe, one of our expressed aims is to support and uphold other women. There are obviously massive commonalities between this stance and that of the women’s movement as a whole. Natural allies, Trinny London and the international women’s movement share a focus on transformation and renewal, empowerment, the thirst for knowledge, guilt-free self-indulgence and self-care, the present moment, strength, individuality and optimism.
Doesn’t that sound familiar? Ah, yes! Those are precisely the attributes I associate with Lip2Cheek in Sherin. A parallel “hand up high” campaign with its epicentre in the Trinny Tribe pages could well be an effective visual tool, reflecting solidarity with progressive, disruptive ideals.
Words have been vital tools throughout my life.
Through diagnoses #1 and #2, writing during the rare downtime I allowed myself outside work kept me sane and kept me going. My labour of love, a hybrid volume of prose and verse with the working title Honeytraum, was tended to periodically but languidly. I found expression through writing de-escalated tension and gave me clarity. With no clearly demarcated end-point, though, and with no real understanding of the technicalities of the publication process, I meandered self-indulgently through word chains and idled upon lexical oceans.
My response to diagnosis #3 was different. An incurable disease differs intrinsically and radically from a primary condition that is expected to respond to treatment and care. The propensity to dread the future and – worse – to entertain the prospect of being gifted no future at all is crushing. Confronted with this stark reality, I saw no point in pursuing pastimes I had loved. Honeytraum was set aside. I even stopped playing Scrabble online! In large part, this was due to having to divert my focus to pain relief and retaining some measure of mobility. Everything took me twice as long as before; I felt as though I was wading through congealed blood. Whatever the reason/s, the fact is that my world became more urgent. And smaller.
Gradual expansion set in when I came upon the Trinny Tribe and Trinny London – in that order.
And when I allowed myself to open up to the possibility of engaging with a community through words. The Tribe is my safe space, the setting that empowers me and which I trust to the point that I occasionally create, construct and recite verse and prose for its members but also – specifically – for myself. I find the process of creation, construction and recital to be therapeutic and emotionally and psychologically healing.
I am hugely grateful to the Trinny team, who have been unstintingly supportive, kind-hearted and caring, allowing me to warble on as is my wont.
Exhorted by the Trinny H.O. to put together a small series of motivational strings to coincide with the launch of Lip2Cheek in Sherin, I ran with words and phrases that bubbled up intuitively inside me, as they tend to do, synapsing upon release, prodding intellect with instinct.
Universality is at the heart of all of the strings selected. So is a regard for the present time, this very moment – and the control we necessarily exercise by taking charge of said moment. If there is one thought that is common to all the strings, it is immediacy and the power of harnessing our present. Tomorrow is not guaranteed, but today is here and within our grasp.
What I find most exciting is the fact that these strings are transferable and are open to interpretation, that each of us can imbue each statement with subjectivity, personalising it so that it is relevant to us and valid for our own specific set of circumstances. For our own life. For our own today. For our own now.
… and wasting this moment that we have been given is abhorrent. That doesn’t necessarily mean that we must be productive or high-performing or any of those things that management gurus tell us are robust and sound. We are soft human beings, not automatons! But what we hold in our hands – our now – is fragile and delicate and fleeting – and needs tending and cultivating. A line from verse I wrote recently goes some way towards expressing this, I think: “…a universe reflected there, a dewdrop on a frond”. This moment – every moment – is a microcosm of eternity, a reflection of the universe. By harnessing each moment that we are given, we exert untold power and gift ourselves the possibility to truly appreciate every experience, every emotion, every triumph and every epiphany!
… and focus on that breath to the exclusion of all else. The more we succeed in focusing and concentrating the mind, the more centred we are likely to feel, the more in control, the more serene, the more fulfilled. Love your now; cherish it; invest in it emotionally and look into the heart of each moment as it occurs. It is precious. It will never come again.
… if you but knew it! With every passing moment comes responsibility. The responsibility of choice. We can choose our mindset. Although we cannot always choose the external variables that impact us, we can choose how we react to those variables. And that choice brings opportunity! Each of us comes into this world equipped with the propensity to learn specific skills and capabilities; some argue that we are born with innate, unique aptitude and proficiencies that we hone as we progress through life. This is a contentious debate, but what is clear is that we are offered a series of moments in time that we can shape to our advantage in line with our skill-sets, leanings and learnings. Each of those moments is a potential celebration – admittedly with its own challenges, but also with its own possibilities for radiance. It isn’t always easy. But it is always worthwhile. I’ll keep my sunglasses on: there you go – shining again!
And there it is again – that choice we have the privilege to make. What we do with our moments is up to us. It is often tempting to give in to misery and negativity. I have experienced lapses in my care over the past few years that some might consider unacceptable. And they would probably be right. But do I really want to dwell on those errors and compel myself to relive them? I can think of nothing worse – literally nothing – that I would like to do less with whatever time I have left than to fixate on compensation or dominion or proving a point. Now that I can walk again (not far, admittedly, but I can usually get to the bathroom and the kitchen), I’d like that mobility to be leveraged and built upon, not limited and diminished. And so I choose joy. It is so incredibly simple when I strip inessentials away. I choose to experience joyful moments and because I choose so and switch my brain over to joyful mode, I am able to smile without contrition and laugh without reservation. While at school, I was something of a “gigglepot”, a happy soul, although I had plenty to be sad about. Instinctively, I chose joy and created a tolerable life, upon which I now look back with affection. Even now, poignancy, regret and yearning lap at my feet. Even now, I make a conscious decision to remain on an even keel. Joy is underrated. Try it!
Because, you see, I’m not done yet.
If you are affected by this issue or need support please reach out to breastcancernow.org.
Shop Lip2Cheek in Sherin here.