Cancer has taught me that a life without the people who make you smile is no life at all.
Throughout active treatment, their words moved me, their cards lifted me up when I felt like falling, their kind gestures made me smile and their love provided a constant reminder of just how lucky I am to be alive. It is amazing to think that my new boob was made possible by the chocolate hampers and biscuits that were delivered to our door to help fatten me up before surgery. Faced with such generosity, it was hard to be anything but positive.
It is a sad fact of life, however, that it takes a serious illness for us to say what we mean to each other. How often it is that we leave things unsaid and expect people to somehow realise just how important they are. This is something I am determined to change.
Being at the receiving end of a lifetime of kindness has got me thinking about just how much we really say to those that inspire us and make us smile. When was the last time you turned to a friend and thanked them for just being there? When was the last time you contacted an old acquaintance and told them just how big an impression they have made on your life? When was the last time you thanked someone and meant it from the bottom of your heart? People can’t guess you’re your thinking unless you tell them. When the business of life gets in the way, it is hard to step back, reflect and not take all those you love and admire for granted. But, I can tell you now, there is so much I want to say to people while they are still around to hear it! People come and go in life, tucked away in chapters. But, their kindness will live on through you. I’d love to think that if someone were to cut me open (in a nice, non-cancer-surgery kind of way), I would be made up all of the brilliant people who have touched my life.
I have been writing this blog because I want to use my experience to help others. If, through one illness, we can all learn to say what we feel and tell those around us how important they really are, I feel I will have made a positive difference this year. If I’ve been put on this earth to spread the love, then spread the love I will.
In lesson 156 (click here to read more), I talk about the shelves of engagement cards and get well cards that greeted me every day throughout treatment. This wall of words inspired me to start a pink hearts campaign to thank all those who have shaped my life and made me who I am.
The idea is simple.
1) Make a pink heart (I have adapted a Kirsty Allsopp design for the purpose – click here for more). I wanted something that people could hang in their houses to remind them to look for the positives in life. I don’t want people to think about cancer, but about all the things that make them smile. If we all spent a bit more time ‘following our hearts’ and a bit less time getting carried along by the challenges of life, we would see more of what matters.
2) Tuck it inside a pink envelope with a message explaining the meaning behind the heart. I have been really touched when people have sent me a photo showing where they have chosen to place the heart, so I can imagine them looking up at it each day.
3) Add a personal and heartfelt note describing just what that person has done to raise a smile.
4) Then, hand-deliver that heart (time is the greatest give you will ever give)
5) In return, each recipient is asked to share their address (except for hospital staff because I don’t want to appear stalkerish) so that I can a) update my address book and b) send them a little surprise gift sometime in the future to remind them of the importance of seizing the moment and looking for the beauty in each and every day.
I know that the heart will fade, but I hope the message lives on forever.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if a pink heart could find its way into homes across the world? It’s a massive ambition and one I could never dream of doing alone.
Through doing this campaign I want to both thank the people close to me (not to mention the kind strangers who have made their mark on my life) and inspire others to do the same.
Whether you sew a pink fluffy heart or pick up the phone, now is the time to get in touch. Tell loved ones what it is about them that makes you smile. Tell friends how they have made a difference to your life. Tell them, because otherwise they may never know how much they mean to you.
I don’t want you to wake up one day and feel like you’ve missed the chance to make a difference. I want you to look for the good in others and celebrate it when you find it.
We, none of us, know what is around the corner. But, if cancer has taught me anything, it is that you can face any bend in the road if you have the right people holding your hand.
The pink heart hall of fame
I have toyed with the idea of name-checking people to celebrate publically those who provide the sunshine in my life on even the cloudiest of days. However, this campaign is something that is very personal to me. Instead, I have a compromise. Below I have listed the dates on which I have delivered a heart – along with a little description about that person. Is it a great way for me to keep track, keep going and keep reinforcing the importance of those around me. If you are reading this I hope you will one day recognise yourself in a description below, or feel compelled to start your own.
Thank you. You know who you are!
1) 15 May 2014: With your kindness, practical help, unwavering support and ginger biscuits, you made the chemo chair comfy and life so much easier. It has been a real pleasure growing even closer to you. Thank you for you!
2) 15 May 2014: You gave me so much strength when I called you on diagnosis day. Thank you for being a friendly ear and an expert eye.
3) 18 May 2014: Your messages have brightened many of my days. Thanks for keeping the conversation going (especially with the year you’ve had)
4) 29 May 2014: You have shown me that whatever life throws at us, there is always a way through. Thank you for inspiring me.
5) 30 May 2014: Your honest, no-nonsense approach to life and frequent posts gave me the courage to take it one day at a time. Thank you for the hugs and support.
6) 26 June 2014: You came into my life and shone a light with your kind words and gentle massages. Thank you for turning the chemo unit into a place for treats as well as treatments.
7) 26 June 2014: Your passion for exercise and healthy living gave me the push I needed to hit the park. Thank you for encouraging me to put my running shoes on.
8) 6 July 2014: You remembered me and looked out for me even when life was challenging you in so many ways. Here’s to the running and wine chapter. Thanks for reconnecting with me after all these years!
9) 15 July 2014: You are a shining star in more ways than one. You have a talent for writing and for friendship. Thank you for your thoughtfulness.
10) 16 July 2014: You gave me the encouragement I needed to keep fighting, when the drugs took hold. Thank you for walking the chemo path with me.
11) 20 July 2014: You got covered in mud for me and, in so doing, reminded me of a childhood of happy memories. Thank you for getting back in touch.
12) 20 July 2014: You have always been there for me, catching me when I fall. Thank you for picking me up. I feel proud to know you.
13) 21 July 2014: You have a zest for life that is truly infectious. Thank you for all that you have taught me and for reminding me that life goes on.
14) 21 July 2014: You held my hand when I was in pain and your words of wisdom made me see all the good that can come from a bad situation. Thank you for giving me hope.
15) 31 July 2014: With your innocent questioning and curiosity, you made me see how beautiful the everyday can be. Thank you for teaching me to play.
16) 1 August 2014: You have always given me a reason to laugh and seize the day. Thank you for believing in me.
17) 7 August 2014: You introduced me to the world’s comfiest bra and made the experience of surgery so much easier. Thank you for all those wonderful tips.
18) 8 August 2014: You were there on diagnosis day with tissues and leaflets and have been there ever since. Thank you for giving me the tools to fight this with a smile.
19) 19 August 2014: You have filled my phone with beautiful texts and my stomach with yummy chocolate. Thank you for always knowing what to say and when.
20) 19 August 2014: You picked me up with tea, cake and compassion when all I could see was cancer. Thank you for understanding me better than I understand myself.
21) 21 August 2014: You gave me your time, your biscuits and your friendship. Thank you for giving me memories I shall treasure forever.
22) 27 August 2014: You are as thoughtful as you are creative and focused and I am in awe of your amazingness. Thank you for showing me how its done!
23) 1 September 2014: You ran through mud with my name on your back and, in so doing, showed me that you don’t always need to see friends to know they are there. Thank you for joining the fight and making me smile.
24) 3 September 2014: You always think of others before yourself and I will be forever grateful that you thought of me. Thank you for the fun distractions and for making me a part of your life.
25) 14 September 2014: You stood by me and gave me the energy and support I needed to keep moving forward. May we run through life together, with frequent cake breaks! Thanks for being there!
26) 18 September 2014: From popcorn and magazines to lovely lunches, you made me feel supported and feel like help was never far away.
27) 20 September 2014: The ultimate chemo/radio buddy. I didn’t know you before breast cancer came into both our lives. Now I couldn’t imagine a life without you in it.
28) 24 September 2014: You have been a kind friend to me and a rock for my mum. I will never your kindness. Thoughtfulness is your middle name.
29) 1 October 2014: You helped me ‘stretch’ my way through treatment and you gave me the confidence to overcome every obstacle. You are so much more than a teacher.
30) 2 October 2014: From visits to gifts and little messages, you gave me lots of little reasons to smile. I hope you enjoy the next – and exciting – chapter of your life.
Make today the day you start following your heart. Trust me, there’s no time to lose.