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Coping with the Big C a collection of poetry from cancer fighters, survivors and those who support them

illustration by Amie Hill

Message from Paralympic Gold Medallist Richard Whitehead, patron of Sarcoma UK:

“You matter because you are you, and you matter to the last moment of your life.” Dame Cicely Sanders (1918-2005)

I hope Coping with the Big C helps anyone who has been affected by cancer or coping with cancer right now.

Message from Marc Woods, Paralympic gold medallist:

When I was diagnosed with an osteosarcoma at 17 I was placed onto a geriatric unit for treatment and whilst the staff were great it was clearly not an ideal environment for me. The treatment was brutal and the anti-sickness drugs almost as bad. Teenage Cancer Trust didn’t exist and research into this form of cancer was limited. That was back in 1987. Since then I have competed at five Paralympic Games and won 12 medals. More importantly though, Teenage Cancer Trust has built dozens of cancer units and the Bone Cancer Research Trust are challenging the medical profession to find new ways Becki dedicates this book to: to treat this brutal disease. I’m delighted to be able to support this book and the good Leah Joseph, Julia Bennett, work it does. Nic Hughes, Chloe Drury, Hannah Booth, Harry Moseley, Ben Edkins, Ellis Haggith, Laura Lesley Shannon-Connolly, Derek a.k.a. ‘Del’ Slyfield and Becky Toms

Coping with the Big C I was diagnosed with a benign tumour in 2005 at 18 and osteosarcoma (bone cancer) in my sacrum at 21. I enjoyed doing art lessons whilst going through chemotherapy at University College Hospital London. By creating this book with Fixers, I wanted to show others the positive effect art and poetry can have to help you cope with what I call the BIG C. The final push to physically get this project off the ground was when my Dad was diagnosed with cancer in 2012. I hope this helps anyone affected by cancer to feel that they’re not alone. Everyone’s experience of cancer is different. Do what feels right for you. You will have good and bad days, you’re only human.

Becki McGuinness Editor

About Fixers

Fixers helps 16-25 year olds speak out about anything they want to change. Becki became a Fixer to produce this book, which she hopes will be a big encouragement to anyone affected by cancer. For more information about Fixers, please visit

Cancer doesn’t DISCRIMINATE, if anything, it manipulates!

Cancer doesn’t DISCRIMINATE, if anything it manipulates! The first day you’re diagnosed, Is like someone’s reached in and stolen your soul,  your heart and happiness all in one go. You nearly feel you can’t breathe, With the disbelief of what you’re feeling. I’ll never forget that day I was diagnosed,  How I felt, how fast time went by. That moment in time it’s like a blur. You start welling up with emotions, Rushing around your head like someone switched on a button! And you suddenly feel the most horrendous emotional pain with thoughts on overdrive. Will I survive??? What’s the percentage for survival rates with the cancer I have?  I’ve never wanted to know so many statistics, trying to work it out mathematically and concluding with the probability that I’ll get worse. It’s easy to say think positive like the majority of people say to you with a serious illness BUT it’s very HARD to re-wire your emotional thoughts at that moment in time. You’re only human, your instinct kicks in to cope with the bone cancer. Even if you get the prognosis of full remission, There is always the fear of getting a different cancer from all the radiation treatment and X-rays I’ve had. IT’S A CATCH 22! BUT WHAT AM I TO DO! :-(

POEM: BeckI McGuinNess ILLUSTRATION: Dan Evans

Dear Cancer You have given us enough grief Cancer you are a thief You’ve taken too many precious lives It takes a lot to survive We want to make you aware Cancer you are a huge nightmare So we’re gunna take you on Time for us to be strong You ought to move on now From the brain, lung and bowel We are fiFIghters: we’ll beat you Lose your place in the queue So Cancer hope you now see And consider our massive worldwide plea Cancer I hope you will agree You are not invited for tea! Yours (in no sympathy) The Fighters (and Friends of patients)... of Cancer POEM

by Sarah Galley

ILLUSTRATION by Carly Susman


by Mel Charles

ILLUSTRATION by Katie Harris

I love my mommy.... The day we were told was the worst it can get Four weeks to live, get ready, get set. Our family, so close and loving for sure How could this be true, our mother, so pure? Not a cigarette smoked nor a drink passed her lips She always ate well, always followed the ‘tips’ She walked every day, and ate all her ‘greens’ Surely this can’t be as true as it seems? So along came the treatment, the drugs and the pills One day she was well, the next was so ill. Her friends rallied round, they always were there The love and support, the help and the care! So weeks turned to months and a year came to pass Our mum was so brave and daily we laughed. Not a moment of pity nor a minute of pain The nurses came daily come sun or come rain. She lived every day as if ‘twere a gift Rejoiced in the love that gave her a ‘lift’ We laughed and we cried and spoke about life No stone left unturned, we discussed every strife. Our mum passed away just three months ago. Should we feel sad? A little, but NO! We were given a year in which to rejoice It was far too soon but we had no choice. We do not feel sorrow, no tears or regrets. That year was the best, the best it could get! We spent time together, discussing the past And thanking each other for our love that will last. So yes, mum had cancer, a terrible fear But it wasn’t all sadness, wow! What a year When she finally left us she was peaceful and calm No need for hysterics, screams or alarm.

When she passed she was happy, relaxed and at rest We all knew her treatment was simply the best. She lives on in our hearts and will always be here Her love will continue, year after year. Do not be afraid of this horrible word Cancer is not such a terrible sword. We all have to die whether now or in time, Just rejoice in the day, we all wait in line. The year, it was hard, not easy for sure But the time we were given was joyful and pure. We knew that her days were not to be long But at last she’s at peace and still singing her song.

In memory of the most wonderful mother, Janet James. Â 1939-2013. The best!


by Emma Lownsborough

ILLUSTRATION by Melanie Bamert

Number one Mum I can’t remember days gone past, Someone who always put themselves last, Your selfless acts performed every day, Fixing problems in your special way. You were always there to lend a hand, You never failed to understand. Now you’re gone, all we can hear, Is just how many held you dear, The messages have come from everywhere, From all your friends who show they care. It’s clear to see, just how much, Peoples lives were graced by your touch, We all enjoyed your smiles and smirks, And chuckled at your funny quirks, “Simon, Tim, Jon, Pete!” you’d say, You’ll get our names right first time one day, Telling Jon and Tim off for things they’ve bought, And Dad for watching too much sport, We really didn’t mind what you’d say, We knew you loved us anyway. You always brought so much joy, To every Grandchild, girl and boy, As stated by Adam, your little man, They’ll miss their Wonderful Super Nan, We’ll always cherish your happy face, Now you’ve left us for a better place. We all will really miss you Mum, You’ll always be our number one.


by Tim Eastwood

ILLUSTRATION by Victoria Goldsmith

HAIKU Balls aren’t everything. But by god they mean a lot. Check them now. Go cup. Cancer is nothing It’s not contagious, soThom you can’t catch it Norman Its not communicable, so you can’t give it You can do things like smoke that can help it develop But just as many don’t do it as do get sick too. We aren’t strong for surviving We sure as hell aren’t weak for being killed. Cancer is nothing. Poem written by Acacia Warwick Illustrated by Lauren Nicholas (backwards flower pic) – waiting on high res version.

You can fight us now, but one day we’ll find the cure, you won’t defeat us. Dan Broadbent 


by Charlotte Newman

ILLUSTRATION by Katie Harris

Evicting My Squatter

I find I have a squatter That’s sneaked in to my place It’s trying to control me And grab itself more space But now I know it’s in there I’m gonna kick it out Quietly if possible But if I must, I’ll shout It’s been there for a while now But I’ve just become aware My squatter’s realising That I’m difficult to scare I’m getting help in bucketloads

In oh, so many ways The squatter’s time is running out I really won’t be fazed My squatter is just mutant cells That sit there in a mass So get your bags packed cancer, I’m gonna kick your ass


by Marian Dunn

ALL CLEAR We are all clear: you multiply and then divide You are shadows and multiply again and disease always subtracting faceless, heartless, never adding a small error magnified any good thing. that we will correct We remain clear that through our tireless working: too many unknowns remain strength and love and brilliance for us, yet, to find a solution will prove you wrong to break you down and pass on to others open up your dark mechanisms in a future still to come yet, be clear, two great words we will become equal to you to cross out your fear greater than, indeed, you are 100% and in time, we believe you are now: © KB 2013 you will decrease. All Clear. You are not a battle Poem written by Kester Brewin (Becki’s old not a person teacher) to be fought or overcome. Illustrated by Amie Hill POEM

by Kester Brewin

(Becki’s former teacher)

YOU WERE BORN TO BE A JOKER & A DANCER You were born to be a joker and a dancer put smiles on people’s faces everywhere you go cut your moves fast and slow just like a one man show You were born to be a lover not a fighter there’s nobody could dislike your ways every room was so brighter you could turn the darkest night into day Poem by Neil Bradman in memory of his son who passed away from cancer in 2010, aged 25


Now you’re up there with the angels on high I bet you’ve got ‘em rolling in the aisles they’re so glad to have you there to put some atmosphere in their air Now you’re gone but you’re not forgotten you put your handprint on every heart you’re the joker and the dancer to the joy of life you are the answer

ILLUSTRATION ‘Micromob’ © Dave Kirkwood Studio 2013

‘‘Behind Dave Kirkwood’s MicroMob Twitter art is the belief in strength through numbers and that only together can we begin COPING WITH THE BIG C’’ Dom conlon

Aged 30 I was told I had cancer and being upset wasn’t the answer, A Sarcoma, which is very rare, I was scared of losing my hair. My treatment was urgently needed, Save my life to the doctor I pleaded. I was going to lose my leg below the knee but I knew this would never stop me. To my wonderful friend and angel Ben, in heaven one day we will meet again. The last ten months I’ve been through hell but now with my new leg I’m doing so well. I thought I would die but oh how I was wrong, I never knew that I could be so strong. Now the tumour is gone and I’m cancer free but I’ll live my life as an amputee. To the love of my life there’s a lot I owe thee and to you I say that you complete me. The one last thing that I want to make clear, hope is the only thing stronger than fear………


by Peter Daintree

ILLUSTRATION by Wayne Chisnall

Alien invasion “The Alien” my nine year old named it Size of a grape in July, large satsuma by September Nestled in the bottom of my bra: triple negative – no rhyme nor reason A pregnancy in reverse the experience First the hospital admission – distant smiling consultant Caring for the scar like a newborn Breast Care nurses like experienced midwives Reassure “this is all perfectly normal – don’t worry” Then the clinics – blood tests, morning sickness, changing body shape, restricted diet Sharing banter once a month with the rest of the cancer clan. Last the scans, exposing your body, technicians measuring, lying prone on a table – has it really gone? Now a year later the return to normality; almost forgotten Just a gap in the right eyelash And a neat horizontal scar to remind me of My right breast Always the biggest, served its purpose Nourished two children, then redundant before the squatter invaded Now gone forever Replaced by a beanbag.


by Mandy Davidson


Chancer August 29th will we ever forget? Looking for an answer to a few pounds lost and a bit of an ache A long day of testing Then meeting the doctor Who couldn’t dress up what he had to present. A chancer was squatting deep in my home Spreading its poison within different rooms. A home invasion without provocation A shock to our senses which knocked us for six. All is not lost, he said to us then As we gathered our courage and prepared to dig-in. I’m keeping you in until plans have been made I need a biopsy to confirm my belief And you need a port to assist your relief. I know an oncologist whose speciality is that He’ll get you sorted I’ve no fear of that. At last time together to assemble our thoughts And this new emotion and this awful word. Fear and Cancer Cancer and Fear. A quick prayer together then made a few calls To family and friends who rallied around. We were taken to a ward to wait on our fate And messages arriving asking us to ‘Keep the Faith’. Days passed and procedures took place And Pio’s relic arrived from our North-Western shore. Then I was transferred to ‘Our Lady of Knock’ With views one would pay for, or, maybe not As it was also known as Oncology. I met the man who would lead the attack Who would rout the chancer, which had invaded my life. It would open with Oxaliplatin, his heaviest weapon Then Irinotecan to pummel the chancer And finish with 5FU in concentrated form.

A plan will last until the war begins then changes As collateral damage begins. Treatment was scheduled to the Day-unit we went Our first day went by in a daze With briefings and introductions to chemos and staff. Trolleys with needles, contraptions and tubes Patients with newspapers, prayers and iTunes. Nurses all chat and jolly in white Then clad in protection as they started the fight. A cycle had started each lasting two weeks The chemo, the pump, the flush and the needle. The cold, the appetite loss, the weariness and the runs. Unnoticed at first, an odd one here and there But soon all around us were clumps of hair. February came and twelve cycles were done. Oncology stood down but the team carried on. John Morgan, Joe Gallagher, Saints Pio, Peregrine, Teresa and Martin Our Lady, our Guardian Angels, our families, our friends And we, we carry on.


by John McGuinness, pancreatic cancer fighter and Becki’s dad ILLUSTRATION by Jenny Jackson

Cancer is nothing It’s not contagious, so you can’t catch it Its not communicable, so you can’t give it You can do things like smoke that can help it develop But just as many don’t do it as do get sick too. We aren’t strong for surviving We sure as hell aren’t weak for being killed. Cancer is nothing.


by Acacia Warwick

Recommended Blogs and website links

A big thanks to The poets and illustrators from around the world who contributed to this book. My family for supporting me. A big thanks to my dad for helping me with the content and for contributing a poem ILLUSTRATION

by SpreadGlitters

Bone Cancer Research Trust

and Sarcoma UK

for their advice and support

A final message from Becki’s oncologist “I feel privileged to have been Becki’s oncologist since she was first diagnosed with an osteosarcoma in 2008. I have watched her cope with the challenging side effects of intensive chemotherapy and radiotherapy, the longer term effects of her cancer and its treatment and learning to live with the uncertainty of the future. She continues to amaze and surprise me and this book is a testament to her will to raise awareness and help others like her and their supporters. She is a true inspiration!” Dr Sandra Strauss MRCP PhD Senior Clinical Lecturer and Consultant Medical Oncologist

The Big C  

A Fixer from London has helped compile a book of poems, written by and for people affected by cancer. Read more about Becki's Fix: http://bi...

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