These days virtually everyone knows someone who has been affected by cancer. But however remotely you know them it is never easy. So was the case of Lucy Ashton who we met in April '15. After a career in FMCG, Lucy opened The Dandelion Clock in Sheffield. A feisty, articulate and intelligent second career florist she spoke brilliantly at Vision 2020 in April and we had her marked out for an interview. A month later she was diagnosed with one of the worst forms of breast cancer. Five months later and in honour of Cancer Awareness Month we publish her article. Perhaps not the one we planned as Lucy wrote it herself, but while we make no apologies for the swearing (think we'd be doing the same) this forthright, at times funny and at times horribly sad story, is a testament to all the Cancer survivors and a reminder that you always have to take time to smell the flowers.
"It's not a cyst like we thought actually, there are some lesions I can see on the scan. Hand tight, I just need to take some biopsies" "Shit. I know you can't say till you get the results, but could it be cancer?" "Yes, probably." "F***, sorry for swearing. Christ, how do I tell Phil, how do I tell Phil, how to I tell Phil? His kids! He won't be able to cope, not again..."
I'm 43. I was diagnosed on 21st of May 2015 with grade three triple negative multifocal breast cancer, a pretty unusual form of this insidious disease. Well if you're going to get it Lucy, you may as well get the haute couture version. Nothing worse that turning up at the party and finding 1 in 8 women are wearing the same dress as you.
Mine is a story of devastation, destruction and the near total annihilation of Me. And then a story of survival. Not only survival, but of love, excitement, adventure, fun and friendship and joyous opportunities told with a twinkle in the eye, a bit of a mischievous grin and a fairly liberal sprinkling of fairy dust. Oh, and a bit of chemo too. I forget that sometimes, in all the excitement!
There is of course a happy ending too. All good stories have to have one. That's the rule in the books I like.
Here is a synopsis of my story, the start of which you now know.
Phil ended our relationship three weeks later. Said he needed some space. Said he'd try and help me a bit if he could though. After losing his wife to cervical cancer six years ago he couldn't stand to see his life, his children and the woman he loved consumed by this spiteful disease again. He'd never really dealt with it the first time. Men find it harder than women I think, trauma. I was heart-broken. We'd just been on a glorious holiday, were trying to complete on a house we were buying to renovate and sell on.
I thought we'd get married, be together forever. What was happening, where had this sudden wind of change blown in from? He asked me to move out of his house, and I so lost my partner, my lover, my family, my dogs and my home of four years. I stayed in a B&B, and with friends, drifting, stunned, numb, and heart-broken. Eight days later, I lost my right breast too. Chemotherapy would follow.
Utter devastation; mind, body and spirit all swept up in the ensuing tornado and smashed to smithereens. I just wanted to click my heels and get back home to everything I had loved. I was terrified, alone, standing with a small suitcase of belongings, bewildered as the wreckage of my life lay in tatters around me. No point going on. I almost lost myself.
Friends told me how strong I was, how brave to be struggling on. How they wanted to help me, support me, look after me. Messaged me from across the world and visited from round the corner. My ballet teacher and the lovely ladies at Baliey-Cox Dance academy took me to see their show at the Octagon, and to their end of term party. I felt a little less lonely.
Gradually, with help, I began to sit up, dazed and confused, frightened and shell-shocked, but having survived the storm.
One friend let me house-sit at his while he was away, and I viewed a flat to rent just two minutes' walk from my florist shop, The Dandelion Clock. The flat was perfect, and I could move in by the end of July. Finally, my new home before I started chemo. Other friends I never knew I had brought me food, care, laughter and I grew stronger. Physically, and mentally. I'd had major surgery, a mastectomy and reconstruction just a month before remember, not just been dumped by my boyfriend. I spent a weekend in Filey with someone who helped me think things through.
I started to get to my feet, shaking off the bump to the head, picking the wreckage out of my hair.
There is nothing worse than a bad hair day, and even though mine was going to fall out once the chemo started, it needed addressing sharpish. My lovely friend at Darling Buds Florist said she'd come with me to my first chemo treatment. Her daughter owns The Stage salon in Baslow – she was right, I do suit a short pixie crop!
Looking good now, feeling a bit better. Eating properly again. My body and mind was coming back to health after one hell of a trauma. Friends old and new were appearing from everywhere, and I began looking around to see what else was salvageable from the wreckage.
I popped into my shop – it's my joy, my passion, my baby, conceived when repeatedly unsuccessful IVF treatment prompted a career change five years ago. The staff I'd had to recruit were managing fine while I was off sick. Customers were delighted to see me, and I them. "You know what we need around here, a nice little tea shop where we can have a proper natter..."
I was really awake now, standing up pretty firmly, a little wobbly at times but alert, curious, a little adventurous even. Right. Let's get on with things shall we.
My shop premises are unwieldy, a big forecourt, small upstairs and a really big lower floor where I teach flower arranging classes and hold children's flower parties. There's a funny kind of lower lobby area which I never quite utilised properly until Coffee at The Clock was born! Tea, cake and flowers, what's not to love! And I know what would be a great way to launch it, perfect! The Macmillan Big Coffee Morning in September!
I'm not just feeling adventurous now, I am raring to go! Bags packed, flask of tea and sandwiches for the journey. Come on, come on, hurry up, what else can we do? This is a right laugh! Just let me pop for my clinic appointment, I'll be right back...I'm fizzing with ideas and energy. And clinic made me think a bit...
I'm excited to be running a couple of flower arranging sessions at Weston Park Cancer Support Centre in the next few months, as part of the craft afternoons they hold there. I've also applied as volunteer florist at St Luke's hospice, they need people to help do the flowers there apparently. I miss my flowers, but it's a very physical job and I need to take it gently for now, so I'm limited as to what I can do at my shop. Lovely to teach other people my art a bit though!
I'm also donating 10% of The Dandelion Clock's profits to Weston Park Hospital Cancer Charity from now on. My business has taken a bit of a financial hammering this year due to the wage bill, but it will recover so it's the least I can do. Seems a bargain really, considering they – the awesome oncology team and the incredible support staff – saved my life and salved my broken spirit.
Excited now, and my enthusiasm seems to be catching! Ooh, ooh, you know what else is just round the corner?! Don't say it, it's only ruddy August for god's sake! The C-word. No, not that. Or that. Christmas of course! I love Christmas!
I've galvanised the other retailers in my parade of shops into action and we are holding the first ever Fulwood Village Festive Fair on 12th December! That is exciting, I do love Christmas, I'm a proper giddy elf in my shop but now I get a costume and everything! So we're having stalls, mulled wine, carols, balloons, door wreaths and hot chocolate and Christmas cake at The Dandelion Clock of course, fairy lights, fancy dress, the works. And you know that big grotto of a basement in my shop I mentioned... ssshhhhhh, it's a surprise! We're raising money for Weston Park Hospital Cancer charity of course, and as my last cycle of chemo is scheduled for the 1st December, what an utterly joyful way to celebrate. I did say I'm a giddy elf at Christmas!
"Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!" I'd read this a few weeks after I came out of hospital in a book a friend had given me. I wrote it out on a piece of card to keep in my purse. I think it must be true.
I can honestly say, hand on mended-heart, that I am having the best time in my 43 years. Friends, fun, a glass of prosecco with lunch, exciting new projects, its fabulous! I'm careful with my body though, my surgery was only two months ago and TAC is an aggressive regime of chemotherapy. It needs to be. I want any remains of my cancer that are stupid enough to be hanging around to be subjected to a proper shock and awe attack – aTAC! I came through my first cycle of chemo unscathed -haha cancer, round one to me I think! I feel fit and strong, my ballet classes start again soon and that will help physically. I rest well when I need to and am prepared for the tough times as well as the good. I have spent some hilarious hours with a friend trying on wigs for when I lose my hair –photos and a Facebook poll confirmed I have made the correct choice - and Suburban Turban, I am loving your work!
So if you want a story about overcoming adversity, positivity, humour and sheer joie to vivre, I'm your woman -can I be the August pin-up girl for a "Living Well With Cancer" calendar? Please? Pretty please? Just don't call me a cancer sufferer, for heaven's sake, bit too victim-y for me that. I reckon I'm more of a Breast Cancer Boudicca. (Just thought, a Breast Cancer Boudicca Calendar of all the other fabulous, strong and gorgeous women out there on this adventure, I'm a genius! and I'll be on that little project too next...)
Its funny life, isn't it. A real twisty turny Yellow Brick Road of a thing. And sometimes, when you are desperate and all you want to do is click your heels together three times to get back home, you might find that actually, Oz is a much more fun and exciting place to stay for a while. And I hear they've plans for one hell of a New Year's Eve party this year!!!! If you're lucky, you might even get an invite...
With thanks for taking the time to read this,
Florist, business woman, writer, Breast Cancer Boudicca and current leading lady in "Dorothy, Her Untold Story"