Surviving is just the start

Steph Davies (right) runs a free monthly support group for cancer survivors at Orford House in Walthamstow Village
Steph Davies (right) runs a free monthly support group for cancer survivors at Orford House in Walthamstow Village

Steph Davies runs a support group for cancer survivors, writes James Cracknell

There can be few moments in life that are more euphoric than being told that you no longer have cancer. But what happens next?

After months of treatment, being surrounded by family and taking extended time off work, cancer survivors are suddenly faced with the prospect of returning to their ‘normal’ life. But life can never go back to normal after such a serious life-threatening illness.

As a cancer survivor herself, Steph Davies is determined to offer help for such people. “It can feel very lonely,” she explains. “There are no more appointments. You have to go back to work, but then you find yourself standing by the photocopier, wondering; what’s the point?

“Ninety-two percent of people find life after cancer very difficult – I think they assume life will be easy afterwards but as someone who has had cancer myself there is no sort of manual.”

Steph was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma aged just 15. She ended up taking her GCSEs while undergoing cancer treatment. Many years later, she had moved on, but then came another bombshell.

“Eleven years after I had cancer, I was told I only had a 10% chance of conceiving. I was not aware of it at all. When you are dating, it becomes a big factor. I realised that cancer doesn’t leave you.”

Steph wanted to offer help for others in her situation, who might be struggling to cope with the impact that cancer has even after they are given the all-clear.

“I decided to train as a coach to help people in their life after cancer. Then I launched Life After Cancer, offering support groups and one-to-one workshops. It is about getting people to move forward.

“The people I get to work with are incredible.”

At present Life After Cancer is operating solely in Waltham Forest. Steph felt there wasn’t enough support for people locally.

“People generally don’t want to go back to the place where they had their cancer treatment, they want something else in their own community.

“I am trying to help them manage their anxiety, their depression, and get them back to 100%, rather than them relying on drugs and whatever else, and maybe ending up back in hospital.

“It is about learning to trust your body again, after it has let you down.”

Life After Cancer offers a free monthly support group where people can meet other cancer survivors and discuss some of their struggles, while people who need further help can sign up for a free course of six workshops.

“There is a community that has formed from it,” says Steph. “It’s good to know that someone else feels the same way. There is laughter as well as tears.”

Steph has been successful in winning a series a funding bids to pay for the courses she runs, and is now looking at how she might expand it to other areas. She has formed partnerships with NHS England, University College London Hospital and charities Macmillan, Trekstock and YouCan, while funding has come from National Lottery Fund, Macmillan and Teenage Cancer Trust.

More recently, UnLtd and William Morris Big Local have funded and supported Life After Cancer. Steph said: “I applied for funding a year ago and they funded the last set of workshops – the remainder of the funding will be used to package it up and work out what is next.

“If possible I want take it to other boroughs – I want people to know that we are here to help them.”

At present Steph is running all this by herself, while continuing to work part-time in online marketing – and after beating the odds, she also now has a baby to look after as well.

The next Life After Cancer workshops start later this month. For more information:
Email hello@life-aftercancer.co.uk
Twitter @WeAreLAC
Visit life-aftercancer.co.uk

This article is supported by William Morris Big Local in association with UnLtd, the foundation for social entrepreneurs. To find out more about UnLtd:
Call
 0207 566 1100
Email cheryl.ndione@unltd.org.uk
Visit unltd.org.uk