The media is awash with stories about the superficial nature of influencers, and the negative aspects of social media. Yet, social media can be a force for good. Laura Middleton-Hughes is an Inspirational Health Warrior who has used her experience of living with stage four breast cancer to reach an audience of thousands of women. Rather than posting glamorous photos of Dubai, Laura has used social media to bare her soul (and postoperative body) to support other women.
I first met Laura when she was the hairdresser for my wife and young daughter and was struck by her Joie de vivre. A passion for her work, passion for people and life. Although I barely knew her, this made her stage three breast cancer diagnosis in 2014, at the of 25, much more incomprehensible.
From the outset, Laura was incredibly open about discussing her cancer diagnosis. Cancer is a disease that terrifies me. But somehow, Laura’s candid responses to my questions broke down barriers, de-stigmatised and, in some ways, reduced the fear factor from this devastating illness. Even from a few brief conversations, Laura was already someone who I found inspiring – especially when I read her blog and watched some of her emotional YouTube videos.
Laura set up a blog, bald boobless and beautiful, and accompanying Instagram pages, to tell the story of her cancer journey. As with many health blogs, this would have been both a cathartic process for the author and to help other sufferers not feel alone. The blog is a beautiful candid record of Laura’s thoughts through chemotherapy and a mastectomy. In 2016, Laura got more devastating news – chronic pain in her shoulder was a tumour in the humerus. Her cancer had spread to her spine, vertebrae and pelvis. It was stage four cancer; stable but incurable.
For many, the spectrum of emotions arising from this diagnosis may have led to pure survival instincts and enjoying life. All, perfectly understandable. Somehow, Laura processed the news and channelled it into helping people more than ever before. She became an ambassador for the charity littlelifts – helping women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She also stepped up her social media presence; her Instagram followers now topping over 12,000.
In 2019, Laura and Nicky Newman, another woman diagnosed with stage four secondary breast cancer, set up Secondary Sisters. This online community aims to bring together and help other women who are facing the same prognosis. I asked Laura what had inspired them both to set up Secondary Sisters, rather than just trying to enjoy life.
“ Before Secondary Sisters was born, we both felt very alone in our diagnosis. Being young, not being able to have children and living with an incurable disease is tough and when we found each other it felt as though a weight had been lifted off our shoulders. We were able to discuss everything, knowing the other truly understood what we were going through. We decided, that if we felt this way there would be so many others in the same position. So, through secondary sisters, we can connect so many people. We also wanted to be a voice for those with secondaries as it was not openly spoken about and lots of people just believe it is a death sentence. We wanted to share with everyone that even though lives are shortened people can live with cancer in a pretty good way.”
The work goes way beyond the on-line community as Laura explained. “Through secondary sisters, we have worked with as many charities as we can who help those going through secondary cancers. These have included raising money through the sales of our merchandise or challenges and pre covid hosting events for those with secondaries. The charities include Trekstock, Future Dreams, Make 2nds Count, Breast Cancer Now, CoppaFeel, and we are always open to working with other charities.”
Laura has already achieved so much. Not only has she ticked off over 40 items on her life-is-for-living list but has brought so much positivity to others. “ I feel proud of how I have managed to help so many people through both of my platforms. How just sharing what I am going through, helps someone feel less alone, or to understand their disease a little bit better. Also, being interviewed live on Sky News was incredible, and speaking on stage at race for life events are both things I am very proud of.”
I asked Laura what she hopes to achieve next. “Living with a disease like incurable cancer means planning too far ahead can’t really happen so I generally just roll with things and get steered by what is happening at the time. I would love to be able to offer more support once covid allows where we can meet people and host events in person. But everything I do fits in around me, my family and my lifestyle and they come first before anything.” Including a new puppy!
Given what she and others have been through, Laura stressed an important point. “If you have breasts, you need to check, once a month, every month. If you find anything of concern, please get it checked out. Nine times out of ten it will be nothing but you should not risk it.”
From a personal perspective, I find Laura one of the most inspirational people I have met. Given what she has been through, Laura is that person that lights up a room. Undoubtedly, Laura is an inspiration for her achievements with her charity work and with Secondary Sisters. But, she is an inspiration because of her love for life. Her message to others echoes this:
“Don’t worry about things you can’t change because worrying won’t make things better. Remember to live for today! I live by this. we can’t predict what the years ahead will hold, but wasting life worrying means you are not living.”
Breast Cancer Now – Research and care charity
Make 2nds Count – Giving hope to those affected by secondary breast cancer
littlelifts – for people with breast cancer
Words by Andrew Butcher
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