Lauren Mahon of Girl V Cancer doesn’t want anyone else to have to wait for a cancer diagnosis to complete their bucket list.
Lauren Mahon was the sort of person who always put things off until tomorrow: “I was comfortable but I was coasting, waiting for the right situation to present itself before I made any movements,” she says. When she was diagnosed with cancer, suddenly ‘tomorrow’ wasn’t guaranteed.
“There was all of these things I wanted to do but hadn’t done because of fear or self doubt. I just thought ‘fuck this, I’ve got to start living and doing the things I want’. Life isn’t an audition,” she says. From her work to her relationships, she started doing exactly what she wanted, and her life changed. Mahon took to the stage at Stylist Live LUXE to share how ‘fuck it’ was the best phrase she added to her dictionary, and encourage the huge and emotional audience to start saying it too.
On her career
“I always knew what I was doing but I’d doubt myself. With my ideas or in meetings I struggled to put my hand up I was worried people would laugh or tell me I’m wrong. I’d second guess myself – it’s classic imposter syndrome. I knew I was capable but I wasn’t confident. And then the cancer diagnosis happened.
I had the idea that I wanted to help people and change the stereotype of cancer from elderly and sad, because I had breast cancer and I wasn’t that. I had £500 I was saving for a holiday but I couldn’t go away when I was on chemo. So I made 500 t-shirts with slang words for boobs, like knockers, and fun bags, to try to get people checking their breasts. It was just the one Instagram, the one blog post, the one investment that then all rolled on. It was one decision after the other rather than something huge. I’ve raised £60,000 for cancer charities. I’ve won awards for changing the myths around diagnosis. That happened because I said fuck it and made decisions.”
“Self esteem issues have always been a part of my life – I want everyone to love me. I’ve always backed other people more than myself. I lived my life without boundaries - people would take the piss and I allowed it to happen. Cancer puts a magnifying glass on who matters and who’s there for you. You see the people who don’t clap when you win and who, when you don’t fulfil a role, aren’t there anymore. Female friendship break-ups are worse than love break ups and I feel like friendships breaking down is the hardest thing to navigate as an adult.
I had to work out who was on my team and I’ve got more comfortable at articulating how I feel rather than assuming people just know. I got more vocal about saying I’m having a bad time, or that something they did made me feel like shit, and please can they not do it again? Be unapologetic about where you put your energy. My mum always says: you can’t be everyone’s cup of tea or you’d be a mug. Now I am more comfortable with the fact that not everyone will like me. Life is short but also very long. Cancer taught me life is too long to be surrounded by people who aren’t on your team - surround yourself with good birds!”
On her body
“Pre cancer I was a massive party girl and I abused my body in a physical way - too much alcohol, too much stress, not enough sleep. I wasn’t listening to it because I numbed it with drugs, alcohol and scrolling through other people’s lives. We are so guilty of being mean to ourselves and talking to ourselves in such a nasty manner. You go from being youthful, active, the life and soul of part, to what looks like potato staying in bed all day. I realised I didn’t appreciate it when I had it and instead I picked things apart. When you’re on chemo you’re knackered and even when you need a pee you can’t get up to go to the toilet.
Now I operate self acceptance. Sometimes that’s being in my underwear, getting my tits out. But it’s also about putting myself into a spotlight and saying ‘this is me!’ and accepting what my body looks like. It’s been about changing the dialogue in my head and catching myself when I say those negative things. Just put the dress on go and have a great day! No one cares as much as you do! Get out of your own head. It’s a radical act of self care: if you’re spending less energy thinking about that where can you put your energy.”
“I used to operate a ‘legs open, heart closed’ policy. I had a great time, don’t get me wrong, but I was putting up the barriers and not letting anyone into my heart. I had a realisation on my diagnosis: when they said I have cancer, I said I don’t want to die, then I said fuck a lot, then I said ‘but I haven’t got married and had kids’. I didn’t even know I wanted those things. It came clear to me that if that was important, then why haven’t I made the effort to heal my heart and let people in? Love is vulnerability and you have to be vulnerable to feel it.
I went big: rather than downloading Bumble, I went on First Dates. Spoiler alert: they matched me with someone I knew! They said no [to another date], I said yes. It was a tough pill to swallow. All of those cheating exes and heartbreak came out and I finally had to deal with it. Guess what? I’m still here and it’s alright! If I can get through cancer, I can deal with a sore heart. Being more sure of myself and being more comfortable is what I got out of that. The process of being vulnerable has allowed me to fall in love with myself for the first time. I wish it hadn’t taken cancer to feel this way but it has. I hope that by being in love with myself and being open then it will happen when the time is right with whoever is lucky enough to find me.”
Lauren ended her talk at Stylist Live LUXE by reminding the audience that no one should wait for a cancer diagnosis to do the things they want.
“I want you to make a ‘fuck it’ list and do one thing on it tonight. Send the email, put on your running shoes, ask that person out, book that flight. What have you got to lose?”
Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).