Tit Tees and Destigmatisation with Lauren Mahon of You Me and the Big C
We caught up with Lauren – breast cancer survivor, social media manager, podcast host, reality-TV personality and passionate advocate of living life to the fullest – she is a force to be reckoned with, and an inspirational trailblazer on all fronts.
13 December, 2018
Lauren Mahon is the brains and the boobs behind GIRL vs CANCER and You, Me and the Big C. After being diagnosed with breast cancer, Lauren set out to redefine cancer from its label as the disease of the over 50s. Since then, she has brought together a combined Instagram community of over 65k, offering valuable support to her followers, and in the process, a daily reminder of how powerful social media can be.
Broadening her reach from social media to fashion, during her chemotherapy course Lauren began designing "tit-tees" as a way of funding her work and raising money for life-changing charities such as CoppaFeel!, Trekstock, Future Dreams and Look Good Feel Better.
In March 2018, Lauren launched a BBC Radio 5 podcast with friends and fellow cancer patients Rachael Bland and Deborah James (having never met in person until the first day of recording). The show, You, Me and the Big C, explores issues surrounding cancer through colloquial, informal discussions - a breath of fresh air for many young people facing scary and isolating diagnoses. The trio's hilarious conversations both destigmatised and normalised a topic that has been uncomfortably taboo for too long. In September 2018, Rachael Bland, who instigated the podcast, passed away - but not without encouraging her co-hosts to carry on the podcast without her. Lauren and Deborah have upheld Rachael's legacy by continuing to unpack the stigma surrounding cancer, through writing, interviews, television appearances and charity work.
Lauren - breast cancer survivor, social media manager, podcast host, reality-TV personality and passionate advocate of living life to the fullest - is a force to be reckoned with, and an inspirational trailblazer on all fronts.
What is the idea behind GIRL vs CANCER?
Following my own cancer diagnosis I went looking for women like me who had faced down cancer and who could empower me to do the same. To offer some hope. Instead I found all materials provided and forums recommended by the hospital to be clinical and aimed at a much more advanced life stage. I couldn't relate. Fed up of the perception that cancer is a disease for the over 50s I decided to grab my breast cancer diagnosis by the boobs. I began sharing the tale of my shitty-titty situation on social media under the hashtag #GIRLvsCANCER. In doing so I created a space for females affected by the cretin that is cancer to feel empowered in dealing with their diagnosis.
My aim is to develop a community that shares its cancer experiences in an authentic and accessible way in an attempt to tackle the cancer taboo and create a better understanding of the challenges facing those diagnosed with cancer in their 20s and 30s.
You share many significant, heart-warming stories on GIRL vs CANCER. What's the key message?
Cancer affects one in two of us so if it isn't you directly it's going to be somebody you love. In a world where we seem to be comfortably numb in our day-to-day lives I want to that ensure my peers feel empowered to own their health. I also want to give people some perspective; we get so bogged down in the everyday dramas that we forget to stop and appreciate how incredibly beautiful life is and how lucky we are to be here. This is not a test, people. Do your utmost to live your best life everyday. Tomorrow isn't promised.
You're known for talking about cancer in colloquial terms; how important do you think this is for cancer patients themselves, as well as for their family and friends?
I think it's vital, talking to people in a way they can relate too means they'll inevitably be more engaged. Above all, I feel like it makes the subject more palatable and less frightening. I always joke that I talk about cancer like it's Eastenders but if that's what I need to do to keep the conversation flowing and normalised then so be it.
How did you get the idea for your podcast You, Me and the Big C?
I'd love to take credit but it was all down to Rachael. We had talked on social media during our treatments, encouraging and consoling each other when times got tough. Rachael slid into my DMs and email inbox after she'd written a piece for my community asking if I'd like to be part of a "cool cancer blogger podcast" idea she was pitching. I was honoured and excited because it's exactly what the cancer community needed. The idea was to lift the curtain on the cancer experience, to put it on prime time and normalise the conversation. I'm extremely proud to be part of this game-changing pod.
How has Rachael's death affected the podcast?
I think both Deb and I are super nervous about doing our girl's legacy justice. She made it abundantly clear that she wanted us to continue but it's going to be difficult getting back in that studio with Rach's seat empty. We'll be carrying her with us through every producing our pre-recorded outros and will find a way to move the show forward in a way that feels authentic and respectful. Since Rachael's death the outpouring of praise for the podcast has been overwhelming; it's very clear that it is changing the cancer experience for patients, carers and clinicians. It has highlighted the importance of our work.
What other podcasts do you enjoy listening to?
I really love Jules Von Hep and Sarah Powell's Wobble to uplift and inspire me, as well as Liv Purvis and Charlotte's The Fringe Of It to feel like you're chatting with friends. How I Built This is epic for getting my brain ticking over and feeling motivated in my career. And then there's My Dad Wrote A Porno. Because LOLs.
How has your view on life and the world changed since your cancer diagnosis?
Mainly that time is absolutely the most precious commodity in life. I choose to spend it much more wisely now than I ever did and appreciate the smaller things so much more. I'm grateful for time spent with family, my favourite song coming on the radio and sun coming through my window - as corny as it sounds. Life put simply is a series of moments and I intend to make them count.
Does this renewed sense of urgency to "live more" include travelling?
Definitely. I'm much more inclined to just go ahead and book now rather than worrying about time off or finances. Getting away does wonders for my mental health and I don't put off opportunities to travel anymore. Getting away little and often has been my motive this year and I feel renewed for it. I want to make big memories and absorb all the world has to offer.
You recently went on Channel 4's First Dates Hotel. What key items did you pack?
I never go anywhere without my Castana black espadrilles because they go with everything. I always take my iPad to check on emails and stream shows during the flight and never ever set off without my Pai Skincare mini's to make sure my skincare routine isn't interrupted. For this trip, I also packed my Nan's small ceramic celtic cross for good luck.
What do you think makes a good hotel?
It's all about the little details. A place you don't ever want to leave. Most of the time that can be down to the incredibly accommodating staff, luxurious amenities in your room. I'm a sucker for a good roll-top bath, a cosy robe and an epic view.
Where do you go to relax?
Getting away to the water always chills me out. This year I visited Koggla Lake in Sri Lanka and it blew me away. But I really loved making the most of the epic UK summer and exploring what our country has to offer this year. Cornwall may as well be the med on a sunny day and the Cotswolds are good for the soul. My favourite place to head to when I need some real R&R is my parents caravan on the Isle Of Sheppy in Kent; it's full of childhood memories and life is at a super slow pace.
How do you prepare for a trip?
Once flights are booked I get stuck into finding some cool and affordable accommodation. I love searching out awesome places to visit via recommendations from friends and will usually plan a loose itinerary ahead of time. This helps me to pack modestly otherwise I can go a bit "cray" with the clothing. Once I have the wardrobe sorted it's about getting myself in holiday mode which usually involves a couple of days getting my ducks in a row work-wise as well as booking in essentials like mani, pedi and wax. I'm also doing my best to digital detox while away so I make a mental note of the images I'm after before I go so it's snap, post, shut off. Geeky I know but it works.
Apart from your wonderful "tit-tees" - what else is in your SUITCASE?
It always depends on where I'm visiting but I without fail pack a luxe set of PJs and my favourite lightweight knit for travelling and chilly nights. I love choosing what books to take too - it's one of the only times I really get to sink my teeth into one.