This is in memory of Vicky Lesley Jackson, my wife and (with family) the most important person in my life, a smoker who died a few weeks ago from non-smoking related cancer. It’s to highlight some of the things that pissed Vicky off about social reactions to her cancer.
Vicky did not want to be defined by her cancer. She was, until her very last breath, way more than a disease.
The Vicky Manifesto in bullet points - word bites.
The cruel representatives of cancer charities should not bully, berate or try to emotionally blackmail cancer sufferers - or those grieving a cancer victim - into doing their will.
Cancer charities shouldn’t target and ‘chase’ newly diagnosed cancer victims or their families.
Let’s stop (or slow) the cookie-driven stalking of cancer sufferers via cancer industry banner ads. It often made Vicky’s online life unbearable.
Behave on social media, think, don’t be callous – even unintentionally. (Using as an example the obscenity of the ‘no make-up selfie’ and shocking insensitivity.)
Don’t tut disapproval, shake your head at or question an acquaintance who is smoking and has cancer. Or be sure to do the same to people taking similar risks by drinking alcohol, eating processed meat, overweight people eating unhealthily and tell everybody to keep away from polluting roads.
Don’t assume to know anything about someone’s cancer. Listen to them.
Think twice about using universal terms like ‘brave’, ‘battle’, ‘fight’. Sometimes the victim knows it’s bad luck, physiology and genetic murder that they cannot affect.
Employers, don’t risk shortening your early-onset cancer employees’ lives. Give your employee support and empathy. Stress is a big factor in cancer progression and Vicky felt completely unsupported at work and was placed under huge stress.
Intro - Going On Holiday For Charity
For many years me and Vicky laughed and tutted at the ‘I’m going to surf the Barrier Reef’ or ‘walk the foothills of the Himalayas for charity’ campaigns. ‘All I need is to raise £3,000 to pay for it.’ Vicky felt guilty wasting her own money travelling to Edinburgh to do the MoonWalk.
So, in Vicky’s honour, my huge charity effort for will involve me doing jack-shit. I'm going nowhere, doing nothing any different from any other day. I will simply smoke the same amount of cigarettes, in the same places and at the same times. It’s gonna be hard, so please sponsor my exceptional effort.
NB: Kids, I’m not advocating smoking as a lifestyle choice. It’s extremely un-healthy and should be avoided. It’s also addictive and you’ll waste more money than you can imagine.
NB 2: I’m not pointing fingers, I’m sure we’ve all done some of the following. Don’t feel angry or ashamed, just change if you get it.
Many good souls do positive things for charity but then there are the grey areas and the downright obscene….
The Cruel Cancer Charities and Being Chased by Morally Sick
Women in Pink Bras.
We were at Leeds and Bradford airport, flying to Italy to try and escape cancer for a fortnight. It was obvious that Vicky had cancer, the recent chemo meant she was clearly tired and weak, she’d lost all her hair, her wig was ill-fitting and her skin was shit and translucent… although, obviously, she was still the most beautiful woman on the planet.
Entering the airport Vicky’s shoulders sank as the main visual noise was a couple of women with pink bras, shaking pink buckets vigorously in front of a huge banner screaming CANCER.
They spotted us. I saw the woman’s eyes light up as she picked out Vicky, ‘She’s got cancer, we’re quids in here.’ She charged towards us as I moved between, shielding Vicky until we got past her.
As smokers, we get nervy pre-flight, so we popped out a couple of times for fags. Each time, the woman (who now clearly saw it as a battle of wills) literally chased us until I finally turned around and growled, ‘Will you fuck off.’ Deep and menacing. It’s our choice if we put money in your bucket and you should not try to force us via sick, emotional blackmail.
I am confident she will have been on commission, it’s just a job to her and, because it’s unquestionably a ‘righteous cause’, the hard, savage sell is fine.
Within weeks of being diagnosed with cancer Vicky got bombarded, via phone and email, by cancer charities expecting her to raise money.
A close friend lost her brother to cancer and the following week she received a phone call from a cancer charity. Over a too long phone call she was trying to end, she explained that she’d had enough of cancer fund raising and wanted to be left alone to grieve for a while. The response of the – no doubt on commission – obscene salesman was, ‘Well, if people like you aren’t going to raise money for cancer, who is?’
Leave people to grieve you sick twats, you’re not selling time shares.
You can’t leave the behaviour of the charities ‘to the market’ it requires political and legal intervention.
This links tidily to:
Being Stalked Online By Cancer
As soon as she got her diagnosis, being Vicky, she started her extensive online research. She had the rare, triple negative breast cancer and it required a lot of searching.
(Don’t assume to know anything about someone’s cancer; don’t panic, listen. An auntie having a tit lopped off and now being fine was as relevant to Vicky’s survival chances as telling her about a son’s runny nose. I understand we all do this ‘cos we care.)
Immediately she’d searched cancer she was hounded by cancer banner ads. Cancer was everywhere she went online. Opening her email, the banner ads screamed CANCER, everywhere on Facebook, CANCER, every commercial site she visited howled CANCER at her. She was being utterly stalked and battered by cookies and the cancer industry. It was one of the few things that reduced her to tears.
And then into her in-box came the endless targeted marketing from the cancer industry, bombarding her. Holding her down, kicking and screaming, in the ‘YOU’VE GOT CANCER – WE OWN YOU – corner’.
Vicky had an incredibly positive attitude right until the very end (she would not allow ‘maudlin shit’), wanted to enjoy the remainder of her life and did not want to become ‘the woman with cancer’. She wanted to escape cancer sometimes but her computer would never allow it. Sometimes she couldn’t bear to open it for days, although she wanted to. Imagine that, days without going online, even just to pay a bill.
Secondly, people change when they go on to social media, we all do. Often it’s all about likes, retweets and shares and sometimes, to get those, you need to be quick, first or early i.e. you don’t think.
There’s a few of these but I’ll use as my main social media example the sick ‘no make-up selfie’ that swept Facebook a while ago.
I first became aware of it when, one morning, I saw Vicky’s face in extreme distress as she shouted ‘Oh yeh, of course, I’ve got no fucking hair, my skin is shit, I look haggard and drained, obviously my priority is to take a photo of myself with no make-up and post it on Facebook for the world t see - just fuck off.’
Why was she so upset? I went on to her timeline and there was a picture of a friend, black and white, perfect hair, lit beautifully, taken from the optimum angle, looking like she’d gone to a studio to get it taken, with the simple words ‘Vicky, you should do this.’
Vicky had not ‘announced’ her cancer on Facebook. But, to anyone paying attention, the friend had just done it for her. The avalanche of ‘no make-up selfies’ started on Facebook and she spent the next few weeks distressed, racing to hide them from her timeline.
Incidentally, what percentage of the self righteous people who posted a ‘no make-up selfie’ actually raised a penny? Nah, it was most often ‘just a bit of fun’ - hideous and sick - hiding vanity and self aggrandisement that can’t be questioned because it’s for ‘such a good cause’.
My third social media example occurred just after Vicky’s death. I was waiting to get the OK from family and friends before I ‘announced’ Vicky’s death on her timeline. I got a bath as I waited, only to be interrupted by Vicky’s distressed sister, ‘Have you seen Vicky’s timeline?’ Two people, whose name I didn’t even recognise, had announced her death. They clearly hadn’t checked her timeline or perhaps thought it was their place, not the family’s, to announce the death of someone they barely knew.
As I responded with fury, one of them was genuinely sorry (she’d simply rushed and hadn’t thought) whilst the other removed her post and skulked off into the ether.
Please don’t get a hot head, panic and post. Think before you share or post on someone’s timeline, especially something private or intimate.
Vicky sometimes felt like part of her social media was people wanting to simply get likes on Facebook by saying, ‘Look I’m interesting, I know someone with cancer. Aren’t I good cos I’m doing something about it?’
It Isn’t a Fair Fight.
People often used terminology like ‘brave’, ‘battle’ or ‘fight’ to Vicky (I think most of us do) as if they knew what she felt or thought her attitude could affect the illness and outcome. This bothered Vicky. It wasn’t ‘a fight’, it was genetic murder and she knew exactly what it was, a horrible physiological/genetic twist that would most likely kill her just as a shot to the heart would.
Vicky was incredibly brave and positive but in a different way. She didn’t try to ignore her illness with bravado but faced it full on with incredible love and positivity for those around her.
You Know Nothing.
Don’t sidle up to an acquaintance smoking and tut, disapprove or lecture, especially one who has cancer. It used to happen to Vicky all the time - another constant reminder of her cancer imposed upon her - and people would act surprised when she replied rudely. ‘Only saying.’ They had the moral high ground, obviously.
Is it news you’re delivering? Do you really think intelligent, mature smokers have somehow missed the dangers of smoking? Perhaps they should put hideous pictures on fag packets? Perhaps there haven’t been enough public information campaigns about smoking?
You can quickly become an ignorant, rude, sanctimonious tosser. My advice, unless you’re close enough to that person, ‘Keep y gob shut.’ If you have to think about it, you’re not close enough.
Processed meats rank alongside smoking as cancer causes – WHO
NB Smoking undoubtedly has a causal link to some cancers.
Experts are constantly re-assessing the relationship between smoking and cancer. Historically, out of ignorance, scientists went way over the top and exaggerated the link between smoking and cancer, ignoring other carcinogens. The new focus is on drinking alcohol, pollution, obesity, processed meats and, more interestingly, pathology (immunology) and genetics.
People don’t go up to someone drinking (with or without cancer) and say, ‘Are you sure you should be drinking that beer?’
‘Ooh, maybe you shouldn’t eat that cream cake and lose some weight.’
‘Perhaps you should put down the sausage roll and avoid all those processed meats and maybe live in a more affluent, less polluted area.’
Employment, Stress, Cancer and Early Death.
Upon being diagnosed, Vicky felt completely unsupported in her workplace. She saw her treatment from managers as the exact opposite to that which someone who’s just discovered they have life threatening cancer should receive.
In modern lifestyle societies, chronic stress has been associated with the pathogenesis of many diseases, including cancer. Chronic stress results in the activation of specific signalling pathways in cancer cells and the tumour microenvironment, leading to tumour growth and progression. (Future Oncology. 2010 Dec; 6 (12): 1863–1881.)
After she was diagnosed with cancer, there was a list of mis-management at work that simply heaped stress onto Vicky. Employers have a duty of care and can affect the outcome of early-onset cancer.
Right, here ends the manifesto for Vicky and other cancer sufferers, who may feel the same. If you feel it, get behind The Vicky Manifesto - let’s go viral, maybe change behaviour and raise some cash.
Weʼre trying to raise £2,000 to use towards highlighting some of the social reactions (& issues) to non smoking related cancer that pissed off my wife Vicky Jackson. You can donate by following this link.