A 23-year-old woman from Surrey is leading an awareness campaign aimed at highlighting the impact that changes to appearance caused by cancer and treatment can have on a young person’s body image, confidence and self-esteem.
And Angel Shepherd-Bascom is also hoping that her participation in charity Teenage Cancer Trust’s new #StillMe campaign will help combat some of the taboos around cancer that she feels are prevalent in the black community.
Angel is one of 20 young people across the UK, whose cancer and treatment has led to scarring, hair loss, huge weight fluctuations, facial tumours and amputations, who are speaking out about their experiences – and offering tips and advice on how to cope.
For the campaign, gymnastics teacher Angel, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma in 2018 aged 22, is opening-up about what it was like to lose her hair and eyelashes and cope with the impact of significant weight loss.
She stars in two inspiring online films for the #StillMe campaign, made by Teenage Cancer Trust with Kohl Kreatives, a charity that helps men and women recreate features using make-up and provides support to people undergoing chemotherapy, those with visible differences, and also the transgender community.
In the films Angel, alongside two other young women who have been through cancer, discuss body image, and caring for your skin during chemotherapy.
Angel said: “How you look really matters to young people. When I was told I had cancer, after my first thought of ‘will I die?’ I started to stress about what it would be like to lose my hair. But actually my weight loss was the thing that affected my self-image the most during treatment.
“At one point I only weighed around 40kg, you could see my shoulder blades, I was nothing but skin and bone. I tried to cover it up by wearing baggy clothes, but people would still make comments about how thin I was.
“When I lost my hair I wore wigs to start with, when I didn’t want people staring. They also helped when I was cold! But then I decided to start going out without wigs. It was not easy to adjust to, but I was still me after all. It was self-empowering and allowed me to take control of the situation. Losing your hair doesn’t mean you’re not pretty anymore!
“My advice to others is to try not to worry as much about how you look. I know that is easy to say, especially with social media making you feel you need to look a certain way, but you are who you are because of your character, not how you look. And lots of people don’t care what we look like, we put the pressure on ourselves.”
She added: “As a black woman and somebody who has had cancer it’s important to me to be visible and open about what I’ve been through. I feel like cancer is still a taboo in my community, there’s definitely a stigma, and people hide what they are going through away.
“I especially hope that other black girls with cancer who see me in this campaign will understand that they are not alone, and that it’s OK to talk about what you’re going through.”
Teenage Cancer Trust say that body image issues are an important issue for the young people it supports, and in a snap online poll* conducted earlier this year, asked young people what worried them most about their cancer diagnosis.
It found that nearly a quarter (23%) were most worried about how their looks would be affected, this was second to survival rates (39%), but is a higher figure than those most worried about painful and lengthy treatment (21%).
Kate Collins, Chief Executive Officer, Teenage Cancer Trust, said:
“Over the past three decades we’ve supported thousands of young people like Angelthrough treatment, and we know changes in appearance can be distressing and tough to deal with.
“The ‘ideal’ bodies and looks portrayed on Instagram that many young people aspire to are difficult to live up to at the best of times – and the effects of cancer and treatment on appearance, likehair and weight loss, can really add to this pressure.
“People like Angel are sharing their experiences of how they coped, and this will do so much to help other people facing similar issues. We’re really proud and grateful that she is part of our #StillMe campaign.”
For advice from young people involved in the #StillMe campaign about coping with body image issues and watch the film starring Angel please visit www.teenagecancertrust.org/stillme