Cancer blogger and campaigner Becki McGuinness wins Remarkable Person prize at Live Better With’s Spotlight Awards
Becki McGuinness was diagnosed with cancer aged 23. Unfortunately, she was left infertile by aggressive cancer treatment. A gynaecologist later told her that doctors could have saved her fertility by her freezing eggs or embryos before treatment. Understandably, she was devastated. Seven years later, she’s launched a national campaign to ensure women facing cancer are given all the fertility options she should have had.
We spoke to 30-year-old Becki to find out more about what her campaign and how she feels to have won a Spotlight Award:
You’ve recently launched the Cancer and Fertility UK movement – what is the aim of the campaign?
In the cancer community you would think everything would be put in place but unfortunately, fertility is being left off the agenda.
Not every patient will want to preserve their fertility but everyone deserves a choice and access to information so they can make an informed decision.
The need for choice is why I set up Cancer and Fertility UK, to make sure someone is campaigning for all those of reproductive age with cancer. Not just thinking about their cancer but reproductive health and for some people their mental health too. I also wanted to create a place for support where cancer patients could share their experience good or bad and feel they could talk about their feelings and things like infertility too.
There was a need to raise awareness of the inequalities happening throughout the UK, mostly to women who were not given the choice or chance to preserve their fertility before cancer treatment, even when there was time or not detrimental to their health.
At a very young age, you found out your cancer treatment had left you infertile, on that day, what was the very first thought that came to your mind?
Initially, I was gobsmacked at what I was being told – that the test had come back that I was infertile.
While still numb from that statement I was told, if I was originally referred to them they could have preserved my fertility. Personally, that was one of those things that stay with you because I had the time as I was waiting for treatment anyway.
I have always been maternal as a young adult and just wished I could turn those feelings off because if there had been proper attention to the person instead of the patient it may not be as painful and raw.
I believe it was that day that set off my post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It was the most traumatic thing in my life and no matter how hard I try, it just keeps creeping back.
Infertility has caused a rollercoaster of different emotions to deal with, deep feelings of loss, feeling anxious, depressed, uncertainties, isolated and especially feeling alone if [I hear about] other cancer patients who got to save their fertility or went on to have children.
You’re at an age where your peers are settling down and having children. How does it feel when you see pregnancy announcements on social media and baby shower invites?
The only positive for me personally is, I was young when my fertility was taken and my friends had not started their families. The great thing about my close friends is they never leave me out of things and invite me to things (even though they know due to extreme fatigue I can’t always make it) but being invited means a lot to me. Personally, even with the infertility, I don’t mind being around babies and it’s just nice to celebrate your friend’s bundle of joy. If anything it’s harder for me when those sad feelings creep in and I’m on my own.
Would you consider adopting or fostering?
As long as my health improves and I can physically look after a child in the future then I would consider adopting or fostering but due to different health conditions I have to deal with, I probably have more chance dating someone in the future who already has their own child as time goes on.
You’ve been very open about your cancer experience – blogging and being in the press – was it a difficult decision to make it all public?
It wasn’t a difficult decision at all to make my story public as I knew without doing it, no one would know what was happening to cancer patients like myself, regarding fertility preservation and not receiving access to it or any emotional support, as it was not cancer-related. It’s helped to raise the much-needed awareness and get other cancer patients sharing their stories too.
What have you learned about yourself from your cancer diagnosis?
I’ve learnt from my cancer diagnosis that I don’t have to be strong all the time and going through different emotions is okay. I don’t have to react like the majority, but react the way that is right for me to deal with things. I’ve learnt that if I pace myself, put my mind to things and use my creativity then my campaign can speak for itself. Most importantly, that the fantastic support from others and collaborating is key to this campaign’s success.
What were your dreams and aspirations before you had cancer? Have they changed since?
Before I had cancer, my dreams and aspirations were to do something to help others. I had a benign tumour first in my sacrum and spine and was dealing with the effects that had left me with, so I was only able to do voluntary work once in a while when well enough.
When I had no illness, I loved working in youth clubs helping young offenders and being a 1-1 support worker for people with learning disabilities and severe disabilities.
Charities and volunteering roles have always been close to my heart for the type of work I’d like to do and that has never changed. My new aspiration would be to raise awareness of cancer and fertility in parliament.
How does it feel to know that you were not only nominated but won the Remarkable Person Award?
To be nominated was recognition for my work and that other people thought I was worth a vote has given me such a boost to keep on with my campaign and to improve cancer and fertility services for others. It is such a humbling feeling, it’s validating the hard work and research I’ve been doing to help other cancer patients to receive the information they need to make an informed choice. It’s saying someone thinks my campaign is important and has had an impact on them.
To win the Remarkable Person Award was such a surprise for me and I am so grateful to receive this award. It’s for something I have put my all into and had to fight against my chronic fatigue/pain at the same time. It feels so great to have my peers and the cancer communities support for this award and the judges for deciding the work I do was worthy of an award.
What do you think about the Spotlight Awards as a whole?
I think the Spotlight Awards is such a great idea because it gives recognition to people affected by cancer and those helping others and the hard work they do. These awards aren’t just given because you have “cancer” – it’s more empowering because you are judged more for what you’re doing than your illness.
The first of its kind, the Spotlight Awards shine a light on the achievements of truly remarkable people, products, and services in the cancer community. Nominated by the public, and voted by a panel of expert judges, the winners are from all walks of life, of all ages, and from across the world.
The Spotlight Awards have been organised by Live Better With, an award-winning online platform where cancer patients and their loved ones can find products and information to help with the symptoms and side effects of living with cancer.
See the full list of Spotlight Award winners here.