Fighting cancer together with Macmillan's Coffee Morning

What do George Alagiah, Sheridan Smith, Lauren Mahon and Kadiff Kirwan have in common?

George Alagiah and Mary Huckle  (photo:  Rankin/Macmillan Cancer Support)
George Alagiah and Mary Huckle (photo: Rankin/Macmillan Cancer Support)

All of them have been personally affected by cancer, and with as many as almost one in two people expected to be diagnosed with the condition in their lifetime, the odds are high that most of us have too.

These familiar faces sat for acclaimed photographer Rankin, alongside other people whose names we may not know but whose experience of cancer is no less profound.

The results – a striking set of portraits – have already reached far beyond their remit – to mark the return of Macmillan Cancer Support’s annual flagship fundraising event, Coffee Morning, which takes place on Friday September 30.

Suad Ibrahim and Sheridan Smith (photo: Rankin/Macmillan Cancer Support)

Conversations captured through the images saw the pairings relive moments of their own diagnosis; grieve the loss of loved ones; share experiences of Macmillan support they’ve received; and discuss how to navigate life after cancer.

For news presenter and journalist, George Alagiah, the hardest question people ask him, he said, is how he copes.

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Speaking about the impact of his own experience of living with stage four bowel cancer, which was first diagnosed in 2014 and subsequently spread to his lymph nodes and lungs, George said: “The challenge at first was getting my cancer diagnosis straight in my head; despite having so much going for me, a successful career and a loving family, here I was just being told I was dying.

"I wish I had known sooner just how much support Macmillan could have offered me throughout this whole experience, but I thought I had to be at the end of my life to ask for it.”

Lauren Mahon and Shell Rowe (photo: Rankin/Macmillan Cancer Support)

Personal trainer Mary Huckle, a mother-of-three, was also diagnosed with stage four cancer in the same year as George.“For years I’d always self-examined,” said Mary. “One day I found a small pea-sized lump in my right breast. Night after night, I’d lie in bed to check if it was still there, deliberating for a few weeks as to whether I should see my GP.

"Obviously now, my advice to anyone would be to get anything that’s not normal checked out immediately, even if the thought is terrifying. Early detection could be key to a better prognosis and less invasive treatment.

“One of the worst things about a cancer diagnosis was having to break the news to my loved ones. The ripple effects are always far reaching and just as traumatic for them. Many lonely, sleepless nights ensued. There was lots of crying, and that wasn’t just me, but there was no time to speculate.

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"I just had to accept the situation and crack on with the process. In those early days I felt vulnerable and completely out of control, but I had no choice but to place my trust in the medical team looking after me.”

Kadiff Kirwan and Chloe Dixon (photo: Rankin/Macmillan Cancer Support)

Actor Sheridan Smith met with nurse Suad Ibrahim, who also lost her father to cancer.

“My father was an incredibly strong-minded and proud man and was quite reluctant to seek any kind of support when he first received his diagnosis,” said Suad. "However, his relationship with his Macmillan nurse Sarah was unlike any other I’d seen. He shared things with her about his health and final wishes that he found too difficult to share with us.”

After losing loved ones to cancer, Sheridan Smith has backed Macmillan’s Coffee Morning event for several years.

“Connecting with others who have been touched by cancer can really help you to feel less alone,” she said. “Macmillan’s Coffee Morning is the perfect space to do that — but whatever your reason for getting involved, you’ll be helping to support the growing numbers of people living with cancer across the UK, who need our support more than ever before.”

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Macmillan is urging people to sign up to host a coffee morning after the event saw a huge drop in fundraising over the last two years due to the pandemic.

“This year, the vital funds raised through Coffee Morning will be more important than ever,” said Claire Rowney, of Macmillan Cancer Support.

"The number of people living with cancer in the UK is unprecedented and with figures set to grow to four million by 2030, our services are becoming a vital lifeline for many. We rely on the generous donations from our incredible supporters for 98 percent of our income and, as it stands, we’re simply not able to support everybody who needs us.“A cancer diagnosis can be incredibly frightening and for many people with cancer, times are tougher now than they have ever been, with ongoing disruption to care and treatment, the rising cost of living, and everything else a diagnosis brings. Macmillan offers a much-needed safety net for people when they simply don’t know where to turn.”

Coffee Morning is back on Friday September 30, but people can sign up to host an event and get involved whenever, wherever and in whatever way they can throughout September.

For more information visit coffee.macmillan.org.uk.

Lauren and Shell

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Award-winning podcaster, campaigner and founder of charity, Girl vs Cancer, Lauren Mahon met with 23-year-old Shell Rowe, a filmmaker and TikTok star.

Both, who received a cancer diagnosis at a young age, were supported by Macmillan throughout their cancer treatment.

“When I got diagnosed, one thing that completely floored me was money,” said Lauren, who was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 31.

"For some reason I thought — which I think is quite normal — that I would be looked after, that there’d be Government funding, or support I could apply for. I didn’t realise it would be statutory sick pay. I’d moved out my parents’ house before I received my diagnosis and I couldn’t even afford to pay my rent in London — my friends had to fundraise just to keep me in my home.

“Thank goodness I found Macmillan. The support was incredible. I literally went through the website, spoke to someone on the phone about the financial help I was entitled to, and then I was sent forms for a grant already filled in ready to go.”

Shell had just finished her second year at university when she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2019, aged 20.

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"I was meant to be going to California State University to have my year abroad, which was all very exciting," said Shell. “Then a week before I was meant to go, I found a tennis ball-sized lump in my throat. Me and my friends were all joking about it, but a week later we weren’t laughing anymore, because I got stuck with a stage four cancer diagnosis.

"Since then, it’s been an absolute rollercoaster. I’ve had cancer four times now and been through seven different treatments including (CAR) T-cell therapy, radiotherapy, stem cell transplant and a clinical trial.

“Sometimes it feels really limiting, finding other people to speak to about having stage four cancer at a young age.”

Kadiff and Chloe

‘This is Going to Hurt’ and ‘Fleabag’ actor, Kadiff Kirwan, lost his mother to cancer in May.

He spoke to former primary school teacher and founder of the Cancer in Common community Chloe Dixon, who was diagnosed with Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia in 2018, about the importance of support at every stage of a cancer diagnosis.

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Chloe, a mother-of-one, recently received the news that her cancer is no longer detectable.

“My family were the ones who encouraged me to visit my GP, just a few months after I’d had my little girl,” she said. “They were in my ear telling me, ‘hang on, this isn’t right’, and I dread to think where I’d be without them. During my bone marrow biopsy, I had a Macmillan nurse with me holding my hand.

"I’m absolutely over the moon that there’s no sign of my cancer and even more excited to give back to this wonderful charity once I’ve hosted my coffee morning. It’s the nicest day, getting all your loved ones and community together to have a cup of tea, a slice of cake and a catch-up for a good cause.”

For more information, visit coffee.macmillan.org.uk.