Yvette Cowles

Writer, Performer, Speaker and Dance Teacher

Yvette Cowles – Celebrate Her Life

“The much loved and all round amazing Yvette Cowles was celebrated by a host of bellydance buddies, colleagues from Harper Collins, students from dance classes everywhere, family and friends.

The humanist service was just right, her brother, Richard gave an emotional and touching reading, her lifelong friend Elizabeth and Fiona Marsh from Harper Collins each told about different aspects of her life.  Kathy Selford (Vashti), Margaret Krause & Josephine Wise each gave a short tribute to reflect her contributions in the belly dance community.

The coffin had grass and flowers painted on which reflected the hot sunny day outside. The chapel was packed and overflowing – I don’t think everyone could get in.  There were so many people – there must have been going on for 200.  There were so many people I haven’t seen for years …. still, one of the things Yvette was very good at was bringing people together.

A lot of people went on to the Rosendale after – and it was great to catch up and chat with folks.  Even so, I didn’t get to talk with as many as I would have liked to.  Doreen (Mrs Cowles to you!), Richard and Paula were amazed by the turn out.  Richard said that he was blown away by how many people Yvette had touched so closely.

Jo Wise introduced Johara who danced a tribute to Yvette – fun and quirky – they finished by zhagareeting to Yvette’s image on the screen behind.  Very fitting.  Paula, Yvette’s sister in law, said she was so pleased that the Johara girls danced as belly dance had been such a big part of her life.

I chatted with the family after and Richard said his measuring stick was …… would Yvette have wanted to be there?  Yes, we decided ….. she most certainly would.

Much missed, but not forgotten, Yvettes legacy continues………..

If you want to join the facebook group, to celebrate her life, share photos etc click on the link”

Quote taken from a blog post on  https://jwaadtraining.uk

Yvette’s Funeral – 2.15pm on Monday 26th June 2017 Beckenham Crematorium

Yvette’s funeral will take place at 2.15pm on Monday 26 June at:

Beckenham Crematorium,
Elmers End Road,
Beckenham
BR3 4TD.

Website:
http://www.dignityfunerals.co.uk/crematoria-and-cemeteries/crematoria/find-a-crematorium/beckenham-crematorium

As you know, Yvette wasn’t very keen on dark colours or sombre moods so please wear or accessorise with something bright.

Closest stations:
Birkbeck – Approx 25 minutes from London Bridge

Beckenham Junction – Approx 20 minutes from Victoria and then a tram ride from Beckenham Junction to Birbeck Station.

We would welcome everyone to attend the funeral and a gathering afterwards where we will continue to celebrate Yvette – the venue for this is now confirmed and will take place from 3.30pm at:

The West Room (upstairs)
The Rosendale Pub
65 Rosendale Road
London
SE21 8EZ

Website:
https://www.therosendale.co.uk
(There is detail of nearby accommodation on the website)

Getting there:
There is no car park at The Rosendale Pub but all the surrounding roads are free to park all day every day.

If using public transport from the crematorium the easiest route would be:
Tram from Birbeck station to Beckenham Junction – (4 mins)

And then:
Beckenham Junction to West Dulwich station – approx 10 minutes followed by a 12 minute walk.

Or an Uber Fare between locations is around £10.

Should you wish to make a dontation in memory of Yvette there will be a collection box for The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity at the crematorium. Or you can donate here: https://www.royalmarsden.org/donate

Anyone wishing to send a floral tribute please send them via our Funeral Directors:
Francis Chappell & Sons
104 Lordship Lane
London
SE22 8HF
(They need to receive flowers before 11am on the 26th)

Thank you.
Richard, Doreen & Paula

Yvette Cowles

Former non-fiction marketing director at Harper Collins, Yvette Cowles, has passed away.

Cowles studied French and Italian at the University of Exeter and subsequently taught English in the South of France. She was diagnosed and treated for cancer for the first time in 1996, but had been living with secondary breast cancer since 2011, detailing some of her experiences in a blog.

Non-fiction marketing director at Harper Collins from 1996 to 2002, Cowles subsequently held a number of head of marketing roles in publishers including Sutton Publishing, The History Press and Hay House Publications.

She founded Dance Yourself Happy, a school which taught a blend of dance and yoga workshops, in 2006, and last autumn published Belly Dancing and Beating the Odds with her old firm HarperCollins.

Cowles featured in “The Big C & Me”, a three-part BBC1 documentary series on cancer, which screened on 1st June 2016.

David Swarbrick, who worked with Cowles at HarperCollins, said: “What made Yvette so different was not just her professionalism, not her rich life outside the industry, or even her qualities of humour, grace, creativity and determination, but how she put this all together again to fight cancer – by burlesque, comedy and belly dancing. You couldn’t make it up. But she did.”

He added: “She didn’t hide; she battled. And so stylishly. Her battle became therapy – for herself and thousands of others; and evolved into a show. Her show became a tour that traveled up and down the country for several years;  her tour became a book; and her book became a TV documentary. She won tens of thousands of fans, entertained hundreds of thousands more and inspired us all. And she did it through comedy: laughing; and getting us all to laugh. It was an astonishing and wildly unpredictable achievement.”

“What she did in adversity showed all of us how to have the courage to live a good life, regardless as to what is thrown at you.”

http://www.thebookseller.com/news/yvette-cowles-dies-564146

From Yvette’s brother: Yvette’s funeral will take place at 2.15pm on Monday 26 June 2017 at Beckenham Crematorium, Elmers End Road, Beckenham BR3 4TD. We would welcome everyone to attend the funeral and a gathering afterwards where we will continue to celebrate Yvette – the venue for this is still TBC. It would be great to get an idea of numbers attending; if you do plan to join us please let me know at Richard.cowles1@gmail.com

(This blog post was posted by Mark who helped Yvette to set this website up. My contact details are mark@ironmanrecords.co.uk if you would like to contribute anything for the blog to celebrate her life. I have also posted here: https://ironmanrecords.net/2017/06/yvette-cowles/ )

Finding the Funnies When The Going Gets Tough

Over the years I have spent a lot of time in hospitals and have the greatest respect for the NHS. I owe my life to the care and treatment I have received.   And even when things haven’t gone quite according to plan, I have always tried my best to find the humour in a situation. Hospitals can be a rich mine of comic material – after all, they provided me with excellent material for my one-woman show, Sequins On My Balcony. I firmly believe that black humour is an excellent coping strategy and can help to diffuse a difficult or frightening situation like nothing else.

Even though – through habit and necessity – I have toughened up over the years and now have quite a high pain threshold, I am still on the squeamish side. The other day some fellow patients and I were swapping experiences, and agreeing that there are times when members of the medical profession either forget that you’re there or don’t fully appreciate what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a procedure.

Here are three of my most recent ‘highlights’:

  • At my GP’s for yet another smear test (which for some reason always presents a problem), the doctor says to me, jovially, donning latex gloves and brandishing the dreaded instrument of torture, ‘In cases like yours, it’s a bit like an Easter Egg Hunt. There are times when you strike lucky.’ And, a few minutes later, after yet another failed attempt (the third, as it happens) – ‘But today wasn’t one of them.’
  • Doctor to trainee while performing my recent lung drainage procedure (while I’m fully awake), ‘Now here is where we’re going to make the incision. She’s quite skinny so we’ll go in between the ribs. Try and avoid puncturing the lung.’ (Yes, please do.)
  • Trainee to nurse when about to administer an injection in my stomach, ‘Gosh, look at the size of that needle! It looks like it was designed for an elephant.’ (Not reassuring when you have a phobia for needles and are far from elephant sized.)

I have found that consultants can display a wonderfully dry sense of humour. One of my favourite stories involved my friend Margaret, who was treated in a Parisian hospital, having fractured her ankle tripping over a paving stone. Disorientated by the inability to understand what was going on and weakened by the lack of vegan food available, she was thrilled to see the English-speaking doctor.

‘Am I going to die?’ she asked him, plaintively, already planning her Gothic-inspired funeral and displaying very un-British melodramatic tendencies.

 ‘Madame’, he said, ‘we are all going to die. But in your case, not today.’

A brilliant response and – although I’m not prone to making generalisations – one that strikes me as characteristically French. (One of my favourite books about ageing well is entitled The Warmth of the Heart Prevents the Body from Rusting: A French Recipe for a Long Life, Well-Lived, which I can’t imagine being penned by any English psychologist.)   Having been a patient in both France and the UK, my experience is that we Brits tend to play down our ailments, rather than fully embracing them. (Unless, of course, you are Margaret and channelling your inner Gauloise.)

When asked how I am, ‘I’m fine’ is my default reply. I just assume that people ask out of courtesy and don’t really want a detailed response, or even necessarily a truthful answer. Not so in France. My French ex-boyfriend could spend at least 15 minutes expounding on a litany of complaints – from ingrowing toenail to irregular bowel movements – when a friend of mine innocently asked if he was well. And he was not alone. Health is to the French what the weather is to the British.

Anyway, I digress. Have you had peculiar/funny/mind-boggling encounters with the medical profession, either at home or abroad? Or are you a medical professional who uses humour to cope with the many daily challenges you encounter? If so, I would love to know more.

Sometimes situations are far from hilarious but seeing the funny side can be quite cathartic, lightening the mood and alleviating stress, not just for patients but for healthcare professionals too. I believe that humour has an important role to play in hospital dramas. As psychologist Thomas Kuhlman put it, it’s ‘a way of being sane in an insane place’.

Health, Happiness and Embracing the Points of Stillness

Magnolias in bloom – one of the simple pleasures in life.

Finally, Spring is here and I’m coming out of hibernation and writing a post. This year has certainly been a challenging one so far. As with last year, I started it with a new drug trial, and high hopes of a successful outcome. But it wasn’t to be. The drug didn’t work, the tumours grew, the side effects were horrible and, until recently, I was in a permanent state of nausea and breathlessness. I couldn’t eat and I couldn’t breathe, let alone dance. I can’t deny that it’s been a tough time, emotionally, mentally and physically.

I cancelled all dance commitments until May to take the pressure off. I didn’t want to let anyone down. I had thought that by mid-March I’d be feeling much better and use the spare time to focus on my next project, but it’s proved a longer recovery time than I anticipated. I’ve had the fluid around my lung drained and started on a course of chemotherapy but it hasn’t made much difference yet to my breathlessness. But I don’t feel sick and I can now eat so that’s a bonus. My consultant is confident that the chemo will work but I need to give it time and, in the meantime, have to be patient – something I don’t find at all easy!

However, these experiences are all opportunities for growth. After coming with me to see my consultant for a particularly difficult appointment, my brother and sister-in-law insisted that I came and stayed with them. I’m not very sociable when I’m ill and fiercely independent at the best of times, so I really wasn’t sure how it would work out. And then, it meant decamping to South London and that’s south of the river and hence unknown territory for me. But it’s been great. They’ve really looked after me, and my 12 and 10-year-old nephews have been very entertaining. I enjoy the company. I’d got out of the habit of eating because nothing really appealed to me and I was so afraid of being sick, but I’ve found that I make much more of an effort when I’m eating with other people.

A 10-year-old’s innovative solution to my bad hair day.

Taking a break from dancing has been a challenge.  Dance is such a strong part of my identity and has been for so long. A few weeks ago in Outpatients at the Royal Marsden, I bumped into a student of mine from my Cancerkin Dance Yourself Happy class. She was there supporting a friend receiving treatment. ‘Oh great, are you running classes here now?’ she asked. If only. She was surprised to learn that I was there as a patient.   My daily activities have been severely curtailed. But maybe it’s all part of life’s ebb and flow. It’s impossible for anyone to take the whole of life at a gallop. As my Dance Movement Psychotherapist reminded me, ‘Remember that points of stillness are part of the dance.’

Ah, stillness. So much of my life has been about action. I’ve always pushed myself and refused to give in to my illness. But that’s impossible when most activity makes you breathless. So I’ve been forced to slow down and take time to reflect – something I don’t do nearly enough.  And it’s been quite a revelation. I do go for walks but at a fraction of the pace that I would usually do. And I notice and appreciate so much more: the glorious cherry blossom and magnolias starting to bloom, the strangely gnarled tree trunk at the bottom of the road, the smell of freshly ground coffee that I wake up to and the boisterous play-fighting of the boys as they walk home from school.   There’s a lot to be said for taking things at a relaxed pace. I remember going with a friend to visit her family in Jamaica and as we power walked our way round Port Antonio, the locals found us hilarious. ‘Take it easy. What’s the rush?’ they called out. We thought we were taking it easy, but clearly hadn’t shaken off the London stride. It took me the entire holiday to embrace that chilled groove but when I finally did I felt so much better for it. After all, what was the rush?

Yesterday I was watching Sunday Brunch on Channel 4. They interviewed Buddhist monk Haemin Sumin, author of a book, the title of which really resonated with me: The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down: How to be Calm in a Busy World. He came across as a lovely, warm man.  He didn’t pretend that life was always easy. ‘If you’re going through a hard time’, he said, ‘remember that you’re stronger than you think you are.’ During the course of the interview, he  offered these three tips for making yourself and people around you feel happy:

1) Take a moment to smile. It slows our heart down and produces a happy hormone in our brain.

2) Take a deep breath and ease into that nice feeling.

3) Put both hands to your heart, and softly send the loving kindness energy as you say:

May I be happy

May I be healthy

May I be peaceful

May I be protected

Send that loving kindness energy to yourself and then extend it to people around you as you walk around.

Incidentally, today is International Day of Happiness, a holiday created by the United Nations ‘as a way to recognize the importance of happiness in the lives of people around the world. In 2015, the U.N. launched 17 sustainable development goals that seek to end poverty, reduce inequality and protect our planet — three key aspects that lead to well-being and happiness.’ The day is run by Action for Happiness whose mission statement is: I will try to create more happiness in the world around me. I reckon that in these turbulent times we need all the happiness we can get and to spread it around as much as we can. Happiness can be found in the simple pleasures of life, in family and friendships, and in focusing on the here and now.  And where better to start than  in the points of stillness?

Hanging On To Hope and Living it BIG in 2017!

2016 was certainly a strange old year. Like many I’m glad to see the back of it. It brought with it so much conflict, so much horror, so much loss and suffering. It was a year of major upheaval, both at home and worldwide. Our planet appeared to be imploding. WTF was going on? Living with uncertainty is not easy and it seemed that, in the face of global atrocities and seismic political change culminating in that Trump victory, the coping strategy for many Brits was seeking solace in The Great British Bake-Off and Ed Balls, Gangnam Style.

On a personal level I understand all about uncertainty. At the start of 2017 I find myself more-or-less in exactly the same position as I was a year ago – treatment not working, tumours growing, embarking on a new cancer drug trial. The only difference is that now I’m a year older, a little wiser, and my natural optimism, while still there, is tempered by realism. Unlike last time round, I’m no longer expecting Cedric’s eviction; I just want to stop him taking over the house. (If you don’t already know, Cedric is my cancer, an unwelcome lodger, who first showed up 21 years ago and has been making a total arse of himself ever since.) My once lovely home is now a bit dilapidated – largely due to my many efforts to get rid of Cedric – but at least it’s still standing. And, until some miracle solution is found, that’s good enough for me.

Magical moments spent dancing and laughing with the Cancerkin class of 2016.

Over the course of last year I had some wonderful times, teaching, dancing, singing and enjoying the company of family, friends and my belly dance family. But I spent too much time doing things that weren’t good for me – whether for financial reasons, or out of a reluctance to say ‘no’ or let people down, or because I didn’t want to admit defeat. I didn’t cut myself any slack – or ask others to – so I pushed myself beyond my limits, wildly underestimated the time needed to recuperate and consequently gambled with my health. I committed myself to things and saw them through, but all the while was willing them to be over – not a clever move for anyone, but particularly stupid when you have a life-limiting disease! It’s nobody else’s fault; I freely admit that I am my own worst enemy. Rather than seeking refuge in watching TV, my coping strategy over the past year has been to keep busy, and it’s one that hasn’t served me very well. But there’s no point in beating myself up about it; in the words of writer E B White: Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. Wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.

This year I feel at a crossroads. Where do I go from here? As I start the trial, I am made aware of my rather precarious health situation by the fact that I have a lump on my sternum that has been growing steadily for the past couple of months. It’s not as if I can forget it; it’s there staring at me every time I get dressed or get ready for bed. I haven’t been receiving any treatment at all for the past six weeks, and that too has been quite unnerving. I worry about what’s been happening to my internal organs in that time. I can’t help but ask myself; just how much time have I got?  Of course, there’s no way of knowing. But I’ve promised my long-suffering mother (my rock and reluctant media star) that I won’t die before she does and I know she’ll hold me to it. She doesn’t want to find herself in a Debbie Reynolds/Carrie Fisher scenario, and who can blame her?

The redoubtable Mrs Doreen Cowles gives Death a stern talking to.

Anyway, I hope that fresh air, dance, laughter, good company, solitude, creative visualisation, chanting and sleep are doing me some good. Not to mention letting go – whether of anger, toxic people, challenging situations or my bloody tax return (finally). I believe in taking an integrated approach. Or, as my great aunt Rhoda was fond of saying, ‘God (life/the universe/goddess – insert as you see fit) helps those who help themselves.’

Last year I had lots of teaching engagements and performances, my Cancerkin dance classes, and the BBC1 documentary, The Big C & Me. This year I don’t. It’s daunting in a way. But it’s also an opportunity – both to devote more time to looking after myself and spend time with the people I love, and also to give me the mental space and energy to focus on something new. I need time to breathe. I want to use my experience creatively to help others but I’m just not quite sure how to do it yet. And I’ll never find out if I start cluttering up this year’s calendar.

I don’t intend to waste a single minute of this year, either by stressing about things beyond my control or by wishing away what time I have left.   I want to create happy memories not regrets. One of my all-time favourite performers and top women perfectly sums up my feelings about the importance of self-acceptance and making each moment count – however that might be – at the end of her life-affirming one-woman show, Dawn French: 30 Million Minutes (the title referring to the length of time she has been alive):

I have learned to live where I am in what I am… I am 30 million minutes old and I have learned that all the small stuff makes the big. That all the tiny minutes make one big life. Every minute properly matters… so LIVE IT BIG!

365 days, 525,600 minutes, 31536000 seconds; here’s to living each and every moment of 2017and living it BIG!

Fun, Friendships And A Fulfilling Life

In Bronnie Ware’s excellent book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying (published by Hay House), she says that the regret that topped the list of those nearing the end of their life is ‘I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

How many of us stick at doing something we don’t enjoy because we can’t imagine being able to afford not to, or because we’ve become so demoralised in our current job that we don’t have the confidence to look elsewhere, or because we’re waiting to pay off the mortgage/be made redundant/retire? Rather than follow our heart, we play safe.

Life is short and time is precious.  When you have a potentially life-limiting illness you are only too aware of that.  As Ware, a former nurse in palliative care, points out ‘Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.‘ ‘But health isn’t the only factor; redundancy, bereavement, divorce and other circumstances can also shake the foundations of our very existence, force us to reassess our lives and bring about major changes. But why wait for a crisis to reappraise your life?

Last weekend I met up with Fiona McIntosh, a friend and former colleague of mine from my days at HarperCollins Publishers, whom I haven’t seen for several years. In that time circumstances have led to dramatic changes in both our lives: Fiona, a former Publicity Director, has retrained as a Pilates practitioner and now runs the Santosha Studio in Chippenham, while I have swapped book marketing for dance teaching, writing and performing.  Change has not always been easy, but we are both a million times happier now than in our former lives because we are doing something that we love, motivated by a desire to use our experiences and skills to help others.

Fiona had invited me to teach a Dance Yourself Happy workshop at the studio and it was great fun.  We danced, we laughed, we sang – what could be better?   I took an excellent class with Fiona too and spent a great evening catching up with her and her bloke, Andrew.  Fiona and I discovered that we have even more in common now than we did back in our HarperCollins days.  Roll on our next get-together!

Having a laugh and Dancing Ourselves Happy at the Santosha Studio

Having a laugh and Dancing Ourselves Happy at the Santosha Studio

Talking of reunions, on the Sunday I taught a belly dance workshop to the Sahara Sisters, a super-friendly and committed group of local dancers, whom I used to teach quite regularly when I lived in Stroud.   I haven’t been back since I moved to London. So it was lovely to stay and catch up with the group’s leader, Rachel Terry, who now runs The Citadel Hall, the Sisters’ impressive new home (as well as a successful venue for many other activities and events).  During the class we worked hard on a Mahmoud Reda inspired choreography but still had plenty of time for a laugh and a chinwag too. It was lovely to be back.

Post workshop posing with the Sahara Sisters

Post workshop posing with the Sahara Sisters

Continuing my sojourn in the South West, I then went to visit my very good friends,  Jo Wise and John Gosler,  who have recently relocated to Bristol.  It was my first visit and I’ve really missed them.  The move has been a huge adjustment after a lifetime spent in London, and not without its challenges, but it also brings with it a lovely house, a new city to explore and exciting new  opportunities.

According to Bronnie Ware, another Top Five regret is ‘I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.’  Talking about the people she had looked after in their final days, she says that ‘many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved.’  

I certainly don’t intend to make that mistake!  This weekend I’m off to Leicester for  Gothla UKEurope’s premier festival of Gothic Belly Dance, to teach, perform, take classes – and reconnect with some more old friends.  No one knows the value of friends more than I  do; my belly dance buddies have kept me sane (well, almost) through the darkest and most difficult of times. And I hope that they would say the same of me. As the old saying goes ‘To have a friend and to be a friend is what makes life worthwhile.’

Top-5-regrets-for-EL-Mag-VF

 

 

I Can See Clearly Now The Rain Is Gone

sun-in-blue-sky-600x400

Sounds rather optimistic, doesn’t it?  Life seems anything but clear at the moment, and as for the rain, well, it may be July but so far there hasn’t been much evidence of it making way for some much-needed sunshine.

However, ‘Yr wyf yn obeithiol’ – I am an optimist.  Summer is on its way. And I look forward to Wales pulling off a historic win against Portugal tonight.  No doubt everyone in the ‘Sing With Us’ cancer choir I have joined will be rooting for them too, not least because Tenovus Cancer Care, the world-leading charity behind the  project, is very proud of its Welsh roots.  They’ve been offering #TogetherStronger wristbands for a suggested donation of £1 – a great way of helping cancer patients and their loved ones while showing support for the Welsh team.  What’s more, Tenovus is receiving 50% of the profits from the Manic Street Preachers’ Euro 2016 Welsh anthem.

Tenovus flyer

My involvement is as a cancer patient at the Royal Marsden Hospital.  Tenovus has joined forces with the Marsden and the Centre for Performance Science (a partnership between Imperial College London and the Royal College of Music)  to run the ‘Sing With Us’ research project, which looks at how singing in choirs can affect mental health, wellbeing, quality of life and social support in people who are affected by cancer.

We had our first get-together last Wednesday.  Around 40 carers, patients and hospital staff all assembled in St Luke’s Church Hall in Chelsea.  Few of us knew much about singing.  (My last experience of a choir was singing The Dream of Gerontius  as a member of the St Albans High School Choral Society when I was 16 so it’s fair to say that I am more than a little rusty.)

However, this choir is designed to be inclusive. Not sure whether you’re a soprano or alto?  Then sit somewhere in the middle so you can pick and choose. Don’t know how to read music?  No matter, they have colour-coded sheets and an online resource where you can listen to each part individually. Not confident that you can hold a tune?  It really doesn’t matter.  The aim is get together, forget your problems and sing uplifting songs such as ‘I Can See Clearly Now’.  And thanks to the skill, encouragement and enthusiasm of choir leader, Nina Lainville-Richardson,  we were singing  three-part harmonies by the end of the first session!

Apparently, recent research conducted by Tenovus and the Royal College of Music found that ‘singing in a choir for just one hour boosts levels of immune proteins in people affected by cancer, reduces stress levels and improves mood, which in turn could have a positive impact on overall health.’

I regular blog about the ways in which dance is good for you.  There are people in choirs up and down the country who will testify to the benefits of singing. Getting together to sing and/or dance seems to me to be a great recipe for a happy and healthy life.  Aside from the health benefits, both dance classes and choirs provide a great way of combatting loneliness, a problem that, according to the Mental Health Foundation affects 1 in 10 of us.  I hope that the research project that I’m involved in will provide further evidence of this and lead to more people reaping the benefits.  And why not?  Yr wyf yn obeithiol!

The Big C & Me – final episode tonight

Tonight is the last episode of The Big C & Me, the BBC1 series that charts the lives of nine people with cancer from that life-changing moment of diagnosis, through treatment and life at home, to whatever lies beyond. Combining observational film-making and fixed-rig cameras in hospitals, The Big C & Me enters the world of the cancer patient in 2016.  This final episode follows the stories of  Katy, Mark and Steve, and as with the previous programmes is both heartbreaking and uplifting.  Essential viewing.

The previous two episodes are still available on iPlayer.

The Open University has compiled a range of very helpful resources on cancer care.  Click here to order your free booklet.

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Celebrating the End of an Era at the Rosie

The Changing of the Guard at the Rosie

The Changing of the Guard at the Rosie

Yesterday I went to the Rosemary Branch in Islington for a very special occasion; an ‘Epic End of Era’ party for Cecilia Darker and Cleo Sylvestre, the two charismatic and creative grandes dames who founded that little jewel of a theatre 20 years ago.

In that time they have put on a vast array of different productions – plays, monologues, musical theatre, opera, pantos and so much more – and really supported and championed artists, performers and directors, whether starting out or seasoned professionals.  They embraced every project with unrivalled warmth, passion and commitment. Certainly there would have been no Sequins On My Balcony without them.

When I started working on my one woman show (about the trials and triumphs of a breast-free belly dancer) I was a performance rookie.  It’s true that I’d been performing belly dance for a number of years, but beyond that and the ordeal of regular elocution exams in an effort to cure a childhood stammer, I had zero experience.  Nada, niente, bugger all. This was immediately obvious to Peta Lily, a hugely talented performer and director, who – probably in a moment of weakness – had agreed to work with me.  The fact that she managed to knock me into shape is a real testament to her skills and prowess.  I remember her once asking me ‘Yvette, do you think you could manage to walk across the stage and talk at the same time?’ Not without huge difficulty, it seemed. But thanks to my determination to master every challenge she flung my way and her refusal to give up on me, we got there in the end.

I was developing the show with the vague idea of performing it sometime in the future.  Friends asking me when to expect the ‘world premiere’ were quickly told  ‘Oh, not for a while yet. There’s still so much work to be done!’  The idea of actually showing it to anybody was way too terrifying. I would probably still be fobbing them off had a good friend of mine not decided to take matters into her own hands and book a date at the Rosie for my scratch performance. I nearly passed out when she told me (and that hadn’t happened since my second cancer diagnosis).

Whatever my own anxieties and self-doubt, Cec and Cleo never doubted me.  They really nurtured and supported me through the whole event, offering encouragement, advice, free rehearsal space  – and cake. Together with Bryony Thompson, their  super-capable theatre manager who could turn her hand to anything, they couldn’t have made it easier for me.  Thanks to the three of them, that initial performance was one of the best experiences of my life, not to mention the springboard to an exciting new chapter.

Now, after 20 years, a new chapter is beginning for them. They are passing on the baton to Scarlett and Genevieve of Unattended Items and will now be free to relax, holiday, pursue different interests and focus on new projects.  I can’t wait to see what unfolds. Their future plans are bound be to be as fun, entertaining and full of sparkle as they are.

In the meantime, thank you so much, Cec and Cleo, for 20 years of fabulousness.

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