"I Beat Cancer"

How Kerri Bennet turned her life around
Monday , 02 May 2011
"I Beat Cancer"
© Kerri Bennet
Kerri Bennet

Kerri Bennett, 36, lives in Dubai Marina and is the new art editor for VIVA. As she prepared for chemo in the UK on a rainy January morning in 2010, she had no idea that sunnier climes were on the horizon.

“Last January I was working in the UK on my last issue of Top Sante, an international health magazine, and I was leaving work for six months to start my first course of chemotherapy. I discovered I had breast cancer in September 2009, after finding a lump in the pit of my arm. I had no family history of breast cancer, so I had no reason to think anything of it, but after two weeks it was still there so I went to get a mammogram and a biopsy. When the doctor told me I had grade three breast cancer (there are four grades) my first thought wasn’t ‘I’m going to die’ but ‘will I still be able to have children?’ I was 34 years old and it seemed that part of life was going to be closed off from me. Fortunately, I was able to freeze some of my eggs before having my operation to remove the lump and start my course of chemo.

January is never a nice time in London. It’s dark and cold, and I had nothing to look forward to but a course of cancer treatments. If that wasn’t enough, I also broke up with my boyfriend of three years. It wasn’t an easy decision, but we hadn’t been getting on and when I first received the news that I had breast cancer, I decided I was only going to surround myself with positivity. Fortunately, my family were great. Although they were worried, they remained upbeat and kept things normal for me. They didn’t treat me like I was dying, but just like their same old daughter and sister. I continued to go to the gym and have lunch with my mates. It was that sense of normality that got me through. I also shaved my hair before I started chemo and invested in a Dhs2,000 wig as I didn’t wanted to look like a cancer patient.

I’d read books about people’s bad experiences of chemo, like how it made them constantly sick and depressed, so by the time my first appointment came round, I’d convinced myself that it was going to destroy me. Chemo doesn’t just get rid of the cancerous cells in your body, it kills everything, which is why your hair falls out and sometimes even your nails break off. However, it wasn’t as terrible as I expected. I slept for two days after my initial treatment and I was fortunate not to be sick.
This is how I spent the first six months of 2010. Every three weeks I’d go for chemo and then sleep it off. Radiotherapy, which took place after my chemo to treat the malignant cells and the surrounding lymph nodes, was harder for me. I broke out in hot flushes at the most inappropriate moments like on the London Underground, where all I’d want to do was rush for the doors and get out. But I was adamant cancer wasn’t going to get me down and beat me, this was my mindset the whole way through.

I got the all clear last September and went back to work the same month. I was desperate to get back into a routine, but when I did, it didn’t feel right. It was strange to be back in the same office, with the same people. Nothing had changed, but I felt like I had. I knew I had to do something as the one thing cancer made me realise was that life is too short. It was then that I saw an advert for a job in Dubai as the art editor of VIVA and I knew I had to apply for it. I wasn’t sure if anything would come of it, but when I got the call to tell me I had been shortlisted, my stomach did a somersault and I realised how badly I wanted it.

When I got the job, everyone was really happy for me as they understood I needed to make this change. Moving to Dubai was terrifying, but also the first time in a year that I had complete control over something. Of course, in the initial few weeks I had pangs of wanting to fly straight back home but I thought, ‘I’ve been through cancer – I can handle this’. I’ve just spent Christmas on the beach with fab new friends – a world away from last year. Although I have to have yearly mammograms, now that cancer is behind me, I know I can handle anything.”

Kerri’s turnaround tips

1. Surround yourself with upbeat people.
2. No matter how hard you think something will be, you’re stronger than you think.
3. Try everything, life is too short for regrets.