ONE WARRIOR with Leanne Pero
Have you ever met someone new and after 5 minutes of chat you think - 'Ohhhhmygod - you are my type of person! I love everything you're saying. Can we make friendship bracelets, tell secrets and become best friends!?'
Meet Leanne. You'll probably be thinking the same after you read her story.
This extraordinary lady is a serial entrepreneur having started 'The Movement Factory', a community dance company, at the age of 15. She has written a book and fundraised over £250,000 to run dance programmes and events all over England. She has won a bucketload of awards and a million pages pop up when you google her name.
However, we didn't really talk about that stuff. It was our common story of cancer that led her to start another project that got us talking. While battling with cancer, Leanne shared her story via a blog which became a platform for many other cancer warriors within the BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) community to open up and chat. She heard all too common stories of women that had been banished by their community, communities where cancer is often seen as a curse or karma for bad things they had done in the past. She knew then she had to create a space for these women to come together, chat and support each other. This is where Black Women Rising was born.
As an extension of this she has created Black Women Rising The Untold Story, the UK’s first all-black female cancer portrait exhibition aimed to get the cancer conversation rolling. If you're in London, the second exhibition opens this Friday.
Sit back, get comfy and enjoy the phenominal Leanne's story.
Hi, I’m Leanne Pero. I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in 2016 aged just 31.
What was happening in your world at the time?
I had found a lump on my right breast earlier that year but initially dismissed it after being told by my GP that I was “too young”. At the time I was also nursing my mother through her own battle with breast cancer after she had contracted the disease for the second time. Receiving the diagnosis after being referred to same the breast clinic that had treated my mother, I was devastated. “How am I break the news to my mum?”, “what about my businesses?”, “am I going to die?” were my first thoughts.
Cancer in 3 words.
Cancer for me meant LOSS: loss of self, control of my body and my future, SUFFERING: a year of pain anguish and sickness I battled the disease and FEAR: fearing death, fear of the unknown and fear of my life after cancer.
What helped you get through?
As someone who was always surrounded with lots of friends and acquaintances through my work, I quickly found that my cancer diagnosis was too much for many people to bear. I luckily found solace in a few very close friend and some supportive family members. I handed the reigns of my business to my staff and disappeared off of all my social platforms whist I came to terms with my new reality. However I decided early on that I was going to record my journey through a personal diary and blog taking pictures of important milestones such as my first chemo treatment, the day I shaved off all my hair, my last chemo and surgery which I found therapeutic.
Golden tip for the friend and family of a cancer warrior.
Cancer is a very personal and lonely journey. I realised I could rely on some support from friends and family however it is something many could not understand as they had not been through it. I found it very overwhelming to be confronted by other people emotions and fears for me to the point I had to stop having visitors as it was leaving me mentally exhausted. I just wanted to scream at people “it’s not about you!”. My advice to anyone with a friend of family member with cancer would be to remember that they are not the person who is going through treatment, taking the drugs, having the operations and fearing the worst so just to be mindful not to impose unhelpful judgement, suggestions and opinions on them.
The worst part of cancer?
One of the worst memories for me was after my first round of treatment, which fell a couple of days before my brother’s wedding in Norfolk. Despite feeling sicker than I’d ever experience before in my life I drove the 4 hour journey through the night to be there, something I pad for dearly as I barely got through the ceremony before I had to retire to my room, just as the reception got underway. Alone, frightened and ailing I could hear the music, fun and laughter from my room and I resided myself to not ever being able to enjoy my life to the fullest again. Then just days later I lost my hair.
The best part of cancer?
However, I came through it, I met some amazing people along the way, formed some amazing friendships and learnt so many important life lessons. I no longer have a fear to go after what I want anymore; I live my life how I want to and I am much more stronger mentally and physically.
Black Women Rising
Faced with many challenges, as a woman of colour, when accessing cancer support services, I created Black Women Rising initially as a support group for BAME women who like me felt excluded and unrepresented in mainstream cancer support groups. I have interacted with so many women who, are struggling with depression, trauma and isolation during and after cancer, yet the emotional support we were all promised when we were diagnosed seems to be non-existent. The Black Woman Rising peer support group provides a free, safe space for women of colour to come together and talk openly and frankly about their cancer battles. I then went on to set up my own cancer charity, ‘The Leanne Pero Foundation’, subsequently creating the UK’s first ever all Black female cancer exhibition ‘Black Women Rising – The Untold Cancer Stories’, aimed at spreading some much-needed awareness amongst the BAME (black, asian and minority ethnic) community. Into its second stop, in what is set to become a London wide tour, Black Women Rising returns, this time at the prestigious OXO Tower from 31st August to 1st September.
The exhibit details the journeys of 14 BAME women who have battled or who are still battling this dreadful disease, from all different walks of life and different back grounds the stories really address the taboos and misconceptions within the BAME community.
Black Women Rising Project
Golden tip for new warriors.
My message to all cancer warriors is to take care of your mental well-being during and after treatment. Be selfish with your energy, your time and your space and do not be too hard on yourself.