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The show must go on is an old theatrical saying that could have been invented for Nell Gifford. She is co‑founder of Giffords Circus which tours the south of England every summer.
For the past three years, she's juggled producing complex material and breaking in new acts with three cancer diagnoses of her own and gruelling treatment. At the same time, her marriage broke down, leaving her a single mum to twins Red and Cecil, nine.
Sofa - Top - Session - Chemotherapy - Day
Sitting on a sofa outside the big top, she is exhausted from her first session of the latest chemotherapy the day before, and yet her phone constantly pings with messages needing her attention.
'I'm not saying 'poor me' because I'm the happiest person alive — I really enjoy my life,' says Nell, sipping tea. 'But the past four years have been a long, dark struggle.'
Nell - Oestrogen - Receptor - ER - Ductal
Nell, 46, was diagnosed with oestrogen receptor (ER) positive invasive ductal carcinoma in her left breast in 2015; it's one of the commonest forms of breast cancer, and is receptive to drugs which block the hormone oestrogen.
After a year's remission, she developed the same cancer in her right breast. Then in January this year, she felt a tiny disc, like a sequin, in her neck.
Optimist - Shock - Cancer - Bones - Liver
A natural optimist, the shock when she was told the cancer was now in her bones and liver, and she had 18 months to live, was devastating.
'I've had lots of really heavy diagnoses, which each time makes you stagger, and you think you're going to collapse because there is just no way to process it. You feel completely out of control and utterly devastated,' she says.
Turmoil - Lasts - Weeks - Information - Understanding
'For me, that mental turmoil lasts about two weeks. Then you get more information and develop more understanding, and within a few weeks, the world stops spinning and I get control back.'
When Nell first...
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