Who or what has been your greatest inspiration?
Caroline Monk: I’m inspired everyday by the true beauty and kindness of some people. There’s a lot of good in this world and it’s sad that we only seem to hear about the bad.
Tell us a little more about Caroline's Campaign.
CM: I had the idea for the campaign when I was going through chemotherapy. I lost my hair, eyebrows and eyelashes. I put on nearly two stone from the steroids I was on and thought when I saw myself in the mirror I looked like a fat alien. It also made realise I was, in fact, ill and looked like I was going to die. I thought, ‘Sod this. That’s not Cheeky,’ so I decided to change things. I bought some fab wigs, false eyelashes and clothes that flattered my new fuller figure. I got up every morning and made myself up. No more feeling sorry for myself and sitting round the house. Then when I looked in the mirror I saw a healthy-looking glamour puss.
I didn’t look ill so I didn’t feel as ill. I couldn’t wait to get out there and strut my stuff. I had more wolf whistles than ever before and got my confidence back. I want other women to feel like this so I’m setting up master classes around the UK and the world. My ASW connections over the years have helped me to do this. Since I’ve put up a thread I’ve had so many great people offering their services. ASW member JM Littman at Webheads Interactive is kindly setting up my website for free, which will be the biggest platform for my cause. Truly amazing.
How and when did you join ASW?
CM: I actually went on a blind date and this person invited me onto ASW. The date didn’t go too well but it was well worth it. I joined on the 20th of July, 2004. Blimey, that’s three years ago exactly!
Best ASW experience?
CM: It has to be meeting or talking to ASWers and feeling the love from all over the world. Just knowing someone is a part of ASW makes you feel comfortable and act like you have known them for years. It’s odd but great. The amount of support I received when I told ASW I had just been diagnosed with cancer was immense and I will never forget it.
You mentioned that ASW changed your life. How?
CM: It was there for me at a very tough time in my life. It’s there when I’m sometimes lonely, happy or sad. It’s just there like a very good friend.
How have your experiences over the past few years shaped your current outlook on life?
CM: Every experience you have shapes your life. You just have to make sure you learn from them and move on in a positive way.
How influential have your family and friends been in your recovery process?
CM: My mum had breast cancer a few months after me. We helped each other and are now closer than we’ve ever been. The support I had from friends and my family was incredible. My home looked like a florist with the amount of flowers and cards I had. No one treated me as a victim as they all knew me too well for that and I really appreciated it.
What, if any, was your previous experience with cancer patients?
CM: My granddad died of lung cancer, my aunty of bowel cancer and then my uncle of liver cancer. I was well aware of how evil it was and how terrible it was to take away most of my family.
What were your immediate thoughts on being told the doctor's diagnosis?
CM: I was shocked of course but I did think, ‘Wow, I might get a big pair of false boobs, lose weight and re-grow my over dyed black hair after chemo’. Alas, I didn’t lose weight, no false breasts and the new hair I have is now bleached to death, but I feel great. Cancer isn’t the big C anymore. It’s not as frightening as it once was. I want people to know that the treatments out there are better than ever and so is the survival rate. Being positive is something cancer hates.
What opportunities have presented themselves to you as a result of your battle?
CM: My life has been amazing since being diagnosed. I was offered a diary in Closer Magazine detailing my cancer journey. This helped me so much when I was going through my treatment. It stopped me thinking, "Why me?" and made me think, "Why not me?" Hundreds of inspirational women got in touch and listening to them and helping them was very therapeutic. There are always people worse off than you and the column gave me the courage and determination carry on.
I also learnt what women cared most about during cancer. That’s why I’ve started up Caroline’s Campaign, as I know from first hand experience that feeling ugly, fat and bald makes you depressed and can hinder your recovery. It doesn’t have to be like that and I am going to help as many women feel beautiful and glamorous just when they think they will never feel like that again.
After battling with cancer, what new or different lifestyle choices have you made?
CM: I was always very positive and loved life. But now I appreciate every day, every single day. I wake up in the mornings feeling so grateful to be alive. I still drink and party too much but I can’t help myself. My lust for life just takes over. I’m not as rock ‘n’ roll as I used to be but I haven’t turned into a nun either. I do try and eat more veg and fruit and I don’t have a curry or kebab every night like I used to. I go to the gym and I look after myself as I ain’t gonna get cancer again if I can help it.
Do you think that people look at you differently knowing that you've survived cancer?
CM: I don’t think they can believe it as people expect you to look half dead (ha). It’s not the first thing I tell people though. I used to be scared if I told dates they’d run a mile. But I’ve had more dates and interest since before cancer. Bring it on I say.
What are your words to live by?
CM: I used to live by Del Boy Trotter’s words “He who dares wins", and I still do. But now I just remember how lucky we all are to be healthy. Money can’t buy that. Enjoy life now and don’t waste time worrying about stupid things.
Your most sentimental possession and why?
CM: My photographs, a huge trunk full of wonderful memories.
Your favorite childhood memory?
CM: I used to live by the seaside. I think playing at being a pirate and sailing on my dad’s boat round the island was brilliant. My childhood was fantastic. I’m still having it.
CM: Ha! Yeah right, like I’m gonna tell you.
Most humbling moment?
CM: I did a speech in front of 450 kids at The Teenage Cancer Trust Conference. I’ve never seen such strong, amazing young people in my life. It was awe-inspiring.
CM: ‘He who dares wins,’ remember?
Most untrue stereotype of Londoners?
CM: That they’re stuck up. Completely rubbish.
Entertainment value of reality TV? Would you ever submit to being a participant?
CM: I like a bit of reality and love a good drama. I wouldn’t do Big Brother although I nearly did but pulled out at the last minute — thank God. I’d love to do I’m a Celebrity Get Me Outta Here. I went to the Discovery Channel party the other day and ate a whale’s willy, so a witchetty grub would be a walk in the park.
DIY or SOS?
CM: DIY. It’s the only way. If ya want something doing then do it yourself.
Are you an early bird or a vampire?
CM: Vampire I’m afraid. I tend to go to bed late and get up late. I’m at my best after 2pm.
Gym bunny or couch potato?
CM: I like to go to the gym and then not feel guilty about sitting on my couch for hours with a huge tub of ice-cream…
"It's written in stone" or "It's written in the stars?"
CM: I’m a Libra and a big dreamer. “I have a dream, a song to sing, to help me cope with anything. If you see the wonder of a fairytale, you can take the future even if you fail, I believe in angels. Something good in everything I see.” Great lyrics, eh?
"Save it for a rainy day" or "Throw it to the wind?"
CM: Throw it to the wind. Live life as if it’s your last day as you never know what’s round the corner.
CM: London of course! No where else like it.
CM: I adore Barbados but I also love Canada, America, most of Europe. I just love experiencing different cultures… and beers, ha!
CM: The Ivy, London. Had some fantastic nights in there. I’ve always felt extremely welcome.
Top 5 hotels?
CM: I love The Met, Ritz, Park Lane Hilton, Grosvenor House, Sanderson and St. Martins Lane, plus loads of others I can’t remember round the world.
Museum or gallery?
CM: Hey I’m an Essex girl so neither, ha!
CM: It’s A Wonderful life is my absolute favourite. It’s just makes you realise how we can touch people's lives without even knowing it. I watch it every Christmas and cry like a baby.
“Every time a bell rings an angel gets its wings.”
CM: Norman Wisdom’s My Turn. It’s an amazing story of someone who had a terrible start in life but with sheer determination turned that into making millions and millions of people laugh. The man is a legend and I had the honour of meeting him.
Cause? Which one and why?
CM: Caroline’s Campaign, of course!
CM: Has to be Picasso as he was barking.
CM: Ha, whichever one hasn’t banned me yet! But I mostly live in The Electric members' bar on The Portobello Road.
CM: I couldn’t live without my iPod. It’s stuck to my ears 24/7.
CM: TKMaxx. Ha, I know that’s a bit chav but I’ve bought the best designer handbags and sunglasses there. I also like the excitement of getting a huge bargain.
CM: Champagne. But I’ll drink anything that’s in front of me.
Current Top 3 songs?
CM: I just can’t answer that. I have about 300 a day.
—- Melissa Ashworth