Sometimes our lightbulb moments don’t come from positive experiences. It can be the hardest things we go through in life that inspire our creativity, drive and determination and shape our futures.

I set up my business following my breast cancer diagnosis in 2011. Overwhelmed with flowers and gifts I couldn’t use due to my treatment, I had my own lightbulb moment. The creation of a gifting website that provided practical handpicked gifts. Gifts that are helpful, useful, and welcome on hospital wards. Friends and family had said they had they just hadn’t known what to get other than flowers – and that is where Not Another Bunch Of Flowers has grown from (no pun intended). Launched in 2013, the past 3 years has been a mix of hard work and determination. It has grown beyond what I first imagined and has become something I hadn’t at first envisaged. We now not only provide gifts for cancer patients, but also gifts for those in hospital due to a variety of reasons, as well as general get well gifts, gifts for mums-to-be and new mums and children.

But I am not the only one who had their own lightbulb moment. I have met a whole host of amazing woman through my diagnosis who have also used their experience to create, develop and run businesses; as well as charities and networks which touch on the effects, lives and needs of those effected by cancer.

One such lady is Emily McDowell. She was diagnosed with stage III lymphoma at the age of 24 which gave her a different perspective on things when times get really bad. The reactions, advice and comments she received during her treatment inspired her to create a series of Empathy Cards for serious illness. Emily says “the most difficult part of my illness wasn’t losing my hair, or being called ‘sir’ by Starbucks staff, or sickness from chemo. It was the loneliness and isolation I felt when many of my close friends and family members disappeared because they didn’t know what to say, or said the absolute wrong thing without even realising it. ‘Get well soon’ cards don’t make sense when someone might not. Sympathy cards can make people feel like you think they are already dead. A ‘f*** cancer’ card is a nice sentiment, but when I had cancer it never really made me feel better. And I never personally connected with jokes about being bald.” Her cards help people find the words to express what they are struggling to say and make it all a bit less awkward. Funny and warm, but sensitive.

get well soon cards

What struck me about Emily was the similarity we had in recognising what really would make a difference when you or a loved one was ill. We both wished to make the journey a little easier for those living with cancer and for those who had loved ones living with cancer.

Emilienne Rebel also created a business from her own experience. Now living in North Wales with her two young daughters, Emilienne was diagnosed with Grade 3 advanced Breast Cancer at the age of 31 and underwent chemotherapy. Like many she lost her hair; a huge deal for many woman and men. 

Emilienne recounts “During my treatment I lost my hair. I felt very cold, and having a young family I needed to cover up, but found scarves would slip, wigs too uncomfortable and woollen hats too itchy, especially at night. I couldn't find anything suitable, so that's when the idea for Bold Beanies was born.”. Initially only making 100 beanies which sold out in double quick time, Emilienne realised that there was a real demand and need for her product. Having found a suitable fabric, her focus was to create a “soft, snug, simple and yet stylish product for a younger woman going through cancer.”

Like Not Another Bunch of Flowers the business has developed. The Bold Beanie Roses (beanies rolled to look like pretty flowers) are an opportunity to give a thoughtful, traditional and beautiful gift, but also practical - something Emilienne is only too aware her family would have loved to have bought her to make her feel better during her treatment.

gifts for cancer patients

Looking forward there is still lots to come.  Apart from hoping to marry Daniel Craig (!) Emilienne wishes to expand the business internationally with a more extensive product range, with a special focus on children’s products.

And it is these experiences, unfortunate circumstances, shitty luck or however you choose to classify them that have changed so many young women and men’s directions in business and life. Positive stories coming from awful situations, we wish that they give some hope and support to other people going through their own cancer journeys.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to this article, for more information on their businesses and achievements, please visit: Emily McDowell & Emilienne Rebel.

For more inspirational stories, LIFE, CHARITY AND SUPPORT DURING AND AFTER CANCER 

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