Actress and comedian Zoe Hilson, the VIP guest at Race for Life in Worthing next month, is finds humour among the tumours while recovering from stage 4 lymphoma.
Zoe, 50, who has appeared in As Time Goes By with Dame Judi Dench and A Touch of Frost with David Jason, lives in Angmering and will be joined by husband Steve and daughters Tassia, 21, and Blaise, 15, at the event.
While in treatment, Zoe has managed to find humour amid the trauma and has written some jokes and sketches about her experience, which she hopes to use when she gets back to work.
She was stunned by her diagnosis in November but despite the initial terror, she has found her treatment has given her some rich material to work with.
She has now finished her treatment and while recovering from chemotherapy, has been writing comedy sketches.
Zoe said: “When I was diagnosed, I couldn’t help but write about the funny side of it. I also think it helps people not to be so afraid.
“Initially, I was devastated. It really does feel like a death sentence when you get that news. I was particularly shocked because I was so well and fit, I didn’t smoke and I hadn’t had any symptoms.
“The cancer had spread around my body, to my kidney, breast and lungs, and that was terrifying. But what I didn’t know then was that there have been such advances in the treatment of cancer in the last couple of decades, that immunotherapy was going to get me through it.
“My dad had bladder cancer 18 years ago and died from it but that is curable now.
“I’ve been amazingly lucky and am so grateful for the research that has basically saved my life. And that’s not a miracle – it’s years of research that has led to new, more effective treatments.”
Zoe found the chemotherapy hard-going. She lost all her hair, she lost weight, she lost all her energy and she suffered sepsis, which she describes as ‘very scary’.
She added: “When I looked in the mirror, I didn’t recognise myself. I lost my tennis arms and all my muscle mass and I began wearing wigs.
“But now I’m exercising again, although I’m being super-careful. I’ve still got my bald head, which my girls like and they often do my make-up for me.
“Also, while I was on those long stays in hospital, my daughters gave me an iPad and downloaded lots of programmes for me to watch, so I now have the viewing habits of a teenage girl.”
Zoe was a super-fit tennis player and had no signs of ill health, just a slight ache in her side.
She explained: “It was just after my 50th birthday, so I thought I must have eaten too much cake and drunk too much. But the ache didn’t go away, so I went to the doctor, had loads of tests and was eventually told I had blood cancer which had spread to my breast, beneath her arms and to her left kidney.”
Zoe began intensive chemotherapy in Worthing Hospital straight away, staying for two to three weeks at a time.
“That’s when I started to make notes and write ideas down. I think if you can laugh in the face of cancer, it diminishes it,” she said.
“I’m not quite sure what I’m going to do with it yet, but I definitely think it is humour to be shared.”
Cancer Research UK, raise millions of pounds every year through events like Race For Life, to help beat cancer by funding crucial research.
Jess Edwards, event manager for Worthing, said: “We’re so grateful to Zoe for sharing her story and for her support.
“By following Zoe’s lead, and joining the Race for Life, people can make a real difference in the fight against cancer.
“Our Race for Life events are fun, colourful, emotional and uplifting. You don’t need to be sporty to take part. You don’t have to train, and you certainly don’t need to compete against anyone else.”