Cancer hasn’t stopped me from being myself and pursuing a new career

Karen Bucknall was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2018 followed by bowel cancer in 2019, but throughout her treatment she has continued to pursue professional goals, not letting cancer, treatment or its side effects deter her.

Having completed a degree in sociology at Coventry University, doing her dissertation while having chemotherapy, Karen has also been training with Solihull College and the Sunset+Vine sports production company, to become a sports journalist. She is currently training in journalism and production for the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games.

“I think you have two choices,” she said. “I can give up or I can plod on doing the regulation breaststroke and trying not to sink. I was determined to pass my degree and I promised myself that no matter what I went through on my cancer journey I wasn’t going to let myself go.”

As someone who has always enjoyed skincare, make-up and self-care, she found that the side effects of cancer treatment meant she could no longer use some of her beloved products. Having now used a number of items from the Jennifer Young collection, she told us how finding skincare that worked for her helped her address the side effects of cancer treatment, and give her back a sense of self.

How long ago were you diagnosed?

My cancer journey started seven years ago. I was diagnosed with fibroids and cysts and had a full hysterectomy at 44. The brain tumour was in 2018 and the bowel cancer was in 2019. When they operated they found it had spread into the lymph nodes and vagina. Since ringing the bell after chemotherapy they have found two cancer markers on my liver as well. I also now have an acoustic neuroma and they don’t know whether to perform surgery, give me medication or put me on clinical trials as I have inflammation of the brain.

Did you find your skin was affected by cancer treatment?

Yes, big time! I got sepsis rash half way through my chemo, and it still flairs up. In particular I get it under my boobs, around my tummy, around the stoma, on the backs of knees and occasionally around my neck. It’s painful and the doctors give you this paraffin cream, which is disgusting - it’s so greasy and you can’t go near a naked flame! You’re lying in bed and can smell it.

Did it help?

Yes, but because it’s horrible I didn’t want to use it. I have been using your Defiant Beauty Cool and Refresh spray a lot because it cools the rash down and I use a lot of baby powder.

Did you start having reactions to your routine skincare brands?

Yes. I used to wear a lot of expensive make-up and use luxury cleansers, toners and moisturisers, and I had to give them all to my sister because I got red raw allergic reactions, especially during and after chemo. I still liked doing my make-up, but with the chemo it flared up big time and my cancer nurse said stop using it. My sister was thrilled to get so many lovely products! I started using simple ranges, and that was fine but it’s boring!

Have the Jennifer Young products helped?

Yes! The cooling spray is a lifeline. With sepsis is that you’re always in the shower trying to cool it down and sooth the redness, so the cooling spray has been brilliant. I spray it on my face as well - I love it - it feels like I’m really pampering myself.

Another thing is that when you have radiotherapy it completely burns your hands and feet. Even now the soles of my feet are cracked and dry. Your Defiant Beauty Mild Mint Foot Balm has been amazing. I use it twice a day and it’s made my feet softer and less cracked. No matter how many times you have a pedicure the dry skin always comes back. After using this I paint my toenails because chemo and radiotherapy left them dry and brittle as well, and I can safely say that this summer will be the first time in years I will be able to wear my sandals with confidence!

It sounds like you enjoy your skincare normally?

Yes. What’s really tough for me is that I did 35 years in travel and tourism. I had some very glamorous jobs as a holiday rep, cabin crew member, tour guide - my CV at one stage read like Barbie’s dream jobs. That was all taken away from me by cancer. I was always determined that no matter what I went through I wasn’t going to let myself go. I always did my nails and skincare. and when I looked like death warmed up I put a bit of blusher on, and it lifted me.

Has being able to continue doing make-up and skincare given you a sense of self?

Absolutely. One thing that’s really helped me, and my friends and family have noticed, is that I swear by your Defiant Beauty Cleanse & Moisturise. My skin was very dry and blotchy after treatment, and looked like it had gone 10 rounds with Mike Tyson. I started using the balm and over the last couple of weeks my family and friends have kept saying “you look glowy, healthy and radiant!” When it’s under my make-up, even that looks better. The products smell nice too - they aren’t greasy and they’re nice and feminine.

Did it work quickly?

Within a day or two. At the moment it’s enough to use the Cleanse & Moisturise balm on its own without any additional serums or creams. For me it’s nice to look how I used to before I got so poorly. I am convinced it makes me look younger too! It’s done wonders for my confidence - even strangers comment. It feels like the skin I had 10 years ago before the nightmare began.

What’s next for you?

I’m training with Sunset + Vine and Solihull College to be a sports journalist and production person for the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. I am a Brummie so it’s nice it’s in my home city. That will take me through to August and then I want to get a job in sports journalism - that’s the dream.

You can follow Karen's journey on her Facebook page.

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