When Abi Smith's life was turned upside down by cancer, she was surprised to find how cards from family and friends kept her positive during some of her darkest moments. Abi tells The Female Lead how these small acts of kindness inspired her to start her own business...
When faced with danger, our body's natural reaction is to go into "fight or flight" mode. For me, running was not an option. All I could do was fight because the alternative was unimaginable.
In 2019, at the age of 24, I was diagnosed with an incurable brain tumour.
I went from being in full-time work as a PR executive, to spending most of my days in bed, recovering from intense radio and chemotherapy sessions.
For many people, this could understandably make you lose all hope. But, I realised early on that when it comes to a battle, there is always a winner and a loser, and there was no way I was prepared to lose this fight.
Having read so many articles where people had been given a terminal diagnosis and later been confirmed as cancer-free, I thought: "If it can happen to them, then it can happen to me." This is why I have vowed to stay positive and fight this vile disease any way I can.
"There were moments when my resilience wavered, but something that never failed to lift my spirits was a card from family and friends."
This positive mindset has stuck with me throughout my cancer journey. I must admit, in the first few months after my diagnosis there were moments when my resilience wavered as the fatigue from treatment took hold. But, something that never failed to lift my spirits and get me back on track was a card from family and friends. Their loving words of encouragement spurred me on and were a reminder I could do this. I will do this.
This is when I had my light bulb moment.
I thought how amazing it would be to create uplifting cards specifically aimed at brightening up a cancer patient's day and help spread some positivity.
In February 2022 I set up The Cancer Card.
From "Bald is Beautiful", to "Kicking Cancer's Ass", I started designing a whole range of cards to help fellow warriors continue their fight.
Not only this, but I also wanted to support vitally underfunded brain tumour research. Brain tumours kill more children and adults under 40 than any other cancer. Yet, just 1% of the national cancer spend goes towards finding a cure for this devastating disease. This is why I decided to donate one third of all card sales to Brain Tumour Research.
Two years later and my cards - as well as fundraising events led by family and friends - have raised over £16,000 for vital research. I have also started selling a range of standard cards for birthdays, anniversaries, etc, that have helped boost the fundraising pot even more!
Admittedly, this has not been a totally selfless act. It gave me a focus at one of the most chaotic times of my life. With the drive to help even one person get through a bad cancer day at the forefront on my mind, it made me determined to get out of bed every morning and put the little energy I had into doing something good.
Designing cards for such a great cause brought me so much happiness and hope, and it still does to this day.
In particular, I love hearing from customers who have sent one of my cards to a loved one battling cancer. One story that will always stay with me, is a woman who bought a "Kicking Cancer's Ass" card for her best friend with breast cancer. The lady had been struggling with the side effects of chemotherapy and was feeling, understandably, down. But, after she opened her card, she instantly laughed and felt that bit better. She kept the card by her bed so it was the first thing she saw when she woke up and a reminder that she was doing amazingly. It is because of feedback like this that I continue to make my cards.
"Brain tumours kill more children and adults under 40 than any other cancer. This is why I donate one third of all card sales to Brain Tumour Research."
As a total novice to setting up and running a business, these past two years have been a massive learning curve. From bookkeeping to customer relations and marketing, there are a lot of plates to juggle. But I love it. No day is the same and there is always a way to improve and build upon this venture.
Becoming a part of the UK's vibrant independent small business scene has shown me how good us Brits are at supporting the little guy. From the people who have been behind The Cancer Card since the very beginning, to those who have just discovered it, I am grateful to every single one of you, because it is that support that fuels growth.
I know Rome wasn't built in a day and it will take time to get to where I want to be, but I am excited for the journey ahead.
Today, my cancer is stable and my love for life is the most it has ever been. I only wish it didn't take such a traumatic experience for me to set up this business and do something I truly enjoy.
I appreciate that it is not as easy for everyone to remain so positive throughout their cancer journey, but if you can get into that mindset it will only make your days easier. Find yourself something that makes you happy. For me it was The Cancer Card, but it could be anything.
Cancer is not the end of my story, it is just another chapter in a long, unpredictable tale.
You can check out The Cancer Card on Instagram: @cancer_card
*All photographs provided by Abi Smith.