Talking about cancer

21 February 2017

I have lost six relatives to cancer. Both sides of my family have suffered very cruelly and I now volunteer and blog to raise awareness and make a small difference in the fight against this terrible disease.

My name is Penny-Sophia Christofi and I am a 27-year-old London-born Cypriot. Like most Cypriot families, mine is large and filled with love. I divide my time between the UK and Cyprus doing what I can to raise awareness.

Six relatives lost to cancer

The first was my Dada (uncle) Sotiris, my dad's brother, who died when he was 31 years old of colon cancer. He was my dad's best friend and brother. I was two years old at the time and my only memories are the ones I have on camera.

Aunt Helen with Penny and NikkiI also lost Nouna (Godmother) Georgia. She was 29 years old. She hadn't been feeling well since giving birth to my cousin George, just over a year before. She was eventually diagnosed with Ovarian cancer, but it was too late. Soon after her diagnosis she collapsed and died. She left behind my two cousins, Despina and George.

Next was my auntie Eleni, my dad's only sister. Some of my most cherished childhood memories are of my aunt. Sadly she was also diagnosed with colon cancer and died when she was 30 years old. My dad had lost two siblings within a decade.

My dad's parents both died of cancer. My Yiayia (grandmother) Alexandra died 10 years ago of thyroid cancer. My Yiayia was devoted to her family.

I had never seen my Buppou (grandfather) Peter sick before my Yiayia died. But once she left his health began to decline. He didn't have strength to live without her. He died in January 2010 and is buried with her, reunited once again.

My cousin, George

All of these losses have had a profound effect on me and how I live my life - but the most significant loss is my cousin George.

Diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma on his second birthday

George was 14 months old when his mum died. Then on his second birthday he was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a childhood cancer that develops in bone, muscle or cartilage.

At the time my family was assured that it was not linked to his mum - but just a terrible coincidence.

George had treatment and went into remission. But the cancer returned and he was given less than 5 per cent chance of surviving.

He defied the odds

Somehow, this amazing little boy managed to defy all the odds and for a while the disease went away. There were many scares throughout the years but George grew to be a healthy, strong, fit and lovable young boy.

A case of skin cancer was found and treated when he was 15 years old.

Then a diagnosis of osteosarcoma

Then came the bombshell that changed our world forever. George was diagnosed with osteosarcoma of the jaw when he was 15 years old.

George went through jaw replacements, chemotherapy, surgeries, photo-dynamic therapy, anything and everything that could possibly cure him.It was only then, once George had been diagnosed with his third cancer, that a genetic test revealed that he had Li Fraumeni Syndrome, a gene mutation probably inherited from his mum.

My uncle is a very clever man, a scientist. He had the means to research and gain information. He searched the globe for a way to help George. Our family spent the next two years in hospitals whilst George went through jaw replacements, chemotherapy, surgeries, photo-dynamic therapy, anything and everything that could possibly cure him.

George died on 25th April 2011 on my 22nd birthday and just three months before his 18th birthday. George was more than a cousin to me, he was my brother. He was the heartbeat of my family. A happy, vibrant, loving boy who provided us all with so much joy.

I never will recover from his loss. There is a huge hole where he should be and my grief strikes me at odd times – I remember crying hard when Chelsea won the Champions League because I wished he was there to celebrate with me.

My grief spurred me to help others

Six months before George died I became a Cancer Campaigns Ambassador for Cancer Research UK. George was deteriorating quickly at the time and I wanted to channel my helplessness into something useful. I wanted to start making sure other families didn't suffer like mine did.

PennyVolunteering helped me during the grieving process and continues to help me to this day. Six years later and I have achieved many things with the charity, and continue to be a dedicated supporter.

Over the years I have written blog posts, taken part in campaigns that have led to law changes, recorded speeches and adverts, participated in events and lobbied the UK government.

Now I divide my time between Cyprus and the UK – raising awareness in both countries to make a small difference in the fight against this terrible disease.

I completed and passed a diploma in Talking about Cancer and will be using my knowledge and advice from experts to create easy-to-read blog posts about cancer-related subjects.

I hope you enjoy them and learn something from them. My mum always tells me 'knowledge is power'. This is certainly true about cancer - the more we know about it, the easier it will become to treat, cure and prevent.

Visit Penny’s blog

Read more: Rhabdomyosarcoma | Osteosarcoma | Raising awareness


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