Emily Somers not only beat cancer (three times), but she also gave it a makeover. Learn how she created space and style for young cancer warriors by truly listening to her body, heart and her own voice.
From the outside, it seemed like not much changed for Emily Somers when she was diagnosed with cancer at 27. “During my first diagnosis I was so stubborn about preserving my ‘normal’ life and continuing to work,” she says, “I still thought I was invincible and that this health hiccup would be magically fixed with chemo”. It is what you’d expect from an outgoing, driven young art director. But when the unexpected occurred and Emily relapsed soon after she beat her first diagnosis, she knew she had to try a different approach.
News of the relapse couldn’t have come at a more trying time. Emily’s life began to feel normal, and her hair had just started to grow back, but when her doctor told her that she would need to undergo even more treatment her world collapsed. “The first days after the relapse were hell. So much worse than the first time… I certainly allowed time for sadness. All those heavy and uncomfortable emotions are a huge part of the cancer ride,” describes Emily.
After allowing herself time to grieve, tears made way for the strength, positivity and pragmatism that helped Emily survive cancer once, only this time she brought acceptance too. “Some days are just tough. I think accepting this and knowing that some days are a complete write-off is important… Once I figured out my chemo rhythm I knew which days to expect very little of myself and not make any plans… I’d remind myself this is temporary”.
She also knew how lucky she was to have friends and family that knew how to cheer her up – by making chemo sessions social and having craft supplies at the ready to keep her occupied creatively.
Rather than put up a hard wall against cancer, Emily took steps to lean into it to properly heal the second time: “I made a list of all the good things that could come out of treatment. I wanted to do more art, come up with a business idea, hang out with friends and treat my body with more love and respect. I got into yoga, meditation and learnt about foods that helped heal my body.”
Emily also stopped working completely. A pause in her career produced the space she needed to bring her drive and creativity together to fill a void that only she could see as a twenty-something cancer warrior without any hair.
Like many undergoing chemo, Emily shaved her head, and this came with mixed emotions. She was confronted by her new extreme look, but was relieved that she did not have to slowly watch her hair fall out. Dealing with hair loss on top of a life-threatening disease is bad enough. Having to hide it with an uncomfortable wig to feel normal is worse.
“I wore a wig all the way through my first treatment,” Emily says, “they allow you to go unnoticed and feel like a normal person. Like a disguise against cancer”. But by her second stint, her attitude towards cancer and her wigs changed. A wig hides cancer, it’s rigid and at the time, it was one of the few accessories offered to cover up that wasn’t “100% daggy”.
Emily knew wigs weren’t for her anymore, so, she did what most young people would do: looked for answers on the internet. What she found were glamorous Old-Hollywood icons and beautiful African American women rocking headscarves. After watching a few tutorials, Emily was one of them: “When I’d wear my turban I felt like I was owning cancer a bit. I had got to a place of acceptance and didn’t want to hide anymore. It made me feel like I hadn’t lost my hair to cancer but actually gained a new style”.
Her new style took her abroad in search of international art to display on headscarves that she now sells through Bravery Co. The company is the antithesis to her first experience with cancer. She is allowing women to feel beautiful, powerful and confident during treatment.
She is also adding a much-needed air of youth and flair to cancer communication. “The imagery and tone [used] always seemed to make the patient appear weak and defenceless – like they were defined by cancer. It was a very deliberate decision to speak in a bold, confident and often brash tone,” says Emily. Bravery Co. is peppered with expressions like ‘C-Train’, ‘chemo-y’ and ‘kicked cancer’s ass’ that young people can relate to and feel empowered by.
Even before Bravery Co. Emily’s goal was to make cancer less taboo. She admits that she knew nothing about cancer before her diagnosis, and neither did her friends. She made it a point to have normal, non-awkward conversations to normalise it. She continues to have this conversation on the Bravery Blog, a space where Emily shares her own and others’ cancer stories from a young person’s perspective.
“I try to talk about the sadness, anxiety, fear, isolation and anger through Bravery as it’s part of what bonds us together as cancer warriors,” says Emily. It is here that she shares a blog post titled, ‘Oh hi cancer #3′ and lets the world know that she is in the midst of it all again. Her post touches on scary subjects that only a cancer warrior can understand – like thinking about funeral songs and googling cancer (but only once). It also pictures Emily wearing a pink and yellow turban standing in a superman pose, her go-to power pose alongside six helpful tips that she hopes will help others going through what she describes as a “sh*t storm”.
It’s easy to imagine Emily uttering her Powerpants affirmation “Today I’m going to kickass” in this pose. Because it seems that no matter what life throws at Emily, she catches it and makes it work for her and others like her – time and time again.
Update: the happiest ending to 2020
As Emily recovered from her third battle with the big C (a sarcoma in her neck), her body showed her just how powerful it was.
Defying all odds and expectations, Emily fell pregnant. In December, she welcomed miracle baby Sid into the world.