'Cancer Won’t Be The Last Thing That F*cks Me'

The boundary-breaking GIRLvsCANCER and BBH campaign confronts the stigma surrounding sex and cancer. We catch up with the charity's founder Lauren Mahon and BBH ECD Helen Rhodes to discuss it further

By conor nichols

Cancer collective GIRLvsCANCER has partnered with creative agency BBH to launch a campaign that addresses a major (but rarely discussed) survivorship issue of people living with and beyond cancer ... sex.

Half of the population will develop some form of cancer over their lifetime. Of women that get cancer, less than a third are given any information about how a diagnosis or the side effects of treatments, both physical and mental, will affect their sex life.

It is no wonder that 60 per cent of women with cancer say they experience sexual dysfunction.

GIRLvsCANCER is determined to bring fundamental awareness to this issue, starting a conversation that confronts the stigma and puts the cancer community’s sexual health and pleasure – during and after diagnosis and treatment – in the spotlight.

As a response, and in partnership with creative agency BBH, GIRLvsCANCER has launched a provocative campaign, aimed at normalising sex and cancer as something that can be openly and candidly discussed.

At the centre of the campaign, created by BBH and photographer Katie Burdon, is a visual OOH execution that stops people in their tracks, with sensuously shot close up nudes of women with experience of cancer and the powerful line: ‘Cancer won’t be the last thing that f*cks me.'

The campaign is further supported by three films, also from BBH and directed by Sophia Ray, featuring women talking about their cancer journey and rediscovering their sexuality through the themes of mind, body and soul. The films are defiant and sexy, without being explicit. They subvert the conventional narratives around cancer to an unexpected (happy) ending with one including a lip biting, sensual orgasm.

Authenticity is at the heart of this campaign. All the women featured in both the OOH and films have, or have had, cancer. The film scripts were all written in close collaboration with the women, telling their stories in a way that felt real, raw and faithful to their experience.

A social campaign will run alongside the work, and illustrators Antony Burril, Marylou Faure, Kris Andrew Small, Kelly Anna, Telegramme, Rude, Adam Hayes and Biff will be releasing their own interpretations of the campaign concept, which will be featured on GIRLvsCANCER’S social media platforms.

The campaign will drive people to a dedicated section on the GIRLvsCANCER website [] housing advice and information and a survey to gather more insights on the issue, which will feed into a secondary wave of research and better, more bespoke support.

Described as the ‘fierce as fuck cancer collective’, GIRLvsCANCER is an inclusive community-led charity for all cancer experiences, collaborating to crush the stigma and create change. It prides itself in doing what needs to be done to empower anyone dealing with a diagnosis and impact improvements of the cancer experience for all.

We caught up with GIRLvsCANCER founder Lauren Mahon and BBH executive creative director Helen Rhodes to take a deep dive into the campaign.

Creative Salon: Could you firstly tell us a little bit more about GIRLvsCANCER and how you both came to collaborate? 

Lauren Mahon: GIRLvsCANCER started off as a hashtag when I was poorly - I don't know how it wasn’t already taken - and I just wanted to be able to share my experience with cancer and my nuances in my own way. I feel like there is this stigma and idea of what cancer is that's forced upon us and actually, it's just you - a you that’s just a bit sick for a while. Eventually, my thoughts developed into a blog, and then it became a community where I was going out creating merchandise, raising funds, raising awareness of other charities, until I got to the point where I realised I needed to make something myself because of the service I was providing.

I've gone from being a 31 years old social media manager who just moved out of my parents house to a 38 year old charity founder, working with BBH. It's absolutely amazing. The idea to make a campaign started when I got a rogue DM one day from Holly (Ripper, BBH managing director) saying: “I've got this campaign idea, I think you'll love it. It's very sweary.”

Helen Rhodes: For us, this has been a campaign two years in the making. This issue of sex and cancer came to our attention and we just wanted to get involved because it’s a hidden side of cancer - something that hasn't been talked about - a real taboo sort of female pleasure. We feel uncomfortable talking about female sexuality, masturbation and orgasms but when you throw cancer into the mix it makes it even more of a taboo. We wanted to do something that raised awareness of this issue but we needed to find a partner and it was only when we found Lauren and GIRLvsCANCER that it really took flight. Lauren loved the work, was very supportive and didn't want to water it down. She wanted it to be as bold and attention grabbing as possible.

CS: What was the main idea or inspiration behind the actual idea and the line ‘Cancer won’t be the last thing that f*cks me’?

Helen Rhodes: The line that sparked all of the work was something that our creative director Adam Newby came up with when we were talking about the project when it first came into the agency. Holly Ripper, our MD, first mentioned the idea when she referenced a chat she had with her neighbour who was involved in these workshops that were for women who were going through cancer or had gone through cancer to reconnect with their bodies sexually. They were social occasions where they chatted openly. We all thought this was such an amazing initiative because it’s not something that's talked about. When it came into the agency we just knew it had to be something provocative that would get people's attention in order to bring it into the light and make it something to be talked about - to try and smash the stigma and the taboo.

CS: While there seems to be a rising conversation around taboo topics the topic being addressed in your campaign feels like something that hasn't been widely discussed yet. Did this contribute to the creation of the campaign and is this something that you want to kind of see more of?

Lauren Mahon: Definitely. This topic is something that is whispered about but actually it isn’t whispered about within the cancer community. Parents for example will have conversations with other parents about their kids or their boobs leaking, or whatever it is that they can all relate to - because they're all parents and going through something? It's the same in the cancer community - you talk about side effects and one of the biggest side effects is the loss of libido - loss of self esteem. For most women who go through a cancer diagnosis, if it's a hormonal treatment, or if it's a gynaecological cancer, there will be vaginal dryness. There will be physical barriers to sex. People are so scared to bring it up because sex is still taboo in society. People think “oh, we don’t talk about that”. It blows my mind that you can sit, watch Game of Thrones and watch an orgy, but then when we release a campaign like this it’s in danger of getting banned.

There’s a real taboo, especially around female autonomy, sexuality and pleasure. But these conversations are being had amongst us, and we're giving each other advice. GIRLvsCANCER’s aim has always been to be a best mate that takes you down the pun, pop’s an arm over your shoulder and says: “It’s going to be alright. This is what you need to know.” We want to give information to people that is digestible, easy to understand and relatable. I feel like that is what this campaign is providing. Rather than these topics being big, clinical and scary conversations, we're putting the cancer patients and survivors experience’s front and centre. We're learning from what their needs are, rather than assuming. I think that's why it's worked really well.

Helen Rhodes: At BBH, when we first started researching we found a lot of stuff that made us quite angry. In some cases when women who were going through cancer or had gone through cancer went to see their doctor or health professional and they brought up the subject of sex and intimacy, they were almost made to feel as if they should just be grateful to be alive - and not think about living a full life. We all thought that this needed to change and we wanted to do it in a way that these women would feel empowered to take back control of their bodies.

CS: The campaign is quite provocative (and rightly so). What's the hope behind the provocativeness of the campaign?

Lauren Mahon: Getting eyes on it. You have to make noise and you have to do things differently to make a change. Unfortunately, with cancer and sex as one combined topic I feel there's no other option but to be bold. With the way we are talking about this we want to prioritise pleasure. It's not just about letting your husband have a grope in the kitchen. We want people to really feel empowered to take back their pleasure - and this is a bold statement - one you're not definitely not used to hearing about in relation to cancer.

Helen Rhodes: We just wanted to do it in a really bold, truthful, raw and real way because the women in the campaign are real women with real stories and real bodies. We had to do it in a way in which they're taking back control because when you're going through cancer, your body doesn't feel like your own. We just wanted it to be very empowering. The women involved in the research for the campaign who were going through cancer loved the line and found it to be really strong. They wanted to get it out in the world and get their picture taken for the billboards to make sure the message really resonated.

CS: What are the main things you hope to achieve with this campaign? What are the next steps?

Lauren Mahon: First of all, we want to get our online survey [] filled in online because we want to learn more. There's loads of bits and bobs on sex and cancer research, but most of it is breast cancer specific. I've spoken with the guys at Macmillan, and they've got a little bit but they haven't got a lot. We also don't know a lot culturally in terms of ethnicity and marginalised groups and how that impacts. I'm hoping we can get a big enough pool of people - people with cancer, people who have had cancer, the partners of them, and medical professionals - for separate surveys also. I would really like to get some really strong data that we can then take forward into the future. 

We also need to make medical professionals really aware that these conversations aren’t happening because we want them to be a bit more engaged in these topics when they get cancer patients in their room.

Helen Rhodes: We want to raise awareness and we want as many people as possible to be talking about this campaign, sharing it and just getting it out there. 

It’s also twofold. We want women who are going through cancer or have gone through cancer to feel like they can talk to their friends or talk to their partner, but also that they can talk to the doctors and their health professionals. For the health professionals we want them to normalise it for themselves and also be able to talk to their patients.


Campaign title: Cancer Won’t Be The Last Thing That F*cks Me

Charity Partner: GIRLvsCANCER

Charity founder and consultant: Lauren Mahon.

Advertising agency: BBH

CCO: Alex Grieve

Executive creative director: Helen Rhodes

Creative director: Adam Newby

Copywriter: Grace Chambers

Art director: Lucy Johnstone

Designer: Isabella Cheung

Senior Strategist: Jessica Garlick

Group strategy partner: Elise Craft

Senior Account director: Sophie Waller

Account manager: Megan Houghton-Brown

Chief Production Officer: Stephen Ledger-Lomas

Head of Film: Georgina Kent

Agency Producer: Georgina Kent

Agency AP: Sarah Cooper

Production Resource Director: Sarah Cooper

Agency Acting Head of Art Production: Pippa White

Agency Art Producer: Pippa White/Anna-Marie Mennecier

Retouching: Wellcom

Media agency: Build Holywood

Production company: Academy Films

Director: Sophia Ray

DOP: David Bird & Nanu Segal

Executive Producer: Medb Riordan

Producer: Georgina Smith

Production Assistant - Mali Davies

Edit House - The Assembly Rooms

Editor: Lainey Black

Production Designer - Sophie Becher

Costume Designer - Katie McGoldrick

Casting - Kharmel Cochrane

Intimacy Coordinator: Kate Lush

Post-production company: Coffee and TV

Exec Producer: Chris Chard

Colour Producer: Pete Burch

Colourist: Simona Cristea

Flame Artist: Nick John

Graphics: Luis de la Rosa von der Meden

Sound studio: String and Tins

Sound engineer: Adam Smyth

Audio Producers: Rachel Hough & Amie Nedwell

Music composer:

Music supervisor:

Music company: Audio Network

Photographer: Katie Burdon @ Academy Films

Head of Photography: Charlotte Long

Photography Producer: Cara Mills

Photography Production Assistant: Dara Phillips

Photographer Assistant: Celia Croft

Digi Op: Laura Heckford

Set designer: Paula Salinas Arnau

Runner: Rachel Akinola


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