‘My friend Deborah James wanted me to move on – a year after her death I’m Lozza again’

It is a year since Dame Deborah James lost her battle with cancer and for her friend and fellow You, Me And The Big C podcast host Lauren Mahon it’s been 12 months of change.

“Something happened after Deb died,” explains Lauren. “Both she and Rachael [Bland, their podcast co-host] were keen for me to move on. Because I’d had the all-clear from cancer they would both say, ‘If we were in your position we’d f**k off and run away.’

“Now I no longer see myself as a cancer recoverer. I just see myself as Lozza. I have a lot more balance in life. I think they would have been pleased with that.

“Plus, I have lots more I want to do and achieve, and the girls wanted that for me too.”

Today, that ambition is manifesting itself in the game-changing swimwear collection she is launching, designed for women who have undergone cancer surgery.

It’s her second collaboration with fashion retailer Pretty Little Thing and features gorgeous bold shades and patterns in styles specifically created to disguise scar tissue, conceal stoma and ileostomy bags and be secure for breast inserts while still looking stylish.

And what might Deb have thought of the project? “She’d be fuming – they both would – at the thought they can’t wear it!” laughs Lauren, who was diagnosed with breast cancer seven years ago at the age of 31. She has been cancer-free for five years.

“Deb would definitely have turned up at the shoot too – no way would she have missed it – and she would have loved it.” Dame Deborah, better known as Bowelbabe, inspired millions with her fight against bowel cancer.

Together with Lauren and journalist Rachael, who had been diagnosed with breast cancer, they began presenting You, Me And The Big C in 2018. It garnered huge attention, won countless awards and was lauded for its frankness and humour about living with cancer.

Rachael died in 2018, Deborah four years later. The Bowelbabe Fund For Cancer Research was set up to continue Deb’s legacy.

Lauren, who has now stepped away from the podcast, is herself the not inconsiderable force behind Girl vs Cancer – catchline “the coolest club you never want to be part of”. Its website, full of honest and relatable information dedicated to empowering those dealing with cancer, is as bright and funny as its originator. She established it after her own diagnosis, determined to “shake up” the conversation around cancer.

“When I was diagnosed, there was still a lack of openness about the disease. People felt isolated and ashamed and a lot of the time information was aimed at much older people,” she explains.

“But nobody’s ‘the cancer patient’, we’re all individuals and cancer’s not about being bald or clinical language or dying. We’re humans first.

“Changing the conversation is what we did with the podcast and what we want to do with the swimwear collaboration. We need to put cancer front and centre in unexpected places – like on the beach!”

Does she miss the podcast? She pauses her 10-to-the-dozen speech pattern for a moment. “I miss the family we had on the podcast. I miss the laughs and the fun. But I don’t miss the impact it had on me emotionally and mentally.

“Sometimes I would be dreading the recording. I didn’t want to relive the trauma of what had happened to me or interview others who I knew we were going to lose.”

And she is adamant there is still a way to go when it comes to discussions around cancer and how those diagnosed are treated.

“I feel those with stage four are still treated as second-class citizens and they deserve more. All people want is more life, more memories.”

She has hinted there may be podcast specials in the future, but for now her life feels busy enough.

A month after Deb died, Lauren got a dog, Raymond, a miniature schnauzer, who she clearly adores.

“The girls always said they were on the lookout for a bloke for me, they just never specified what species!”

Aside from Girl vs Cancer, Lauren has her own website in the pipeline, as well as a new podcast, But You Can Call Me, where she will interview celebrities. And, of course, there’s the PLT swimwear collection.

“I’m really thrilled with it. We used real women to inform us what they wanted and what would work and real women to model the collection. And they looked amazing on the day. It was their time to shine.”

It seems it is Lauren’s too. “I’ve been sitting in this world of cancer for some time but I don’t want it to be my whole identity,” she reflects. “This is the next chapter. And yes, I think Deb and Rachael would be proud of me.”

All proceeds from the collection will go to the Girl vs Cancer charity.

See the new swimwear range at prettylittlething.com

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