A Wimbledon woman has turned her life around after a terrifying cancer diagnosis, going from being a party girl who stayed out all night to becoming a ‘happiness ninja’ wellbeing coach and spiritual leader.
Saskia Lightstar, 47, was diagnosed with cancer in 2013 when she was 39.
She was living in South Africa when a routine mammogram found a lump. She was told it was benign, and went to get it removed.
She said: “When I went to get it removed, the surgeon said ‘I have no problem with the benign tumour, I’m just worried about the cancerous one next to it’.
“That was the first I knew of it. It was also in my lymph nodes. It felt like I got hit by a train.”
Saskia had 15 rounds of chemotherapy, three months of radiotherapy and a mastectomy, removing all of the lymph nodes under her arm.
“When I was told I had cancer, I switched into survival mode and just did whatever I had to not to die,” she said.
“Then, when I finished treatment, although I looked the same, everything else about me felt different.
“Physically I was starting to heal, but mentally and emotionally I was struggling with the trauma and a sense of loss.
“What I didn’t realise was that during cancer treatment I had transformed into someone else.”
Before cancer, Saskia was a self-described ‘airhead party girl’ who suffered from low self-esteem and an eating disorder for 15 years.
She said: “I was this vacuous rock ‘n’ roll chick who was all about designer clothes and hair and boobs – ironic when I ended up losing them both.
“I partied all night, but I hated myself. There was no joy in my life, although I was very good at faking it.”
Having survived cancer, Saskia felt like a different person. She had lost the things that she believed defined her beauty and self-worth, forcing her to find happiness elsewhere.
When she finished her treatment in late 2014, her doctor told her: “You can go back to normal now.”
Saskia said: “Trying to go back to the person you were before cancer makes no sense.
“Instead we need to get to know the person we’ve become as a consequence of the trauma we’ve been through.
“Most people – doctors included – seem to think the cancer journey ends when the treatment does, but that’s when many people struggle the most.
“That’s the time when the severity of what they’ve been through really hits them, and all the fears and painful emotions come rushing to the surface.”
‘I was in a dark place’
In the aftermath of cancer, Saskia was stuck wrestling with the fear that she was ‘damaged’, that the best days of her life were over and that her cancer would return.
Her marriage fell apart, her business failed, she had moved back to the UK and was at rock bottom.
She said: “I was in a dark place, a deep depression. I tried to end my life – I took an overdose.”
Saskia decided she needed to find a way to find happiness. She began exploring spirituality and wellbeing, slowly but surely changing her life.
Her book, The Cancer Misfit, is a guide to navigating life after treatment.
She said: “This book is for all those people who have finished their treatment and find themselves physically healed but emotionally shattered.
“It’s a life-raft for the for the next part of the journey. I don’t want people thinking the best part of their life was before their diagnosis.
“I’m proof that doesn’t have to be the case.
“I’ve never been happier and I feel my purpose now is to help others find their happiness too – not just those who have had cancer, but anyone who has been through any kind of trauma.”
A second chance
Saskia feels that in her recovery from cancer and depression she has been given a second chance in life.
She said: “I want to make the most of it. That includes helping to raise awareness and funds.
“It’s because of improvements in treatment that I’m still here.
“I hate to think about research being slowed down and what that could mean for people like me in the years to come.”
This World Cancer Day, on Thursday (February 4), Saskia is asking people to show solidarity and generosity by donating to Cancer Research UK or wearing a ‘Unity’ wristband.
Lynn Daly, Cancer Research UK spokesperson for London, said: “Covid-19 has hit us hard, so we’re grateful to Saskia for helping underline the stark reality of the current situation.
“Our research has played a role in developing eight of the world’s top 10 cancer drugs and we’re working every day to find new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat the disease. But we can’t do it alone.
“By donating for World Cancer Day, people will be funding world-class research to help more people survive. Together, we will beat cancer.”