Meet the Big C choir performing for Channel 4’s Stand Up To Cancer

The broadcaster's telethon on Friday 19 October is raising funds to fight the disease - but these singers know just what it's like to live with cancer...

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Chris Todd, 31 – “I was a footballer and a Jack the lad” 

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I’d had an operation on a groin injury that I picked up while playing for Torquay United. The op was successful but I wasn’t getting back to fitness quickly enough. I went for a blood test and I was told that I had leukaemia. It turned my world upside down.

Being a footballer, I was a bit of a Jack the lad, but when something like this happens you take a step back. I went on a chemotherapy drug and within two months it started to have an effect. It took about four or five months to get me back playing football again, which was quite incredible really. I still take my chemo drugs every day and suffer a bit of tiredness and nausea, but nothing too bad.

If you had asked me to join a choir before it happened I would have laughed at you. But my outlook now has completely changed. I take every day as it comes and I feel privileged to be here. It has made me a much better person.


Clare Smith, 43 – “My husband had a mistress” 

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in January. It was a great shock. Lots of things were going on in my personal life that made the news so much harder to deal with. Two days after my diagnosis a lady turned up at my door to tell me she was my husband’s mistress. I knew there was someone else but he would never admit it. So he’s out of my life and I haven’t needed him.

I honestly thought I was joining a choir just to have a sing-song, but it’s been the most uplifting experience of my life. I was a glass-half-empty person but I’m completely the reverse now. Every day is another opportunity to live life. You’ve got to take life, grab it and live it.

There used to be Clare and Mrs Smith the French teacher. Now I don’t need Mrs Smith the French teacher for confidence, because actually Clare is pretty good on her own. I have been far stronger than I thought I ever could be.


Libby Heal, 13 – “I called my tumour Trevor” 

I was diagnosed with an ovarian tumour at the end of February. It’s a rare cancer – there are only about 45 a year in the UK. I cried and cried and cried when I was told. I kept hearing the words “I have cancer” in my head and it’s really hard to get over.

The tumour started in my ovary and just kept growing. In the end it was the size of a football – about 18 inches across. The consultant told me that there was a family of tumours and mine was called Trevor and I actually believed him, so I called it Trevor. I started chemotherapy six days after the operation to remove the tumour and I was given the all clear at the end of July.

Losing my hair was a bit upsetting but I knew my main priority was getting better and when I was better it would grow back. You think cancer is a bad thing, but you do get good things out of it. Singing with the choir has been amazing – everyone has been so supportive.


Chrissie Smith, 54 – “I’m proof you can live with cancer” 

I have sat in meetings with hospital consultants when they have given patients cancer diagnosis so I knew what was coming when I had my consultation six years ago. I had lost two sisters to breast cancer within six months of each other in 2001 – and have lost two brothers to cancer since – but I feel that I am living proof that you can live with cancer.

My favourite saying is that cancer is a word not a sentence. At my five-year check up I was told the cancer had returned and had spread. I was gutted. I’ve had four cycles of chemo and I’ve got another eight cycles to go. As long as everything remains OK I’ll stay on what’s called maintenance – a smaller dose of chemo.

There’s a song of Bon Jovi’s we sing that has the line: “I ain’t gonna live for ever, I just want to live while I’m alive”. And that’s what I do. The more the disease spreads the stronger I become. I am not going to let it beat me. 


Samantha Kinsella, 40 – “I crack jokes and everyone laughs”

I found a lump in my breast a week before my 40th birthday in April. The first thing you think is you are going to die – it’s terrifying. I couldn’t look at my children without realising there was a chance I wouldn’t see them grow up. But once I got a treatment plan I felt more positive. I have had seven rounds of chemotherapy and my prognosis is quite good – the chances are I will still be alive in ten years’ time.

This choir has been an amazing experience. It was important to me to have an opportunity to be with people going through the same thing, but not in a support group setting. I didn’t want to sit there and talk about cancer or cry about it. I realised quickly why it works for me. No one can laugh about cancer except people who have got cancer. In that room I could crack a joke and everyone would laugh.


* Channel 4’s Stand Up to Cancer telethon (Friday, 7:30pm) is modelled on an American campaign that has raised $260 million since its launch in 2008. Money donated through C4’s fundraising will go to Cancer Research UK.

* Friday’s live show will feature Cheryl Cole, Leona Lewis, Emeli Sandé and Derren Brown, plus a giant chat show and a special edition of Million Pound Drop.

* An Embarrassing Bodies special on Thursday at 9pm meets patients on their cancer journeys, and there will also be four short films of poignant stories (Mon-Thurs, 7:55pm).

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* To donate, call 0300 123 4444, text Five to give £5 or Ten to give £10 to 70404, or go to channel4.com/su2c. More information at standuptocancer.org.uk