“What’s up guys?” she’d start every YouTube vlog, in her broad London accent. Today feels like such a sad day. Deterioration had been hanging in the air for Emily for quite some time – multiple tumours in her brain, and elsewhere in the body. Eight years of fighting – but until the last few videos, you wouldn’t think this trooper of a young woman was ill. Her spirit was always very much live and kicking – despite the difficult conversations with doctors about test results, the back and forth hospital trips.
I remember first clicking on one of Emily’s Instagram posts, when it came up on my ‘search’ section, then noticing a link to her YouTube videos about her cancer journey. Her personality grabbed me straight away – she seemed so real, raw, and wishing to spread her experience through all the ups and downs with anyone that wanted to watch. You’d see her a moment after hospital appointments, when she’d feel hit by the fact that she may not have much longer to live, crying her eyes out understandably. But then she’d carry this energy forward with her to the next day – so she could make sure she was making her life the one she wanted to live. For her, part of that meant gym sessions (she was a personal trainer) and spending time with her favourite people.
Today, her fighting came to an end, when she was released from cancer’s grip, into peace.
How can something feel such an utter shock, even when it was expected? It’s not like I thought Emily was immortal… and the hospital appointments showed how relentless the cancer was. They advised her to do everything she wanted to do, as soon as possible, including marrying her girlfriend – which she did, and it was beautiful. But the ‘d’ word still felt very much away from the world in my mind, perhaps because she’s left such a special mark on the world, and all her followers that were moved by her. When someone’s spirit is so much alive and kicking, it’s very hard to imagine that their body is no longer there.
Now I know cancer and eating disorders aren’t the same thing on paper, but Emily helped me in leaps and bounds with my recovery. I’d not long started watching her videos and following her progress after I was struggling with a number of overdoses, and completely helpless thoughts because of my Eating Disorder struggle feeling so much bigger than me. Her videos filled my craving for honesty in people, for not being afraid to show emotion – to prove that showing and feeling emotion doesn’t mean it has to hold you back from your ambitions. In fact, Emily demonstrated that it could fuel that. She’d say that it was all in her head, a mind over matter thing when it came to not letting cancer win so she could power through a gym session.
In a letter wrote to her, with the portrait I drew of her and Aisha, I thanked her for reminding me how exercise can be such a positive thing if you use it in the right way for both mental and physical health. For me, that’s helped me disconnect exercise from body image. Years I’ve spent associating exercise with being in the grips of my Eating Disorder and using it to earn food. It’s been really difficult breaking that connection, as when I started exercising with a healthy body, it was hard not to be triggered by old thought-patterns. Emily was a passionate foodie (a girl after my own heart), and as she shared lots of this with her subscribers on YouTube, about her daily life, it was incredibly refreshing to see her have a healthy appetite as a young woman. She wasn’t black and white with how she viewed her diet – she ate to feel strong. Her passion for the gym didn’t make her disordered with her eating, which I admired as it must be so hard to be so into fitness and be so resilient when it comes to the bombardment of nutrition/silly diet advice.
To me, my eating disorder is, hand on heart, like cancer of the brain. It sneaks up at you when you’re not expecting it (I remember Emily saying the same thing) but with her feisty mind over matter, she taught me that EVERY single day, is a new chance, a new opportunity. Almost 10 years of fighting my eating disorder, I will not let it win the way cancer did with you, Emily.
Rest in peace ,beautiful. Thank you so much for inviting us into your battle – you were more loved than you’ll ever know.