Interview: Ellen Burney Original Photograph: Nicole Maria Winkler
In 2014 freelance fashion stylist Natasha Wray was diagnosed with breast cancer. Here she talks about the quality of life that she has created for herself since her recovery, and as a contributor to Elle, The Sunday Times Style, Glamour and ES magazine - how she made her career work through cancer.
It’s nearly half past eight on a Thursday evening in August. You’ve finished a working day I presume - how has today differed to a typical day when you were working ill?
I've been working from home today, on two different jobs. I started the day with a workout at the gym, before collecting some clothes for a shoot from Tottenham. Then I sat on my computer doing a lot of email back and forth on production for one shoot and research for another. During my treatment for breast cancer I had chemo once every three weeks and it made me really sick for a week, during which I would go back to my mum and dad’s and I couldn't work. I was determined to keep my life as 'normal' as possible around my treatment, so I wanted to work. I'm freelance, so it could have been hugely detrimental to my career, but I was lucky in that I had regular clients who were happy to work around my treatment.
How are you relaxing this evening? How do you switch off from work now (do you?)
I love the summer and go out in the evenings a lot more than I do in winter. I went to meet my boyfriend in Soho for a quick dinner, then on to one press event for Reebok at Selfridges, and then to a party that a friend was throwing in East London. We had a little dance and I saw loads of people I know and was home by 10.30pm. Before I had cancer I drank more and partied harder. I still love going out but I never stay to the end of the night and I drink less. I never get ‘FOMO’ and I love going to bed these days. It's very relaxing. This could just be age and nothing to do with having been sick, but it feels good.
Were you ever able to find something throughout your treatment that fully allowed you to relax or find any kind of peace - for a limited time at least?
My chemo [every three weeks] made me really sick for one week. So I had two weeks every month during which I felt well enough to work and go out and socialise, which I made sure I did. I was determined to keep my life as normal as I could. I was an active and sometimes, quite a hyperactive person before and I loved exercise so I made sure I carried on doing it, throughout my treatment, but with adjustments. I tried to keep running, but after a couple of rounds of harsh chemo my runs became daily walks, always in the woods, which I'm lucky to live near in London. And my gym sessions became yoga sessions. The best thing I did was learn to meditate and do regular restorative yoga. It sounds like a cliché, but being able to relax my mind allowed me to switch off the fear and noise around me. I'd go as far to say it fundamentally changed the experience for me and I learnt so much about the power of mind. I wish everyone around me had done the same as I think they would have suffered less. I also watched a LOT of TV - and listened to some brilliant podcasts.
How would you describe your attitude towards work since your recovery?
I find it much easier to relax since I had cancer, than I did before. I worry a lot less about work and things in general. I have a new perspective, I know life is delicate and the time we have is finite. Before I had cancer I would often get very stressed out by work, and I valued myself against how well I was doing within my career. I don't do that anymore. I prioritise my well-being and relationships. I take more time to travel and to look after my health in a rounded and holistic way. I care more about relationships and small things like a walk, the smell of the air, the sun in the morning and being loved. It sounds really cheesy, but it all feels so much more special and important now. Don't get me wrong I still want to have a fulfilling career, but it's fulfilling in a different way. Did I do a good job? Did I enjoy myself? Was I kind to the people I worked with? Did we have fun? Those are there questions I ask myself now.