Julie Adams and Hayley Mac, set up The Cancer Club in honour of their late friend Claire Stokes
There’s an old saying that goes something like, something good always comes out of something bad.
Something bad did happen in 2014. Claire Stokes, wife of Robbie Stokes – a well-known chef in Dubai who worked in the kitchens of both the Burj Al Arab and Al Badia Golf Club – was told that her breast cancer had not only returned, but had spread to her bones and her liver. Then on January 18, just a few days before her 40th birthday, Claire tragically passed away, surrounded by her children and the family that loves her.
The shock of discovering that she did not have adequate healthcare cover only added to the desperation of the situation. At just 39 years of age, with two young children aged three and six, there was no choice but to find an alternative solution to fund the cancer treatment she needed.
Claire was initially diagnosed with stage three breast cancer when her son Ethan was just three weeks old. There was no lump. In fact, there were no typical symptoms of breast cancer at all, just a sense of heaviness and that something ‘didn’t feel right’. After enduring three rounds of painful chemotherapy and a partial mastectomy, Claire tried to get back to good health, adopting a diet of mainly raw vegetables, no sugar and organic, non-processed foods, in order to give her body the best chance of fighting the disease. Claire’s belief of optimum nutrition for optimum health was encouraged and supported by her good friend Hayley Mac, founder and owner of BeSuperNatural and Bestro, a health-conscious organic café and super-foods retail outlet at Galeries Lafayette in The Dubai Mall.
Desperate to help Claire and her family get through the crisis of the cancer spreading, Claire’s husband, close friends and the big-hearted chef community all came together to create Nourish, a support group for the family that raises awareness of breast cancer through special events, the creation of healthy dishes and the promotion of eating well. In October last year, Nourish held its first Chefs United Ball at Fairmont The Palm.
Julie Adams, co-founder of Nourish and Anglo Arabian Healthcare, says, ‘Raising awareness for breast cancer is something that Dubai and the UAE does particularly well. However, for women and families living with the effects that a positive diagnosis has, there needs to be so much more emotional and practical support. Nourish is not just about raising awareness for breast cancer and educating about optimal nutrition based on Claire’s philosophy, but it’s also about providing emotional support for those affected by this vile disease.’
Throughout her battle with cancer, Claire wanted to share her feelings, fears, personal experience and also her hopes with other women with families going through the same horror as her. However, having attended some breast cancer gatherings, she felt even more isolated, since the majority of women attending were survivors.
‘One of the things that Claire and I used to talk about was setting up The Cancer Club for women who were fighting the disease or affected by it,’ Hayley says. ‘So in the spring of 2015, I decided to launch the club in honour of my friend, who was totally inspirational throughout her ordeal. At Bestro, we now regularly hold informal get-togethers where women can come along, make friends, let off steam and share their knowledge. Also, if they have any questions about nutrition, as a raw, vegan chef, I’m on hand to answer them.’
Hayley adds: ‘The Cancer Club is not a charity, it’s a group that allows everyone currently living with or affected by the disease to meet and share. Claire would have absolutely loved it.’
Although the Nourish Chefs United Ball was a success, it was not enough to save Claire. Now, The Cancer Club has now joined hands with Nourish and the next event is being planned for later this year.
‘Having lost three friends to cancer in the last five months, all of whom were under the age of 50, I’ve seen and experienced first-hand the devastation it causes families,’ says Julie. ‘I looked into another friend’s eyes and saw her absolute dread at the prospect of becoming a widow before the age of 40, bringing up two young children alone, having to relocate back to the UK without the man she loved and adored. When I explained the concept of The Cancer Club to her, she was sure that it would bring women together and help them see that they don’t have to face cancer alone.’