After Suki Thompson got divorced in 2008, her friend Sonya gave her a Bobbi Brown waterproof mascara. A lot of tears were being shed.
Within a year, Suki, then 43, was diagnosed with breast cancer. More tears, more waterproof mascara required.
Her doctors then threw this at her — she had the faulty version of the BRCA2 gene, the one that may have caused her breast cancer and meant she had a much higher risk of developing ovarian cancer, too.
Left to right: Suki Thompson, sister Tam Minchin, mother Alison Harris and Suki's daughter Jaz Thompson
This time, Sonya took her off for some retail therapy in Hermes to buy a silk scarf for when her hair would fall out following chemotherapy.
In ten years she has bought five more scarves — for in another blow, she survived breast cancer only to develop her first melanoma in 2013, her second in 2016 and her third in August last year.
The entrepreneur, now 52, hopes to buy more scarves if her current skin cancer treatment ‘cures’ her.
Suki, then 43, was diagnosed with breast cancer within a year of her divorce
Hope is the operative word. Because not only does she have the faulty BRCA2 gene, Suki also has a gene mutation known as BRAF, which is linked to half of melanoma cases and makes cells grow too fast. It’s as if the accelerator pedal is stuck down.
As a result, Suki has gone under the knife seven times over the past ten years — a biopsy of her lung, part of her thyroid removed, dealing with the three melanomas as well as lymph nodes in her leg, and finally her ovaries were removed.
She now pops five tablets a day, including dabrafenib and trametinib — some of the first oral cancer treatments for BRAF melanoma.
You may well think, how unlucky can one woman be? But Suki feels far from unlucky. Her latest marketing business and accompanying book is called Let’s Reset, its mission being to improve mental health support at work and avoid all the crying that goes on in loos. Studies have shown that if employers support wellness, both physical and mental, productivity goes up.
Research from the charity Mind also shows that 52 per cent of us experience mental health problems at work, yet only half feel comfortable to disclose this, with poor mental health costing the UK economy more than £74 billion a year.
At Let’s Reset, all employees have a one-to-one mentoring and a counselling session on a quarterly basis. Its consultant psychologist, Vanessa King, says: ‘When people have better wellbeing they are more resilient, more likely to take care of themselves and consequently live longer. Organisations that put wellbeing at their heart outperform others.’
Suki Thompson with her son Sam and daughter Jaz. The entrepreneur, 52, from Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire has faulty BRCA2 gene
The Let’s Reset book is full of pictures by fashion photographer Rankin and includes interviews with industry leaders such as Nicola Mendelsohn, Vice-President for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Facebook (who has the incurable blood cancer follicular lymphoma) urging us to ‘own’ our problems and talk about them at work.
One of the most moving stories comes from media executive Pippa Glucklich, whose husband’s suicide was triggered by work stress. She writes: ‘Like all of us, too often [I] put my “game face” on to get through.’
It also took Suki, who lives in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, a while to relinquish her tendency to put on a brave face instead of asking for help.
In her pre-Let’s Reset days, when she didn’t know any better, she would save up all her angst for Friday nights, when her ex-husband had the children, then she would put on a mournful movie and weep. Sometimes she thought: ‘I’m not sure I’m going to get through this.’ But she did.
She managed to cope with cancer and launch two businesses while staying sane and raising two children by leaning on those who loved her. While exercise kept her ‘head in the right place’,