Rebecca Rose on creativity, motherhood and cancer
Bec Rose was diagnosed with Colorectal cancer almost four years ago. At the time, she was given six months to live. Bec was a creative soul, a stylist, a daughter, a sister, a mum and a person determined to use the time she had left to embrace every moment in life. Late last year, Bec entered palliative care and, from her home in Western Australia, reached out to Lunch Lady to share her final story.
Tell us about yourself, who you are and where you’re from.
My name is Bec Williams. I’ve always been a Bec. Never really liked Becky or Rebecca. It sort of reminded me of an American cheerleader or something. I always liked more-down-to-earth Bec.
Although, since I’ve become sicker, I’ve taken on the name Rebecca Rose, which is like another version of myself, I suppose, that’s encapsulated everything I thought was special about my life—a creative stage name. So, Rebecca Rose has been what stuck around the last couple of years.
I was born in Western Australia, but we moved a lot. I’ve got a cute little two-bedroom flat that was built in the ’60s. It’s just tiny. I’ve got ocean glimpses. I’ve got the best neighbours in the whole world. They always bring me whatever they’ve been baking in their ovens, and they all make it gluten-free for me now as well. It’s very sweet. I’ve got a bunch of handy husbands who live downstairs and next to me and are always willing to fix anything that’s been broken.
And my family is so close. We’ve timed it and they’re literally seven minutes and thirteen minutes away from me, and that’s my mum and my dad respectively, so that’s just a godsend. My parents have basically become my full-time carers.
Tell us about creativity after your cancer diagnosis.
Becoming sick and having the foundation of my life ripped out beneath me, and where I thought I was going and how I thought I was meant to be behaving—all of a sudden, to be given a six-month life expectancy, makes you completely re-evaluate how, what and where you want to live your life.
For me, creativity has always been in my blood. I can’t not be making something. Ever since I was a little girl, I think my mum must have instilled that in me. So, after the diagnosis, we put the focus on what makes me happy: increasing as much creativity and human connection as possible, day to day, so that’s been the recipe. I really believe that’s been the recipe for my longevity, my having stuck around.
Tell us about your parents. Your mum is an artist?
Yes, my mum is an artist and my dad’s retired. I’ve got my beautiful step-parents as well, Judy and Oompie (that’s his granddad name). They all rally around me to do whatever we can possibly do to keep me here that little bit longer.
My dad juices for me. He even, at one point, took reiki reflexology lessons so that he could learn how to massage my feet. He would spend time out in the garden, sitting in the sunshine, massaging my feet.
I don’t know anyone who spends time with their parents quite like that. That quality time that we get together—we always seemed to get together when something needed to be done, something needed to be discussed, or if there was a matter at hand. Never just for the sake of getting together and hanging out.
Your relationship with your parents has obviously deepened and gone to a whole new level. Can you share a bit about that?
Yeah. We talk about death a lot. We’re all getting prepared for that. We’re speaking on that level, knowing that there are these conversations that are so intense.
And it’s really amazing to speak to someone and hear how much they love you and be able to tell them just how much they mean to you as well. We do it regularly. It’s quite intense, but it really is amazing—the things that you wish you would have said to someone, we’re getting that stuff out on the table.
That’s an incredible meeting of the hearts, isn’t it? Them being able to hold that space for you, and you being able to receive and hold that space for them.
Absolutely. And you need that. As much as I make my life about pleasure, joy, indulgence and all the things that are happy—you can’t understand the pleasures without going through the pain. We live in a society of yin and yang, and it’s just the way it is. The deeper you can go with the pain, the deeper you can experience that joy as well.
Joy can exist with grief. Have you done a lot of meditation?
So many types of meditation. I started out with transcendental meditation simply because I was so anxious when I was diagnosed. I was sort of in a black hole. The doctors were quite mean. I’d been trying to stick to my positive frame of mind, but one of my doctors actually brought a psychologist into one of my meetings just to make sure that I understood that I was going to die. There was no room for my crazy belief or anything, even though the truth is there’ve been so many people who have been healed from beyond even where I’m at now.
I really believe that no one should ever take that hope away from anybody. But the doctors were adamant to ram home to me that that was what was going to happen. I should abandon any other hope.
Meditation was what I needed to be able to block out everything. I went to transcendental meditation, and I was astounded at how quickly it was affecting me. I remember bursting into tears in my first session because I could feel that it was working. That became my staple.
I’d do twenty minutes of transcendental meditation twice a day. Then I’d also find myself, in any stressful situation, dropping into my mantra, just at random moments, or even using that for a quick five breaths before I hopped out of the car if I needed a moment. It’s become like my best friend. It’s like a little tool that I can carry around with me that can calm my mind in any situation. I love that.
Do you feel grappling with your mind is the key to living in this moment?
Yeah. The last couple of weeks, especially, because things have been getting really down to the pointy end here. There’ve been moments where I have just had extreme joy and peace, where I’ve been in the kitchen with a piece of chocolate in my mouth, and it’s been like the most delicious piece of chocolate I’ve ever tasted. In that moment, everything was perfect. Like the right music, the right light coming through the kitchen window.
The other day in the kitchen it was truly, truly, truly one of the most blissful moments of my whole life: just experienced in that little bit of cake, and that little bit of sunset, and that little bit of the rainbow dancing on my wall. And the temperature was perfect. I couldn’t have asked for anything better. Those ten minutes were perfection. I didn’t think I’d be able to feel these levels of joy among some of the shit that’s been going on lately. But it’s still right there. It’s amazing.
What did you decide to do after the cancer diagnosis?
My initial instinct was to leave Australia and go to Germany to a clinic over there that uses a lot of alternative therapies, like mistletoe therapy. And I’ve heard of a lot of people having lots of success.
But my doctor told me he didn’t think I’d survive the journey. At this stage, I actually don’t believe that. He was a really grumpy, scared man who didn’t have any faith in anything other than what he has been taught. That’s a lot of what the medical system is like.
So I jumped into his system and ended up having probably about nine months of this most horrendous rash on my face from this treatment. It was like burning my face. The cream he gave me to fix it actually completely exacerbated it. He refused to admit that could possibly be the case and just told me to stick with it.
After nine months of having this dreadful rash, I basically thought, Fuck this man. I’m over him. I just want to get out of his system. So I ended up going to a clinic in Mexico for treatment. I didn’t have any positive experiences with them medically—none of my tumours shrunk. But while I was there, I did see people who were healing. I left with a completely different frame of mind, which I’m forever grateful for. I came out feeling so empowered and so ready to take on the rest of my life.
In that case, it was invaluable. But people contact me all the time about whether they should go to the clinic. That’s a very hard thing for me to recommend, based on the $90,000 Australian dollars it cost me to go. I left with the cancer more progressed.
What changed for you in Mexico?
It was from meeting people. It was from being in a system where people were like: It’s okay. We’re going to look after you. You’ve got this. And even though they didn’t have it, they instilled that positivity in me. This bravery was like: no matter what happens, I’m going to keep on putting my best foot forward. Keep on going. I definitely left there feeling brave and strong.
I was also with my mum. We were in the sunshine in Mexico. It’s one of my favourite places in the whole wide world. I treated it like a holiday. I had a bit of a crush on my doctor. He was so adorable. I came home feeling stronger. Three weeks after I came home, I went to Bali with a bunch of girlfriends. That also ended up being one of the most spiritually incredible trips of my life. I was feeling so strong and so vulnerable at the same time. I had this group of women, some of my best friends. They were already going on this trip, and they said, “Come with us.” I just booked a ticket last minute.
I also broke up with my partner when I got back from Mexico. I’d been with this man for eight years. Someone I loved so much, but I realised I’d been avoiding facing up to the fact that our relationship hadn’t been working for a really long time. When I came back from Mexico, that was the biggest thing that came out of it. I felt that it was time for me to leave my partner, which was huge. He came along when my daughter was only three years old, and he really was like a dad to her. I loved him so much. He was such a good guy, one of the best men you could possibly imagine. But I had known deep inside myself that it wasn’t going right.
So, I let go of that. I went to Bali on this trip with my girlfriends and had the most profound experience. I was in a car and staring out the window and feeling really lucky to be there, feeling the wind on my arm through the door. Every sense was alive. And I just dropped into this state of involuntary meditation. I was meditating on ‘You are the universe having a human experience’. It no longer was a thought. It became a knowing in my body—I knew it in every single cell. For about forty-five minutes, I was locked in this most incredible feeling of love. The main thing I kept getting from it was that all humans could be forgiven because we are all just here, trying our hardest. Everyone is just trying their hardest. Everyone needs to be forgiven.
That’s so beautiful.
It was amazing, and I spent the rest of that holiday just floating on cloud nine. I felt like everything was just perfect. My friends, the laughter—we would laugh until we wet our pants. The amount of joy was hilarious.
Tell us about your friends.
They’re so good. They’re so free and so willing to go there with me: if I need to be vulnerable, if I need to bawl my eyes out. No one shies away from any of that, and there are always arms on me. They’re always willing to have a hand or arm ready to show me whatever support I need. They’re just hilarious. They know how to make me happy. They know not to hit me with a “How are you?”. That’s the one message I ignore more than anything, because I don’t know how to answer it sometimes. I’ve just got the most switched-on, loving, hilarious, crazy girlfriends on the planet.
When I was in hospital, one of my girlfriends, Rae, would come in with a face mask or something. She’d make herself at home in the hospital, like, in the bed next to me, sometimes. She’d be painting her toenails. We’d both have a face mask on. It was like being in my bedroom, not at all like being in
the hospital. It was so wonderful.
When you were in Bali, were you receiving cancer treatment?
I went off treatment at that stage. I went rogue. I decided to stay away from treatment. I felt so good and so happy. I felt a bit like: how could anything possibly be going on that’s bad inside my body right now? I wanted to go with the goodness.
Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. I did avoid everything for probably two months, and then all of a sudden shit started to get real again, and I started to have pains and had to go back to the doctor and get the news that the cancer was progressing, and it was time to try new chemotherapy.
This time, I found myself a doctor who didn’t talk to me like I was a piece of shit or ignore me. The one I had initially never once remembered my name when I was seeing him. He’d have to sit there and read my file, and then he’d read it to get the gist of my case, and then make sure that I could still swallow—that there weren’t enough ulcers to stop me from swallowing. Just such basic questions and then he’d let me go, sort of like: check, check, off she goes. Zero compassion. I think he’s too old to be in the game or something, too jaded. I understand it would be a pretty heartbreaking industry to be in.
I love my new doctor so much. He’s very pragmatic and he knows what I’m doing, so he doesn’t stand in the way of that. His language is always positive. He’ll say: “There might be a trial in two years that we need to keep you here for.” He’ll say something like that, while my last doctor was just like: prepare to die.
It’s a bit full-on at the moment, because I’ve actually been sent home with a palliative care team now. I’ve got this drain in the side of my belly. So this is the thing I’m not allowed to swim with or go in the bath. I’ve been trying to avoid anything that’s got prognosis, but I did accidentally read the other day that this drain I’ve got generally comes along within the last couple of months of life. So, it’s sort of hard to hear. I feel like I’ve got so much more. I’ve defied odds before as well, so I’m going to keep hoping that’s the case.
It sounds like there’s a level of acceptance but also a level of optimism, too, to keep fighting.
Definitely. One of the first books I ever read was called Dying to Be Me. It was incredible. It was about this beautiful woman who was diagnosed—I think she had some sort of cancer of the lymph nodes or something, but she was sent to hospital with her organs shutting down, in the process of dying.
Within three months she was cancer-free. She had her near-death experience and was told to come home again. Within two and a half months she was cancer-free. She’s still alive now. It was an incredible story. Having read that, I feel like I could never give up.
At the same time, I’m definitely having a level of responsibility to be prepared. I don’t want to blindly be on the positivity train and leave behind situations that aren’t good for the people I love.
Those beautiful hard talks are beautiful. I had one with my dad the other day that ripped me open, but in the best kind of way. It was just me and him, and it was so raw and very heartbreaking. We laid some things out on the table, and he and I have never had so much love in a conversation. It was such a grateful thing.
Tell us about your daughter, Zavian.
She is my little wildcard, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. She blows my mind. Creatively, she’s dynamic. She’s a powerhouse. She does not stop. She’s like me but on steroids. She was just given a new iPad as her birthday present. She doesn’t actually need an iPad for school or anything anymore, but she’s done so much on my iPad Pro that we just felt it would be mean to not let her continue on. She needs her own because what she’s creating is world-class. It’s amazing.
She’s drawing these animes that are so detailed. She checks the NASA website every morning when she wakes up. That’s one of her morning rituals. She’s right into astronomy, space and the universe.
She loves baking. We bought her a KitchenAid for Christmas to nurture that side of her as well, because she’s just so incredibly advanced at decorating. I don’t want to sound like I’m such a stuck-up mum, but she’s so clever that it blows my brain.
When you were diagnosed, you did a very selfless thing in sending her away to live with her dad, which would have been so difficult.
I’ve caught flack for that as well, in the past, but I wanted her to feel secure and have normalcy. She’s thrived up north in that situation. I’m lucky enough that Levi, her dad, has married this most beautiful woman named Emily. And she loves Zavian more than anything on the planet. Both of them do. I couldn’t be happier that Emily is in their lives. I feel so grateful that he met and married such a beautiful woman. She takes such incredible care of my daughter. The more people loving my baby, the better, so I’m not going to get in the way of that. We’ve got a definite respect and trust there towards each other, so that’s nice.
And she comes and spends the holidays with you?
She does. She’s with me right now, even out of the school holidays. We pulled her out of school now because of the situation I’m in at the moment. We’re just spending a lot of time in bed together, hanging out and drawing.
What’s some of the creative stuff you’ve made together?
We did a little embroidery together. I’ve got a beautiful friend over east who makes these embroidery kits. She named one after me and sent it over. Zave and I have both stitched away on that, which is incredible. She just took it up and was doing it perfectly.
She’s queen at embroidery. But she loves drawing, at the moment. That’s her big thing. She’ll spend hours creating the perfect character on her Procreate.
I crocheted her a blanket. She hasn’t yet wanted to learn crochet, but she loves the blanket.
She’s obviously matured a lot over these past three or four years. How has that been, you watching her mature? How has she taken it all on?
She’s just so stoic. She keeps a lot to herself. She blows me away how mature she is, because we’ve had some pretty big conversations. Just yesterday I had to ask her if she wanted to be with me when I died. And she said that she does want to be there, so I just have to ask her those questions and have her think about it. She didn’t burst into tears or melt down or anything. She’s got a good grasp of what’s going on.
I never want to deny her the chance to heal over time, as people do. They get used to an idea. That idea shifts and changes and fluctuates, but at least she gets to grow with it, and it’s not going to be a shock.
What have you learnt about yourself over this time?
I’ve learnt so much about myself. Mainly it’s been on a small scale, I suppose. I look at the little things that I love and see how that adds up to the person that I am.
My big thing is that I’ve come to decide I don’t know anything. My ideas on the world. I only know what people have told me.
I suppose a lot of what I’ve come to count on is my internal world, as in how much time I spend meditating and feeling the truth that resonates from within.
What about what you’ve learnt about others?
I’ve learnt that people project themselves onto you. People saying, “I’m worried about you”—it’s coming from them, not from you, more than anything. I’ve learnt people are generous beyond belief. People are definitely good. People are so, so good. People are so willing to help.
I get so many offers of beautiful meals or deliveries, or get sent gorgeous gifts. I get sent words from people saying, “Thank you so much for sharing your perspective.” People are kind.
Who’s inspired you?
The lady who made my video, Mel from Till Death. She came to my house and captured my story so beautifully. She inspires me endlessly, because she’s got her eyes open to people, and she’s got the most incredible gift of capturing people as they are, not as they wish to be, or want to be captured. She has that innate ability to pull out what’s really there, and make people love themselves for that as well. It’s not a mean thing. It’s a beautiful thing. She’s become a massive hero of mine, and she did that for me and Zavian. It was the ultimate gift, because I’ve got this treasure I get to leave behind for my daughter that shows me in all of my wacky, crazy—it’s six minutes of me saying, “Hey, this is me for a moment.”
It’s so nice, and I love it. I feel like that’s just one of the biggest gifts to my whole family as well, a little moment in time. I’ve been so big on thinking about what to leave behind. I’ve written journals and I’ve put together little treasure boxes. Then I start to worry: what if I’m leaving too much? I don’t want my stuff to be a burden to my child. At the same time, I’m sure my family can keep it safe until she’s ready to delve into it.
I want to do a beautiful glory box full of linens and things. The things I’ve hand-stitched, the journals. There are things in the journals I know she can’t read until she’s older. Oh my God, I definitely went through a phase where she’s allowed to know all this stuff. She’ll know the real me. I should go through and put some red stickers over it or something, like: “Mum’s sorry!”
That’s such a gift. She’ll know exactly who you are, and the lessons from that too. Right?
Oh, I went through a stage after I left my ex, and I really felt like I was finding myself. I started to think about writing a book. I was going to call it Confessions of a Horny Cancer Patient or something hilarious like that.
Tell us about dating during this time.
I’m actually so in love. I’ve got the most beautiful boyfriend in the whole world. I don’t know how I managed to find him. It was just magic, absolutely magic. No one can fault him in my family. He’s become this hero because he’s given me so much joy.
That’s so beautiful. How did you meet him?
We met on Tinder. I wasn’t expecting anything to come of it. It was one of those things that was meant to be really casual and easy because that’s all I had time for. I didn’t want to complicate my life anymore. I was feeling pretty sexy. I’d lost a little bit of weight, but I was still feeling really good about my body. I didn’t have any tubes coming out of me. I was enjoying wearing sexy lingerie and things like that.
It was a really fun stage. That stage ended, and he managed to stick around anyway, with the tubes and the poo talk and all the gross stuff.
I met his mum a couple of days ago. She was beautiful. We spent nearly the whole time snuggled up together. She’s very religious, and she believes that the whole thing is just blessed by Jesus.
She left me her jumper, and I actually wore it because it smelt like her, and I felt so connected to her. It was beautiful.
That’s one thing I felt: that because of my situation, emotions don’t get held back. I feel like I’m in a state of love most all of the time.
Tell us about that state.
Once people see that someone is open, it gives them permission to open up as well. That’s all anyone wants. I’m constantly getting messages in my inbox saying, “Thank you so much for sharing what you shared, because you’ve got no idea how much it helped me go through my own version of whatever else was going on.” I feel like people’s stories are what heal. We’re all going through these things, and we think that there’s something wrong with us. There’s nothing wrong with us. We’re just beautiful humans trying to make our way through.
What about religion—has that played any part in this period?
My granddad was religious. He was Pentecostal Charismatic, so my understanding is that my granddad, when he went to church with my sister and stuff (she was ten years older than me, so I was a little bit too young), would lay his hands on people and heal them. My sister remembers him healing
a man with his hands.
I remember my granddad being the most loving man. Both my grandparents, my Annie and my granddad, were such loving humans. They were very Christian. I knew from a young age that Christianity wasn’t my bag—no organised religion was, really. Anything that had been tainted by man didn’t make sense to me.
I believe in what comes to me internally. I’m definitely spiritual. I feel like the more science I learn, the less I could possibly believe that it just comes out of nowhere. It feels like magic, and I love it. It’s so incredible.
What are you at peace with, Bec?
I feel like I’m at peace with everything. I don’t think there’s anything that is holding me back at this stage. I definitely get big fears, but they’re just part of it. You can’t have courage without fear. It doesn’t exist, and I wouldn’t take back the cancer if I could, if it landed me back at that place where I was, where I was unhappy, where I was working too hard, where every single thing—I couldn’t even relax in the bath without having to read a self-help book because I felt that wired that I needed to be constantly improving myself or something.
Now, if I open a book and start reading it, if within ten minutes I’m not enjoying it, I say, “Oh well, I’m giving up on that book now.” I’m not going to force myself to go through it for some weird reasons to prove something to anybody. When I’m in the bath I listen to music and play on my phone. It’s joyful.
And you spread joy on Instagram.
Thank you. I hope that’s how it comes across. I try not to share any crap. I never pick up my phone and go, “What can I write today and try to fill it out?” If, generally, I wake up and there’s something there, I just go “bloop, bloop” and put it out there—that’s it. You know what I mean? I feel happy with it because I know it’s come from somewhere that wasn’t contrived or manipulative.
That Instagram community—how’s it been for you?
It’s been incredible. I’ve met some of my best friends on Instagram. My friend Hayley, she’s like a sister to me now. Then there’s my friend Rachel Woods—she is a soul sister forever and ever. Then there are my normal girlfriends I didn’t meet on Instagram, but that’s how we share and connect. We’re all creatives, and visually that’s how we like to connect.
What do you want to be remembered for?
I hope I’m remembered for being a bit kooky, trying to inspire people to not take life so seriously. I’d love people to stop taking life so seriously. Right now I’m looking at my wardrobe, and there’s this ’80s prom ruffle dress that’s so over the top. I would love nothing more than to find someone and go out and do a photo shoot with that right now to create some weird picture for the ’gram. That would be completely over the top, but who cares. That’s okay. People should have fun, dress up, show off and do their thing.
This interview was first published in Issue 26 of Lunch Lady and was lovingly dedicated to Bec who died on October 22, 2021. Special thanks to Bec’s friend and photographer Laura Harrey for the photographs, also first published in that issue.