Drained, worn out and hairless, even down to her missing eyebrows, Sheridan Smith’s physical transformation is agonizing to see. The award-winning actress, applauded for her recent portrayal of flame-haired singer Cilla Black, explained the emotional impact of playing cancer patient Lisa Lynch in an upcoming drama.
Following screening of The C Word, which comes to BBC1 later this year, a tearful Miss Smith, said the role ‘changed my life’ and uncloaked the effect of Mrs Lynch’s death during the production. The programme, named after Mrs Lynch’s bestselling book on which it is based, narrates the story of her last years. It begins with her diagnosis with breast cancer in 2008, within 18 months of her marriage, and how she wrote a blog, Alright Tit, recording her battle towards health. It concludes with her death in 2013 after the cancer, which she referred to as The Bull****, came back in a terminal form.
Miss Smith said: ‘I admire her and I want to be her. Look at me sobbing here, I’m not as strong as her. But you can admire someone and go wow. She’s amazing, she’s inspirational and I hope for everyone she will be.’ She added: ‘It was such an honour that did change my life.’ Miss Smith developed close relations with Mrs Lynch and her family in the course of preparing for the role, so was clearly upset by her death. She said: ‘She was amazing and it’s been an absolute honour to have played her, I just hope I did her justice’. On shaving her head for the role, she said: ‘It’s just hair, it grows back, it’s the least I could do. The eyebrows were the ones. You can’t shave or thread them because they can grow back all weird and as an actress that might be a bit weird, so I had to pluck them and that was quite painful.’
The show’s producer Simon Lewis added: ‘She’s being a trooper about that, she had her hair shaved every day because by four o’clock in the afternoon she had a five o’clock shadow.’ This is not the first time Smith has played a real life role. She won a Bafta for her turn as Charmian Biggs, wife of Ronnie Biggs, in a 2012’s Mrs Biggs. She is nominated for her second nod at the famed television awards for her depiction of Cilla Black in last year’s Cilla.
Mrs Lynch a Derby local, recorded her battle with cancer in her witty and honest blog which received 140,000 hits in the first year alone. 18 months into marriage her husband noticed a lump in her breast which later on was diagnosed as tumour. An aggressive grade three tumour it had spread to 24 of her 25 lymph nodes. She braved a mastectomy followed by chemotherapy and radiotherapy. It’s thought the growth of cancer was triggered by pregnancy hormones as Mrs Lynch suffered two miscarriages before her diagnosis. In June 2009 her mammogram came out clear and she was announced cancer-free. Nonetheless, in September 2011 the cancer came back and Mrs Lynch and her family were told that it was terminal. She was informed that the cancer would now have to be managed, and not cured.
Then in October 2012 Mrs Lynch and her family were delivered another devastating blow when she was told that the cancer had spread to her brain meaning that she only had months to live. Two years later her death was announced on the blog by her husband, Peter, who paid tribute to her as ‘my rock, my best friend, my lover and my wife’.
She died overlooking a garden at a local hospice in the vicinity of their home in south-west London, in conditions elucidated by her husband as ‘peaceful, beautiful, tranquil and pain free’. He wrote at the time: ‘We, her family and closest friends, feel complete and utter devastation that is matched only by resounding pride that she was, and will forever be, our girl.
‘For us, it’s a time to privately shed tears and to reflect on what she meant and will continue to mean to us. ‘Lisa, I love you with a passion that burns as brightly as you did. Your light will never ever go out.’ Her family are fundraising for the Trinity Hospice in south London.
IN HER OWN WORDS: LISA’S FIGHT WITH CANCER CHRONICLED IN HER BOOK, THE C-WORD, AND HER BLOG ALRIGHTTIT.BLOGSPOT.COM
June 2008: The C-bomb goes boom.
‘It’s perhaps just a cyst’ – ‘I’m certain it will be totally benign’ – ‘If it turns out the cancer is invasive’ – ‘In case you need chemotherapy’ Yadda yadda yadda. Will someone just give me a straight answer? And before you begin, don’t tell me that breast cancer is actually curable these days, that I’m a fighter. I’m well aware of those things, thank you. Moreover, I know that if you were in my patent pumps, you’d be looking at the bleakest outcome too. Inside the hospital I’d had a biopsy and a mammogram. I remembered the specialist pointing to a cloudy area on the scan and uttering the words ‘breast cancer’.The rest had been white noise. After we’d been led out of the room we both cried, but the kind of crying that comes without tears. Frozen-to-your-core, terrified crying.
July 2008: I’ve never been so sought-after.
It was a peculiar time, the week after my mastectomy. I didn’t feel like I had cancer. Stitches and swelling aside, I felt strangely fine. So, regardless of the fact that I had a disease that could kill me before I was 30, I was busy filling my diary with pre-chemo lunches and dinner parties. Actually, I was more popular than I’d ever been. I’d been happy with my life as it was. But I had at time wished I could be that little bit more interesting. Now, thanks to breast cancer, I was – but I didn’t want any part of it.
Aug 2008: Facing the fall-out.
One dull weekday following my first batch of chemo, I was standing eating lemon curd from the jar while Pete and Dad watched golf on TV, and I found myself willing something to happen. It was a fatal error, because, when I entered my bedroom and pulled off my sweater, with it came a clump of my hair. Cue hysterical crying. Pete and Dad ran in to give me a cuddle (Dad) and prise the hair from my hands and flush it down the loo (Pete). The tears went on for a long time, but once I’d got over the shock, I realised that it wasn’t so much the hair loss I was crying about, but more the fact that I could have been so stupid to think there might be a chance – however small – of this not happening to me.
Sept 2008: My promise to Pete
Apart from the lovely Jo Malone treats Pete bought me for my 29th birthday, he handed me a tiny parcel. ‘It’s just something daft,’ he explained, ‘but I want this to become your new mantra.’ I tore off the wrapping, and pulled out a fridge magnet that had a Winston Churchill quote on it: ‘Never, never, never give up.’
Oct 2008: I turn into a chemo meanie.
Cancer has horrible side-effects but what I hadn’t bargained for was it turning me into a horrible person. Anyways by the time my Chemo 5 was over, it was more than the sight of myself that I couldn’t stand. Chemo looked like shredding my good nature. My folks had no choice about seeing me that way because, well, they made me. And Pete signed up for it with the ‘support and comfort each other through good times and through troubled times’ vow (more fool him). But nobody else should ever have to witness me in that state.
June 2009: Hello lovely life
After a mastectomy, 5 months of chemo, and six-weeks of radiotherapy my cancer treatment ended. On 17 June, a year to the day that I was diagnosed, I had my new nipple tattooed on to my reconstructed left breast and learned that my first cancerversary mammogram was clear. It was time to take my finger off the pause button and press play on my lovely life once more.
September 2011: The cancer came back.
So here it is: my cancer has come back. Not as a localised recurrence, but a distant spread. It’s now grade 4 (as we know, there is no grade 5) also called secondary cancer or, to be blunt, a cancer that’s incurable. The spread is to my bones: not just in my back, as was first my suspicion, but everywhere, in the form of dot-like tumours (worst in my spine, hips, shoulders, ribs, clavicles, sternum). Please please just BE A MATE to my husband and my parents and my brother and my family and my friends. As s***** as my health outlook is at the moment, I’d still much rather be in my position than theirs, and it would thus make me immeasurably happy if you’d just, y’know, be there for them.’
October 2012 – Cancer reaches her brain.
Today, I’m disclosing that I am – as are my family – devastated to the point of not knowing how to carry on. Nonetheless I am going to carry on. We are going to carry on. For you, Corey James [Mrs Lynch’s newborn nephew]. Because, notwithstanding the unspeakable s*** that’s been thrown in her direction, the most vital thing for your Auntie Lisa to worry about right now is staying around long enough to make you feel as loved as she does.’