“Love yourself, love life, be kind to others, laugh, be silly… dance! Having cancer, or any illness, does not stop you from following your heart and being as alive as you can be in each moment.” Yvette Cowles
Former non-fiction marketing director at Harper Collins, Yvette Cowles, has passed away. Yvette was a good friend to me, and a supporter of Iron Man Records. The quote “Beauty is not in the face, beauty is a light in the heart” by Kahlil Gibran makes me think of Yvette.
Yvette studied French and Italian at the University of Exeter and subsequently taught English in the South of France. She was diagnosed and treated for cancer for the first time in 1996, but had been living with secondary breast cancer since 2011, detailing some of her experiences in a blog which I helped her to set up.
Non-fiction marketing director at Harper Collins from 1996 to 2002, Yvette subsequently held a number of head of marketing roles in publishers including Sutton Publishing, The History Press and Hay House Publications.
She founded Dance Yourself Happy, a school which taught a blend of dance and yoga workshops, in 2006, and last autumn published Belly Dancing and Beating the Odds with her old firm Harper Collins.
Yvette also ran retreats to help people de-stress and have fun, which combined laughter yoga with a wide variety of dance forms – and even a spot of air guitar.
I like to think that Yvette dealt with cancer and death as she lived her life – in her own way and on her own terms. Yvette gave me many things to think about during our conversations over a cup of coffee, especially in recent times. Let me try to share a few of them:
“While the NHS has done wonders nursing my body back to health, dancing continues to be the best medicine for my soul…..how fleeting and precious life is. Cancer taught me to stop getting bogged down in trivia, to stop beating myself up for not being good enough; it even gave me the impetus to ditch a high-powered (and extremely stressful) job in publishing and follow my heart. You have to do what brings you alive. Don’t put it off any longer”
“You don’t know how you are going to react to something until it actually happens. People think they know what they will do, or how they will react, but they don’t. Until they look at you and tell you the news, you cannot know how you will respond. You have to understand that you may have a completely unexpected reaction. And you also have to try and stay positive.”
Yvette repeated “Cancer isn’t a war or a fight that you win or lose. Call it what you will, just don’t call it a fight.” She quoted “Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.”
Her kindness and infectious positive spirit will live on. “To have a friend and to be a friend is what makes life worthwhile.” and in the words of writer E B White, Yvette quoted “Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. Wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.”
Yvette featured in “The Big C & Me”, a three-part BBC 1 documentary series on cancer, which screened on 1st June 2016.
David Swarbrick, who worked with Yvette at HarperCollins, said: “What made Yvette so different was not just her professionalism, not her rich life outside the industry, or even her qualities of humour, grace, creativity and determination, but how she put this all together again to fight cancer – by burlesque, comedy and belly dancing. You couldn’t make it up. But she did.”
He added: “She didn’t hide; she battled. And so stylishly. Her battle became therapy – for herself and thousands of others; and evolved into a show. Her show became a tour that traveled up and down the country for several years; her tour became a book; and her book became a TV documentary. She won tens of thousands of fans, entertained hundreds of thousands more and inspired us all. And she did it through comedy: laughing; and getting us all to laugh. It was an astonishing and wildly unpredictable achievement.”
“What she did in adversity showed all of us how to have the courage to live a good life, regardless as to what is thrown at you.”