A mob-handed way of dealing with cancer...

Kate Ibbotson and "Kevin"..Sheffield Cancer Mafia
Kate Ibbotson and "Kevin"..Sheffield Cancer Mafia
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“I SUPPOSE the name says a lot about the group,” muses Kate Ibbeson. “It’s irreverent, and it won’t appeal to everyone but it sums up our approach.

“What we’ve been through is very dark but we use dark humour to deal with it.”

Prepare, reader, to be made an offer you can’t refuse. For you join us in a city centre cake shop for the latest gathering of...the Sheffield Cancer Mafia.

Unusual monicker? It’s an unusual group.

For this 150-strong collective is one of only a handful across the entire country set up to support those touched by the devastating illness - through the power of socialising.

They go to gigs, visit pubs and take afternoon tea. They have knitted mascots and made punk-style badges. They have a Facebook page full of laughter.

“I don’t knock what other groups do,” says founder (or perhaps that should be Don) Kate, of Freedom Road, Walkley.

“But I know when some people think about talking about their experiences in an official setting, they just think: death by digestive biscuit.

“Our social element is key. I wanted to be part of a group which did normal things - but with people who understand what you’ve been through.”

And it seems it works.

Eighteen months after the group was launched (“at a pub quiz at the Hillsborough Hotel”) it is still growing in size, has received the backing of St Luke’s Hospice and is being looked at as a potential model for similar societies around the country.

Kate is the first to admit it’s no substitute for valuable institutions like the Cancer Support Centre at Weston Park - but it does offer an alternative.

And it was inspired by the 41-year-old project manager’s own devastating experience.

She lost both her parents, of Brinsworth, Rotherham, in less than a year.

Her father Barry passed away in June 2009 with cancer of the ureter. Just weeks later her mum Ann, who had previously shown no symptoms, was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer. She died in May 2010.

“I can’t tell you how devastating it was,” says Kate. “It still hurts now.”

What helped, however, was going to a tap dancing class.

There she met 32-year-old Allie Lamb, a radiographer of Walkley, who had been diagnosed with breast cancer but who is now two years clear.

“We talked about this illness which we’d both experienced from different perspectives,” says Kate. “But because we were doing it in an informal setting, it took the pressure off. We were just normal people talking. That was how Sheffield Cancer Mafia was born.”

The pair set up a website - www.sheffieldcancermafia.co.uk - and set about organising the relaxed socials which make the group.

Among other things, they have seen rock band The Answer at the O2 Academy, enjoyed tea at the Mercure Hotel and knitted three mascots which members are challenged to take around the world with them.

And it really does help.

One member is Jonathan Slater who lost his wife Deborah in 2010 when she was just 44.

“Your friends and family try and do their best but unless you’ve been there it’s hard for anyone to understand what you’re experiencing,” says the 44-year-old of Moorthorpe View, Owlthorpe. “A lot of support groups can be very staid which wasn’t me. This is more relaxed. And you can have a drink.”

And that name - Sheffield Cancer Mafia?

“It just struck me,” says Kate. “I wanted to try and sum up who we are. We have a saying ‘Don’t let Cancer disrespect your family’. We like being the mafia.”

The next social is at Sheffield Tap, in Sheaf Street, on Tuesday at 7.30pm.