A little while ago, I saw this clip online and it pretty much sums up how I’ve come to think about my life.
It’s just this 40-second clip, taken from the Actors Roundtable. You know for The Hollywood Reporter, where they get a bunch of really famous people talking together about acting and life?
Well, in this one there’s Robert De Niro, Adam Driver, Shia LaBeouf, Jamie Foxx, Adam Sandler and Tom Hanks.
And in the clip, it’s Hanks talking about advice he wishes he’d received when he was younger. And maybe because it’s Tom Hanks but, to me anyway, it’s just the coolest thing that anyone has ever said.
This too shall pass.
Obviously it’s not an original Hanks Quote™, but that was the first time I’d heard it and it just totally hit the nail on the head.
Look it up, or just imagine Tom Hanks’s voice:
“You feel bad right now? You feel pissed off? You feel angry?
“This too shall pass.
“You feel great? You feel like you know all the answers?
“This too shall pass.
“Time is your ally and, if nothing else, just wait.”
It’s pretty brilliant, right? No matter how high or low you get, nothing is going to stay the same forever, so just ride it out and don’t get carried away.
I’ve thought about that a lot recently, especially in the context of everything that has happened in the last couple of years of my life. There’s been a lot that has made me stop and take stock.
There’s no reset button quite like cancer.
Nothing changes your perspective in the same way.
Up until I first heard that word from the surgeon, that official diagnosis back in October of 2020, I just didn’t believe it.
I have no family history of it, nothing like that. Even after I found the lump, it didn’t really cross my mind. I was sure it was just a cyst or whatever … I mean, I was only 29.
Everything happened so fast.
On Monday, I went to an appointment to check the lump out.
Tuesday, I had a biopsy.
Wednesday, we played Chelsea.
Thursday, I got the diagnosis.
Sitting in that room, I mean … you’ve heard of an out-of-body experience, right? This was full out-of-body. I wasn’t there. After hearing the words, “the lump on your breast is cancerous”, I honestly don’t remember anything the surgeon said to me. I basically blacked out.
The weirdest thing is the lack of control. With football injuries, it’s never nice, but you basically always know where you stand.
You feel pain. You get it scanned. You find out what’s wrong and then you go work on the rehab, until you can get back to playing. It’s pretty black and white. There’s an order to it and a time frame. You know what I mean?
But with this I was not a player anymore. I was a patient.
There are just so many tests, so many lapses of time in between each thing, and all this uncertainty.
What type is it? What stage? Will there be surgery? What kind of treatment will I have? What’s the process? What drugs do I have to take?
Am I going to die?
There are so many questions. But I don’t really even want the answers, because I don’t even want to be there in the room at all. I just want to leave. To get away, back to my family hundreds of miles away in Scotland.
Just a heads-up, I don’t want this article to be all about cancer. Nah. This is really about how you deal with setbacks and the tougher moments. I have learned a lot about that over my career — and I'm pretty sure that if I hadn't, well, then I wouldn't have had a career at all.
As a child, I never would’ve thought that I could grow up to be a professional footballer. The job didn’t exist.
When I think back to when I first started getting into football, the women’s game didn’t have much exposure. The only game that was even on TV was the FA Cup final. That’s one game a year. The visibility just wasn’t there.
So, if I’m honest, the “footballer” I looked up to was — and I’m not ashamed to admit this — Keira Knightley.
The film Bend It Like Beckham came out when I was 11, and that was the first time I saw a female footballer on the screen.
For my birthday, my mum (legend that she is) made a load of homemade pick ’n’ mix and took me and a bunch of mates to the cinema to watch the film and, honestly, it was one of the best birthdays I can remember.
Just to see those characters following that dream of playing football and getting a college deal in America … that was amazing. It kinda ignited something in me that hadn’t been there before. Made it real.
My childhood was all about sport. My dad and brother both played number 8 for Scotland at rugby, and growing up — as you can imagine — sport in general was huge in our house.
We watched everything, and my brother and I were encouraged to play everything. Hockey, bit of cricket, rugby (of course), golf and tennis too.
I remember one summer when my mum got me all the tennis kit under the sun. Unfortunately, that dream ended with more than a few smashed rackets. I was so competitive, but I just couldn’t handle the pressure of individual sports. I used to have these matches against my best mate, Sophie. Our matches would always go on and on until dark, tiebreak after tiebreak, neither of us giving in. In those days, any racket was fair game for a beating after a loss — sorry, Mum!
Football was the one sport I completely fell in love with, though.
Back then, playing football seemed so easy. My best memories are of summers in Glasgow, going from door to door down our street on the way to the pitches. One of those fly-away footballs under the arm and VIEIRA 4 on the back of my Arsenal shirt.
“Hello, is Callum coming out?”
“Hi, is Neil coming out?”
“Can Scott come out to play?”
We were out there playing every day until dark with as many kids as we could gather.
When I look back at that time I just think about how lucky I was. I was never bullied. I was never made to feel unwelcome by any of the boys I grew up with.
These were just good people, you know? And still some of my best friends to this day.
I was a girl, but so what? To them, I was another door to knock on to find players for those summer games.
“Is Jen coming out to play?”
I felt like I got my own Bend it Like Beckham moment — following that dream to play football as a fully-fledged professional — when I moved to Montpellier at the age of 22.
Of course, I’d been playing at Arsenal and Celtic before that, but always part-time. This was 2013. Women’s football in Britain was still behind in that respect. The WSL was still five years away from becoming fully professional, so I needed to go abroad if I wanted to be pro.
I’ll always say it was the best and hardest thing I’ve ever done … by a country mile.
No matter how high or low you get, nothing is going to stay the same forever, so just ride it out and don’t get carried away.- Jen Beattie
I knew I had to go, but there were very few other British girls going abroad back then. I basically threw myself completely in at the deep end in a new country, language, culture, even style of football.
I remember on my first day in my locker there was a printout of all these football terms translated from English into French, meant for me to learn the basics as quickly as possible.
Cone — plot.
Left foot — pied gauche.
Right foot — pied droit.
Man on — ça vient.
Time — seule.
To this day, I can still get by in Football French, but actual conversation … no chance!
Because of that language barrier, I felt isolated. I found it hard to make friends. I didn’t really have any English-speaking teammates I could hang out with, and whenever I was with the French girls, the conversation had moved on by the time I’d come up with anything I could say!
I spent a lot of time alone.
I did jigsaws. I went to the cinema by myself, watching films I couldn't understand, just sitting there thinking, What am I even doing?
All I had was football, and that can be a dangerous place to be.
It doesn’t matter what club you’re at, if you’re going home after a game and you don’t really have an off switch … that’s something can take you to negative places. You need outlets.
It was the dream, but not the way I wanted it.
I remember calling my dad in a flood of tears on the way to training one day like, “What have I done?!”
Before Montpellier, I’d never even thought of mental health as a thing. But I started to think about it more. I bought books and read about positive mind spaces. I adopted little disengagement strategies to help me cope. It changed how I looked at the world and my place in it.
When I came back to England with Man City in 2015, I’d realised what was important to me and the need to find that balance.
City, as a club, is just amazing. Everything was just at another level — so intense, so competitive and with an ingrained winning mentality in everything they do.
The changing room was packed with these big characters like Toni Duggan and Steph Houghton, and then later on with Kos Asllani and Nadia Nadim. Great players, but also proper intelligent people that I learned so much from, not just as a footballer but as a person, as well.
That changing room also included one of my best mates to this day in Jill Scott — how can you not love Jill?! She’s been one of the biggest characters in women's football for years and a huge player for the England national team.
She gave me another key phrase that has shaped my mentality. It’s basically Jill’s tagline:
Find your formula.
Jill can explain it better than anyone, but it’s about the need to find a balance that’s right for you, not comparing your life to anyone else’s or doing what you think you should. It’s about figuring out what you need and adapting to the situation to help you perform the best.
It’s the best advice I can give to young players coming up, no matter what you’re going through.
Now I’m back at Arsenal — the club that gave me a chance as an 18-year-old kid coming out of Jordanhill School in Glasgow — I really have found my formula.
When the chance came to play under Joe Montemurro, who I’d worked with out in Melbourne earlier in my career, I jumped at it straightaway.
I’d had 4½ incredible seasons at City, but I was ready for a new challenge, and I wanted to be closer to friends and cousins who lived in London.
I was still miles away from Glasgow and my closest family, but I was never totally alone like I’d felt at times before.
I’d only been back at Arsenal for a little over a year when I was diagnosed. When I was going through radiotherapy, I held on to football for dear life. It became this outlet in a different way than I had ever experienced before. The enjoyment factor went through the roof.
I really do have the best job in the world.
It helps that the Arsenal team is full of some of the best people, too. Kim Little, Leah Williamson … it’s such a close, amazing group. They’ve offered so much support and protection for me during the difficult times.
The moment that kind of summed up the way the team dealt with my diagnosis was on the Sunday after, when we played Brighton away in the WSL. We won the game 5–0 … and I scored.
And I never score.
(Just in case you don’t know. I’m like a one-a-season girl … max!)
But I scored in that game against Brighton. Three days after the diagnosis.
I went up for a corner and managed to sneak in unmarked at the back post to head in.
The way the whole team ran over to celebrate with me … wow, yeah, I can’t even describe how special that moment felt.
By the way, I know it’s normal to run to the scorer after a goal, but this was … different. If you watch the highlights back, you can see how everyone reacted.
Everyone had each other’s back. And they were just there for me, through anything. All together.
That meant everything.
The other person at Arsenal I have to give a big shout out to is Jo Price, our club doctor.
When I was sitting in that surgeon’s office, just wanting the ground to swallow me up — not knowing what to say, or how to say it — she was the one who got me through it. She’s a total ledge, honestly. I can’t thank her enough for everything.
She just handled the situation. She knew all the questions to ask, what to say, what to do.
She was all over my appointments, taking care of everything, and after she would even put together an email for all my family letting them know exactly what was going on, because they couldn’t be with me.
In those times, with that lack of control, you just give yourself over to people like Jo and all the doctors, surgeons and nurses. I’m so grateful for the amazing work they do.
It’s been a tough couple of years — especially when you add in the pandemic and back surgery for a long-term injury.
(Just FYI, I spent my 30th birthday horizontal on the sofa still coming off the meds after that!)
I’ve started to look at things through a different filter. Nothing will be as hard as cancer, so just go with it and let all the other negatives fall away.
When I was going through radiotherapy, I held on to football for dear life. It became this outlet in a different way than I had ever experienced before.- Jen Beattie
This too shall pass.
A little while ago, Leah Williamson and I were chatting during training and she told me how watching me deal with everything, it had changed her perspective on life too.
I was like, What?!
I never wanted to be that person … that example for other people. We joke about it now. It’s something that’s difficult to get my head around. But, honestly, if what I've been through can help other people then I’m very happy.
As athletes, we definitely find it harder to talk about mental health, maybe because confidence and bravery out on the pitch is such a big thing.
It’s hard to be vulnerable, but I think it’s important for us to say it’s O.K. to not be O.K., as well.
Everyone goes through hard stuff, but it’s important to check yourself, and reset if you can.
Talk to the people around you.
And remember, no matter how bad you feel, nothing lasts forever.
Other than that, the best advice I can give is to listen to Jill Scott and Tom Hanks.