The story behind Hex's Aldi bag design

Hex, who was supported by Teenage Cancer Trust, is raising money for us this year through a collaboration with Aldi. Hex designed Aldi’s new ‘you, me, and a cup of tea’ reusable bag which is going to be available to buy at Aldi stores throughout July 2023. This is the story of their relationship with art, how their Clinical Nurse Specialist Charlene supported them, and their collaborations with Teenage Cancer Trust.  

“You, me and a cup of tea”

Hex’s design for a new, special edition Aldi bag, which is going to be sold in every Aldi store across the UK in July, is inspired by the treatment they received from Teenage Cancer Trust. Hex explains “The design symbolises how it felt for me to get that support when I needed it most”. 

Hex’s relationship with art and design is something that has run deep before and after their aplastic anaemia diagnosis. Hex studied Fine Art at Leeds Art University, since then, art has arguably become an even bigger part of Hex’s life,  as it was a central coping method through treatment. They explain “Art was the biggest thing that helped me through treatment. For the past three years I have drawn for anything from two to six hours a day and it’s acted as therapy for me as it’s distracted my mind. It’s been one constant thing I had especially throughout Covid”.

Hex and their bag
Hex’s bag is our cup of tea!

“I use my art like a diary. Art can help pass the time and help you get your emotions out, but I think some people get scared away from art as they think that they need to create something pretty or something that resembled something. But it doesn’t matter what it looks like and you can throw it away if you don’t like it. You’re only making it for you”.

Now, after having used their talent to help themselves through a difficult time, Hex’s artwork will be helping fund our specialised nurses and youth support coordinators, as well as our 28 hospital units across the UK.

Being diagnosed with aplastic anaemia

Whilst at university, Hex played football for Leeds United Women’s Football Club, and saw this as their future beyond their studies. All this changed following a long period of feeling unwell in 2019, which included a life-threatening drop in their liver function. Hex shares “My liver function was below ten percent, I was given information about liver transplants but with my rapid decline it seemed like it might not be a viable option, so it was really scary. I was diagnosed as having seronegative hepatitis. I don’t remember much from around that time as when your liver function drops that low you become delirious”.

In early 2020, Hex was diagnosed with aplastic anaemia, a condition which affects two in a million people. Their treatment included a bone marrow transplant and regular treatment for their kidneys. Later, going through immunosuppressive therapy took a physical and emotional toil on Hex. “I was in a wheelchair, and I had to learn to walk again. I got out of breath doing anything. I’d also put on weight due to the steroids and I had a Hickman line in. It really did affect how I felt about myself. How I saw my identity wasn’t reflected when I looked in the mirror. I had to get used to the new me and it was one of the most difficult things for me”.

Hex’s Clinical Nurse Specialist – Charlene

Hex says that their bag design for Aldi is reflective of the warmth and comfort of Teenage Cancer Trust funded staff. Hex’s Clinical Nurse Specialist – Charlene – was a clear example of this. Charlene was there  for Hex, both at home and on the hospital ward. Aside from the treatment itself, Hex highlights the importance of Charlene’s role, as nurses like her provide a different layer to professional healthcare support. Hex explains “Having someone to just listen is a really big thing. So often you’re just talking to health care professionals whose only job is to just look after physical side of things. Someone to listen to all of the other things that go along with all of the treatment is really important. I talked to my parents, but they were worried enough, and I didn’t want to worry them more, so talking to someone outside of the family really helped. She also talked me through what was going to happen next”.

On top of this emotional support, Charlene also helped Hex with multiple practical issues, such as thinking about finances and getting some support from the government.  Hex adds “she also put me in touch with other charities which might be able to help me. I’d been really active before and not being able to do that had had a mental affect as well as the physical affects, so I got some support with that”.

Hex’s experience with our Find Your Sense Of Tumour event.

Following their diagnosis Hex was faced with two quite isolating challenges. The first was having a rare condition, and the second was being treated during the pandemic. They explain that “when Covid hit I was completely isolated and didn’t see my friends for over a year. I went to all of my appointments by myself and had my treatment by myself. I met absolutely no one with the same condition as me during that time. About 99 percent of people on the ward were older than me and most were a lot older. I was closer in age to the nurses. I felt lonely and isolated from my peers”.

Following the experience they had during the pandemic, Teenage Cancer Trust’s FYSOT event helped Hex in a lot of different ways. The first of which was getting a sense of community and understanding from peers who had been through similar experiences. “Within ten minutes of meeting the people I was going with, everyone was already being very open and having a laugh about how crazy it is being so ill when you’re so young. I’ve not laughed as much in years as I did that weekend”.

“Find Your Sense of Tumour was the most liberating thing I’ve done in the last three years. To learn that other people felt the same way as me was a huge weight off my shoulders. FYSOT is a great equalizer where gender, race, religious beliefs, or sexual orientation don’t matter. I don’t know anywhere else where people came together like that. I became really close to one person and she’s the friend I didn’t think I needed but do. Isolating for so long had affected my mental health at the time, but I also don’t feel like I have much in common with my other friends anymore”. 

As well as helping them connect with other young people, FYSOT gave Hex a big confidence boost, leading them to collaborate in multiple Teenage Cancer Trust groups and initiatives. “FYSOT really helped my confidence too as it showed me that I am in control of how I share my story. I decided I wanted to share my story publicly to help others. I’ve also applied for Teenage Cancer Trust’s Creative and Campaigns Group and the Youth Advisory Group so I can help shape things for other young people”.

Coming out of the weekend, Hex found some of the direction that was missing from their life after their diagnosis and all the difficulties that had come with it. They explain “before I went to FYSOT, I was in a bit of a rut and didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. After such a long journey I was beginning to wonder ‘Is this just who I am now?’ Part of me doesn’t want to be defined by what happened and my illness, but it also feels like a missed opportunity if I don’t use it to better myself or as part of my career to help others. This weekend has inspired me to carry on along the path to become a patient advocate”.