This October, M&S is helping to fund breast cancer research by donating 20 per cent of pink bra sales to Breast Cancer Now. Meet the inspiring women behind our campaignWatch the film
HELEN, 52, runs her own business with her husband. She has two children and was diagnosed with breast cancer in September 2016. She has received numerous treatments including chemotherapy and has undergone a double mastectomy.
“Not knowing what’s around the corner, the most important thing I wanted to do was to give my kids memories. And I think that’s more important than anything money can buy. We decided we were going to go on this big tour of France by motorhome; my husband said, ‘When you’re sitting in bed and you don't feel too bad you can have all the France maps and guidebooks next to you and you can plan our holiday.’ And that meant so much to me, to be able to do that – when Alfie came home from school I could show him some pictures of where we’d be going.
“The memory now of us cycling back to our campsite one night in the pitch dark, laughing our heads off – just things like that, hearing my son laugh, it was lovely.”
LAURA, 32, is an English teacher and mother of three. Her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer last year.
“If I’m not feeling great my husband will always give me three options: shall I get some wine? Do you want a bath? Shall we go and see your mum? Because if he can’t fix it, he knows one of those three can!
“Mum being diagnosed with breast cancer meant a complete role reversal for her – it took a long time but eventually she has allowed herself to need us, her daughters. And now I value her as a woman as well as a mother. So these days, instead of fixing a set time to see each other, we focus on every day, even a quick phone call. Although… we always laugh that if you have a five-minute conversation with my mum it’s going to take an hour!”
HEATHER, 43, teaches nursing and has a 14-year-old son. She was diagnosed with breast cancer nine years ago.
“After a diagnosis, you just realise how short life is; sometimes you have to step outside your day-to-day and dare yourself a bit more and you’d be surprised with how much you can achieve. I started saying yes a lot more, travelling a bit more, going out a bit more… and I had the courage to change my job and do something completely different. That would have completely freaked me out before. I used to be a children’s nurse.
“I decided to become a university lecturer instead – I used to be so scared to stand in front of people. I still am but now I just think I’m gonna do it! I have put myself out there because I have nothing left to fear – everything that could have happened to me has happened.”
HAYLEY, 40, is a fashion buyer and has two daughters; she had her last cycle of chemotherapy in August and will follow this with radiotherapy.
“One of the questions my daughter asked when I first told her about the diagnosis was, ‘Are you going to lose your hair?’ and that really broke my heart. So using a cold cap during chemotherapy and trying to keep my hair – that was important for me. It’s kept me looking healthy and so it hasn't really affected the children. I’ve been trying to keep things as normal for them as possible. It’s about living for the moment and making sure the house is full of laughter.”
KATIE, 33, was diagnosed two years ago, at the age of 31, and is currently taking the breast cancer drug Tamoxifen.
“I don’t like people calling me ‘brave’, talking about ‘the battle’. What did I do apart from mentally get through it? The doctors and nurses got me through it. They are the amazing teams giving us our lives back – I’m just a person in a crap situation dealing with it.
“When I was diagnosed I immediately called my best friend Angela and she came round with a fashion magazine (and a bag of lemons!). She didn’t know what to bring – no one does, really, that’s the thing with a cancer diagnosis. I’ve never opened the magazine, not even glanced at one page. I do keep it. though, just to remind me of her support.”
LESLEY, 51, a campaigner, has four children between nine and 17 years old. She is taking part in a clinical trial to treat her stage-4 metastatic breast cancer.
“I ran all the time before I was diagnosed and I loved it; in fact it was breathlessness during my run that made me go to the doctor. I was scanned and they discovered it was breast cancer that had spread into my lungs, hence the breathlessness.
“It was my little personal goal through some fairly awful chemotherapies to continue. I wanted to feel that I was taking control, so even between treatments I would try to pull on my running shoes. Sometimes I could only manage 50 yards, but it's a mental thing… I’m out most days, it’s just the thing I do. I was never particularly good at it but you never come back from a run feeling miserable, do you?”
EMI LOU, 38, is a holistic therapist and wellbeing writer. She also documents her ongoing treatment for breast cancer and has two children.
“For the life of me I don’t know why but I’ve decided to show the process and created an online gallery (mummyoneboob) showing all the changes to my body. What I really wanted to get across is two things. One is that really positive things can come out of this really horrible situation – you can use it to create and live your best life and do the things you want to do. And two is about the physical changes – I wanted to show that my body is still strong. I’m on my fourth surgery now and probably there will be more but I wanted to show that all of it is beautiful and just because you’ve changed, your strength and sexiness can still come through.
“I didn’t used to like my body – I was like every other girl who could only see the flaws, and now I feel that it is absolutely possible to accept and embrace our imperfections. That’s an important message. Now I completely worship my body.”