Ellen Johnson from our Cramlington store has always been a strong supporter and fundraiser for our Tickled Pink campaign – so when she was diagnosed with breast cancer herself she just knew she had to get the awareness message across to others.
Service colleague Ellen, who's 55 and has worked at the store for 15 years, said: "Always get any type of lump checked, please don't wait. Anything that's unusual or different just get it looked at. If in doubt, get it checked. I was lucky. As soon as I found it I got it sorted. It could been a lot worse if I hadn't bothered. Don't ever think that it won't ever happen to you – that's what I thought."
Ellen, who has a daughter Shanell and grandchildren Macie and Nathan Watson, aged nine and five, was diagnosed with breast cancer last summer.
She said: "I had a frozen shoulder for about six months and I kept going to the doctors about it as it wasn't easing or anything. When it was frozen I'd stretch out my arm as it ached a lot and that was when I found the lump in my left breast.
"I knew straight away that it wasn't right. As soon as I felt it I just knew. Your body tells you. I went to the GP and then to Wansbeck Hospital for scans and checks and they said it was cancer. They did a mammogram and biopsies and found out that the other breast wasn't right either.
"I was speechless when they told me, as you always think it's not going to be you."
Ellen had to have a cancerous lump taken from one breast, a nipple off the other and several lymph nodes from under an armpit. That was in September.
She said: "So I've got three massive scars and one boob with no nipple, but that's not everything in life is it!"
Before she underwent chemotherapy treatment she decided to have her head shaved to raise money for Tickled Pink.
"I thought to myself that I'd lose my hair anyway so I may as well raise some money from it. I can't believe I raised £1,847 just through colleagues and friends, it was an amazing amount. I can't thank them enough, it was unbelievable.
"I've been a big supporter of Tickled Pink over the years. I've always dressed up and last year me and one of the section leaders had wet sponges thrown at us to raise money."
Ellen, who's been with her partner Steven Thompson for 27 years, has finished her chemotherapy treatment and will soon be having an intensive course of radiotherapy before returning to work.
She said: "I can't wait to get back to work. I'm bored and I miss the laughs. They have been so understanding too and they're all missing me, they said. I'm not a quiet person!
"Some of the colleagues have been out with us for a cuppa and I've even had some of the customers text me to ask me how I am, which is nice.
"Cancer is one of those words that nobody wants to hear. You wouldn't wish it on your worst enemy. But I've still laughed and smiled all the way through it."
Jackie Burt, the store's community champion, has known Ellen for many years and says she'd been sorely missed.
She said: "Ellen is such a fun-loving character and a great supporter of Tickled Pink. Her diagnosis made her more determined to support it.
"She knew she was going to lose her hair with her chemotherapy, so she decided to shave her head for Tickled Pink the day before it started. Her target was £1,000 which she has smashed out the park by raising £1,847.
"This just shows just how much she is loved and cared by colleagues, customers, friends and family and we miss her. She has missed her two of her favourite times of the year – Halloween and Christmas – as she always goes daft with dress up.
"We all miss your banter Ellen and all wish you well and can't wait to have you back."
Tickled Pink supports the charities Breast Cancer Now and CoppaFeel.