I’m part of a three-strong People team at Asda Royal Leamington Spa – and we’ve all had breast cancer.
I was the first – I was diagnosed in 2001, when I was working at the Minworth store. Then Rosie Bayliss (on the right in the picture above) was diagnosed and treated some years ago, and Anne Patmore (on the left) was diagnosed last year. We’re a close team and having this sort of shared experience has brought us even closer together.
I remember the devastating feeling when I was first told I had breast cancer, but I had loads of support. I had one daughter at university and another doing her A-Levels, but they were really great. Telling them was the hardest thing I've ever had to do. When I lost my hair I remember them saying, ‘You’ve got a nice head!’ – it made me determined to do what I wanted to do and to not worry about what people thought.
I was able to draw on my experience to support Anne when she had chemotherapy. I was there for her to say, ‘look – do what’s right for you’ because I think one thing that happens when you’ve got cancer is that people have a tendency to tell you how you should feel and what you should do. So I think she appreciated that I was speaking from experience when I said to her to do what’s right for her.
She’s come back to work now and her hair’s grown again. She’s doing so well and even managed to go on a month-long holiday to Australia. It’s been good to support Anne through this illness. The three of us have a laugh, which I think makes a difference too.
When I look back at my experience and what Anne’s been through I release the amazing progress that’s been made improving awareness, understanding and the treatment of people with cancer.
Years ago you wouldn’t even say the word, and if you said to someone that you had cancer you were treated like you were dying. I think women have really empowered themselves in terms of dealing with breast cancer and getting it out into the open. Attitudes have changed too. It’s not automatically seen as a death sentence and you can live a normal life afterwards.
I’ve worked at Asda since 1984 – I only went in for a temporary job one Christmas to get some money to buy presents for the girls! But I just love it because it’s a people business. We think of retail as selling, but it’s customers and colleagues that make the business. I’ve worked in lots of different Asda stores across the Midlands over the years. As well as Minworth and Leamington Spa I’ve worked at Coventry, Walsall Living, Oldbury, Abbey Park, Rugby and Small Heath.
My colleagues have always been a great help, taking me to appointments and keeping in touch. When I was off work I used to get a card every two weeks from a different person at the store checking in on me. It was so nice to know that people were still thinking of me. I was off work for 11 months and being out of the workplace for that length of time you worry that people will have forgotten you, that you won’t still be able to do your job, and it’s scary going back to work.
It gave me strength that there were people on my team and that I hadn’t been forgotten when I walked out of the door – and I hope that’s how Anne feels too.
I think one of the most moving things was that when I went back to work the whole team went pink for Tickled Pink. I worked in Home and Leisure at the time and every single one of them was wearing pink outfits. The security team were wearing tutus sitting in a bath of pink custard and it just made you think, ‘I’m not alone.’
I find Tickled Pink hugely moving because I think all these people are doing fun things and things that test them to the limit to raise money to support people like us. I’m so proud of what we’ve done as a business – all the money we’ve raised has made a big difference to the great work Breast Cancer Care and Breast Cancer Now do.
I like to join in with fundraising activities in the store and will be supporting this year’s appeal. Previously I've sat in a bath of porridge, which was brilliant for my skin! I buy the Tickled Pink products for myself as well as my daughters Carla and Joanne and my granddaughter Ariana.
I’m happy to talk about it because a lot of other people aren’t. If you think perhaps of my grandmother’s generation, when the prognosis was bleak. People used to think you could catch cancer, so it’s great that attitudes have changed completely.
I was 43 when I was diagnosed. About six months before I was diagnosed one of my nipples inverted. I dived off to the doctor and she said ‘At your age it’s nothing.’ Then I found a lump while I was in the bath. I had surgery virtually straight away, as well as four rounds of chemo – half my lymph nodes were cancerous – then radiotherapy, followed by tremoxifen.
My lowest time was when the consultant came to see me early in the morning and I thought, ‘this can’t be good’. He said they took out 15 lymph nodes and eight of them were cancerous, so my chances weren’t great. That was the one that really hit home, as I’d coped pretty well until then.
The team that looked after me was fantastic and I feel that if I didn’t live my life as they would expect I would be letting them down, so I make the most of every single day.
To be here now, to have all this time with my daughters and have the joy of my granddaughter is a wonderful gift. Who’d have thought I’d be around to see her? She’s five, the greatest light in my life and is just a joy.
Success with cancer doesn’t mean going off and walking the Great Wall of China – going back to doing what you enjoy, what you used to do before, and spending time with the people you love is what it’s all about.
Be your breast friend: We're encouraging women to 'Be Your Breast Friend' by regularly checking yourself and knowing the signs of breast cancer. Find out more here.