I've been involved with Breast Cancer Care for many years through my job as a presenter at QVC the shopping channel. QVC has been the charity's official broadcast partner for thirteen years and during that time has raised a staggering £4.4million to help provide free services and support for those affected by breast cancer.
One of the highlights of the Breast Cancer Care fundraising calendar is their annual fashion show and through my work with QVC I have been lucky enough to regularly attend this inspirational event. The fashion show is unique in that all the models are men and women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. Over the years I have met and interviewed these incredible models. I've talked to them about their surgery, asked about their treatment, the side effects - even how it feels to lose your hair. I've marveled at their courage, and cried quiet tears while they bring the catwalk to life with their fabulously uplifting display of fearless femininity. We can all try and imagine what it's like to live with cancer and its treatment, but until it happens to you, you don't really know. But now I do. After all those years of working with men and women with breast cancer, in January 2011 I was diagnosed with breast cancer myself.
Since my diagnosis I have lost both my breasts, and struggled with the devastating side effects of heavy chemo and radiotherapy - NOTHING will ever be as effective as chemotherapy when it comes to hair removal! I had to take nine months away from my job - the way I felt about myself both physically and emotionally meant that working in front of the camera would have been impossible. Being away from work meant I missed my friends and that sense of purpose and belonging.
That's why I was so excited when I was chosen to take part in the Breast Cancer Care fashion show this year and be one of the models. It really was an experience unlike any other. It was uplifting, emotional, exhausting yet energising, and above all empowering. Spending 48 hours in the company of the 23 other models who have all had or are living with breast cancer was humbling, and the feeling of love and support at the event, was quite overwhelming.
This time last month, I was standing in the wings before each show waiting to go on, my legs felt like jelly, but the incredible roar from the crowd and deafening applause carried us all up and out there! The Show featured seven different scenes, and I was a model in four of them. I wore everything from a leather jacket in the Biker Chic scene, and a mini dress that was a tad too short (!), to Stella McCartney and Biba evening dresses - I felt sexy and feminine! Especially as I walked down the catwalk in the final scene with a dashingly handsome young male model!
The end scene where I stood in line with my fellow models while the audience stood and applauded us was quite simply unbelievable. However, for me it was stepping out to receive my flowers and making that final trip down the catwalk when the enormity of the occasion hit me.
If it wasn't for cancer I would never have experienced this, never have met such incredibly brave and wonderful people like the 23 other models, or ever have felt so loved. All those months when I had struggled with my treatment, and lived with fear were behind me, and in front of me in the audience I could see the people I love most in the world.
A few weeks ago, QVC held their annual three hour Be Aware Show You Care fundraiser. The show featured highlights from the Breast Cancer Care fashion show while urging the public to fundraise through donations, an on air auction and a huge range of products available to buy, with all net profits going to Breast Cancer Care. I worked alongside my friends and colleagues on the show and it raised a staggering £380,000 - it made me so proud! Sitting in our QVC studios with my own hair, eyelashes, and eyebrows, I realised how far I had come in a year and how there is life and hope after a breast cancer diagnosis. I am making the very best of the life I have.
To find out how to be breast aware, and how you can make a difference to the lives of people affected by breast cancer visit the Breast Cancer Care website.
Follow Alison Keenan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/BCCare