I felt very honoured to be invited to a very unique event last week. After 16 years of fundraising Asda's Tickled Pink campaign was celebrating as they have raised a landmark £30 million for two breast cancer charities: Breast Cancer Care and Breast Cancer Campaign. To thank Asda for their ongoing dedication the two charities showcased the vital work Tickled Pink has helped to fund.
To kick start the event Breast Cancer Campaign showcased one of the 78 projects the charity has been able to fund with support from Tickled Pink. The Breast Cancer Campaign Tissue Bank - of which Asda is a founding partner following a £2 million investment - is the UK's first national store of breast cancer tissue.
Breast Cancer Campaign's Tissue Bank gives all breast cancer scientists in the UK and Ireland access to high quality samples independent of their contacts or location, filling the critical gap that leading scientists identified as crucial to speed up the route to a cure. I learnt that this access to human tissue enables research to be fast tracked from the laboratory into clinical practice - and ultimately into new, more targeted treatments for people with breast cancer.
Tickled Pink also funds Tissue Bank research nurses so that women have all the information they need when deciding whether they wish to donate as well as someone to support and guide them throughout the process. More than 14,000 breast cancer samples have been collected from around 3,000 patients, which I heard is bringing us ever closer to a cure for breast cancer.
Then we had a talk from two of Breast Cancer Care's Clinical Nurse Specialists to discover how their innovative Helpline and Moving Forward programme helps thousands of people live with and beyond breast cancer. Breast Cancer Care is the only UK-wide charity dedicated to providing emotional support and expert information to anyone affected by breast cancer.
Thanks to the generosity of Asda's Tickled Pink campaign, I have been able to access some truly wonderful support through Breast Cancer Care, which was an absolute lifeline for me when I was diagnosed.
I got the biggest shock of my life when my second routine mammogram showed some abnormalities. After an ultrasound and two biopsies, I had an agonising ten day wait until I was given the results.
On 16 November 2011, I was told that I had breast cancer. Two tumours had been found in my right breast and because they were quite far apart, I was told I should have a full mastectomy. My stomach fell through the floor and it felt like the consultant was talking to me through cotton wool. The tumours were small, only just over half a centimetre in size, so I was shocked that I would need such radical surgery. I was sent home with Breast Cancer Care's booklet on reconstruction - the start of my library of their wonderful publications!
I rang Breast Cancer Care's Helpline for the first of many times. They were so supportive and helped me see that having the mastectomy was my choice, talking me through all my options. I never felt hurried, and could spend as long as I needed talking to an expert.
I was relieved to hear that my breast cancer was very unlikely to be genetic, so my daughter Victoria wouldn't be affected. But breaking the news to her was very tough and I was worried for her as she had just left home to start university and was still settling in. We stayed up till 5am talking everything through together.
In the end I opted for a mastectomy with immediate reconstruction, which took place in January 2012. And I'm so thankful that I did, because it turned out that a third, more aggressive tumour was found in my breast. The plastic surgeon did a fantastic job. You can barely see the scars now, and I was even able to wear a bikini again last summer!
I also encouraged my mum Betty, 85, to have another mammogram. Unfortunately she was found to have aggressive DCIS, a non-invasive form of breast cancer, in her left breast - the opposite side to me - so also needed a mastectomy. We joke that between us we still have a normal pair of boobs!
I was lucky that my cancer hadn't spread and so I didn't need chemotherapy, but once my active treatment finished, I felt this real sense of abandonment. My safety net of regular hospital appointments was gone and I felt very alone. I attended one of Breast Cancer Care's Moving Forward courses, which provide support when you have finished treatment. It made me feel safe again knowing someone was looking out for my emotional welfare. I also met three incredibly inspiring women at the course who have been through breast cancer like me - we developed a strong bond and are now great friends.
After what I have been through, I was delighted to see the work of these two charities and know that, with the support of the Tickled Pink Campaign, they are helping people with breast cancer both now, and in the future.
Jackie starred in an exclusive video for Tickled Pink, presented by Zoe Hardman.
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