14/10/2015 13:24 BST | Updated 14/10/2016 06:12 BST

Fight Like a Girl: A Year Living With Breast Cancer


When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2014, when people would describe the disease as a roller-coaster it would immediately roll my eyes, a response that made it clear to anyone who saw it that they'd never understand what I'm going through.

I think that maybe I was being self-indulgent back then, because the longer my experience continues, the more difficult it becomes to find a better metaphor.

Within the space of a year I've been at the extreme end of every conceivable emotion, pushing the relationships with those around me to the limit. The harder I fought, cancer fought back, taking away a young family member in the process.

Exactly one year ago, oblivious to what was about to happen to me, I'd embedded a brand new Continuous Management function into Marks and Spencer, my MBA was coming to an end, and I'd been blessed not only with a beautiful daughter, but also a tremendously understanding husband.

I had it all. And as it turns out, I also had breast cancer.

I had never really checked for lumps; cancer didn't run in my family and I thought back then that it was the type of thing that happened to people with bad diets and too much stress in their lives, so when I visited the doctor after finding a lump I was perhaps a little too relaxed about the whole thing. Unfortunately for me, so was my doctor.

When it became clear I wasn't being taken seriously, perseverance turned into defiance, but still it took three months and two further appointments with my doctor. When the tumour was eventually removed during my mastectomy, it turned out to be an aggressive 10cm beauty which had become bored in situ and had taken an unwelcome trip to my lymph nodes.

People ask me whether or not I hold anyone responsible for the delay which I'm sure made my situation worse. And I simply answer 'Who knows?' While I believe that the medical profession needs help in shifting to a culture that learns from its mistakes, I have enough on my plate to take that battle on too.

My two objectives throughout this whole experience have been very simple:

1. Survive

2. Do so in a way that my daughter Erica would be proud of.


Thankfully as Erica is only four years old, she's a bit young to be embarrassed by seeing my parading around in my underwear, with a bald head for the world to see, as part of the new M&S and Breast Cancer Now campaign. Luckily - for me - she gets a kick out of seeing Mummy in the paper and shop windows.

My real hope is that when she's older she'll appreciate my broader motivation to do something positive with my experience.

If taking part in the M&S and Breast Cancer Now campaign helps them to be successful in their aim to raise £13million for world-class prevention research - and to prevent 9,000 cases of breast cancer - then I will feel that I've turned a negative into a positive.

But to be completely honest, if parading my steroid-ridden, swollen, bald self for the world to see means that my daughter will never have to face this wretched disease then, frankly, I would have done it naked.


Those of you who are parents will appreciate the fear of leaving behind a child; you learn not to fear death, or the suffering associated with the very treatment that is supposed to save your life. To the contrary, you discover a primal instinct to protect your family at any cost.

Breast cancer is such a personal experience and I have met many people during my own journey who have had different ways of dealing with it. For me, I have taken great comfort in doing my best to try and turn something negative that has happened to me in to a positive.

As strange as it may sound, I think it took being diagnosed with breast cancer to realise how lucky I am. I have wonderful people around me that remind me I have so much to live for, and I truly believe we can continue to raise awareness of this disease in a positive way.

I was in the middle of my treatment when I took part in the photoshoot with M&S and Breast Cancer Now. I chose to support the campaign in my own personal way. It was right for me, but that doesn't make my way any better or worse than anyone else's. Ultimately, we're all in this together and we're all fighting towards the same end.

I chose to keep a blog of my experience - entitled 'Fight Like a Girl' - not just to satisfy my narcissism but also to give women like me, who may be oblivious to their individual risk, a reality check that could ultimately save their lives. I've been told of three instances where that's been the case and I'm hoping for many, many more.