09/03/2017 11:21 GMT | Updated 10/03/2018 05:12 GMT

How To Find Your Voice When You Have Breast Cancer

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With cancer, you have everything to lose. It can steal your loved ones, turn your skin to scars, crush your confidence and force you to stare in a mirror and not recognise the face staring back. And, in the case of breast cancer, if it spares your life, you must live in the fear that it might one day return unexpectedly to finish the job.

People talk a lot about loss, because cancer is so much about what it takes away.

But I want to tell you about a group of women - and one in particular - who are doing a lot to change that picture.

The first time I met Joanna Forest, we were surrounded by giant inflatable boobs and boob-checking literature trying to convince a room full of hotel employees that young women (and men) do get breast cancer and that by knowing what's normal for you, we can all be much more breast aware.


Image: Derek Bremner/CoppaFeel

Joanna, like me, is a Boobette - a volunteer working with incredible charity CoppaFeel to help people identify the signs and symptoms of breast cancer and have the confidence to go to the GP at any age. But, unlike me, Joanna was just 19 when she first heard the words, at a time when nobody thought young women could get breast cancer.

Joanna could tell you a lot about loneliness. She was alone in a the waiting room full of older patients. She was alone with a treatment plan written for women three times her age. And, as a young actress trying to forge a glittering career, she knew she had to remain alone and tell no one about her struggles or risk the industry turning its back on her in favour of healthier young actresses.

But, meet Joanna today and she won't tell you anything about loneliness. Having just launched her first ever classical crossover album called Stars Are Rising, Joanna has a voice we all need to hear. Joanna realised she could be successful and achieve her dreams, while also volunteering her time to help others find a voice to speak out about their cancer. She is open and honest about the challenges, but hear her speak, and see the work she does to raise money and awareness, and you will see all that she has gained from facing her fears at a young age. She is the real definition of inspiration (and she's even giving some proceeds from her album sales to charity).

And, I am glad to report, she is not alone. When Joanna asked all the Boobettes (there are about 80 of us up and down the country spreading the boob love) to write down how it feels to have been through cancer at a young age (one of the songs on her album is 'How does it feel?'), the words that came back were not ones charged with sadness or despair.


Image: Derek Bremner/CoppaFeel

People talked about gratitude, hope, strength and confidence not pain. They talked about finding a voice and a reason to smile. They talked about empowerment and how spreading the breast checking message has given them a renewed sense of purpose.

These are women who have gone from never talking in public to delivering presentations to entire assembly halls. These are women who are giving back in the hope that others have the chance to smile in the face of their challenges. These are women I am so proud and humbled to know.

Joanna found her voice. These women found a voice. I, too, have found a voice and a belief that I may one day make a difference.


Image: Joanna Forest

Cancer takes a lot. But, surrounded as I am by these incredible women and just hearing Joanna's voice through my iPod, I am reminded that it doesn't have to take your dreams or stop you being the person you want to be.


Image: Joanna Forest

Thank you Joanna for helping me find my voice and, in so doing, a way back to myself.

If you'd like to grab a copy of Joanna's amazing work (and please do because money goes to charity as well as the fact she is awesome) you can buy it here on

Amazon CD

Amazon Digital


Google Play

or HMV

And, if you're keen to see what the Boobettes do to promote that all-important boob-checking message head to the CoppaFeel site.