19 October 2017
Left to right: Laura Otrofanowei, Hayley Rock, Emi Lou Howe, Lesley Stephen, Helen Peedell, Heather Shekede, Katie Hughes.
This October, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, M&S will be sharing the words and experiences of seven inspirational women - who have all been affected by breast cancer - in a campaign to help raise awareness of its partnership with Breast Cancer Now and raise funds for vital research. The money raised throughout October will contribute to M&S’s ongoing goal to help prevent 9,000 cases of breast cancer a year by 2025.
The seven women - Emi Lou Howe, Katie Hughes, Laura Otrofanowei, Helen Peedell, Hayley Rock, Heather Shekede and Lesley Stephen – have been invited by M&S to front its nationwide campaign across its stores and online channels (biographies are included below). Each of the women will model items from M&S’s range of pink bras, as the retailer pledges to donate 20% of sales from the collection this October to Breast Cancer Now'
To kick-start the campaign, the women have drawn on their own personal experiences to create a short film entitled Life, Love, Laughter and Breast Cancer: In Our Words. The 60 second video curates the words each of the women use to describe their individual attitudes and approach to a life affected by breast cancer - focusing on the experiences, people and things that matter to them.
Emi Lou Howe, 38
Emi Lou was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012 and went through chemotherapy and a mastectomy, followed by a second mastectomy.
Emi Lou said:
“I couldn’t be prouder to be working with Breast Cancer Now and M&S this October. When I was first diagnosed, there was a lot of fear about the future and about my body. What I learnt was that my body was going to support me a lot more than it would let me down. If somebody had told me that following treatment and surgery I’d be modelling for M&S in my undies I would never have believed them - there have been many unexpected positives to this ride.
“Since my diagnosis, I have been passionate about accepting and nurturing my body and I feel I have a duty to share that with others, not just those undergoing physically changing experiences such as breast cancer, but everyone. So for me, getting involved in this campaign feeds my fundraising goals as I can support such a worthwhile charity Breast Cancer Now, but I hope it also gives people hope and a new message that you’re good enough, as you are, right now.
“The experience has been utterly surreal and I’m still not convinced it’s happening. I have loved every minute!”
Katie Hughes, 33
Katie was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015 and has had two lumpectomies, a mastectomy and radiotherapy.
“I got involved in this campaign for a few reasons but mainly because I wanted to give hope to people who have just received a diagnosis, especially younger women like myself. The shock of receiving a breast cancer diagnosis is horrendous at any age, but as a younger woman it brings all sorts of other issues into play.
“I want people to know there can be a life after a breast cancer diagnosis; I wish someone had told me that when I was first diagnosed, because initially it felt like my life was over.
“Being part of this campaign is something I am really proud of, even though at times I have been completely out of my comfort zone! It has been great meeting other women who have gone through the same experiences, and who completely understand what it means to have received a breast cancer diagnosis.”
Laura Otrofanowei, 32
Laura’s mum Debbie, 54, was diagnosed with primary breast cancer in 2016 and Laura has been helping her through her breast cancer journey, which has brought them even closer together.
“I wanted to get involved in this campaign to help anyone else in the same situation as me and my mum, to give them hope and support in a hard time. What struck me when I started supporting Breast Cancer Now was how therapeutic it was for me and my mum to come together with others in the same situation and how much strength you can draw from others, which is so important for your emotional wellbeing. This is why I volunteered to take part with in campaign.
“It has been truly inspirational to take part in this alongside six amazing women from all different walks of life. The fact that all of us have been brought together by something negative but are turning it into something positive has been an incredible experience. Breast cancer is a journey of highs and lows but we’ve really empowered each other through this whole process.
“I hope this campaign hits our financial goal and raises lots of money for vital breast cancer research but I also hope it creates a dialogue of people sharing their own experiences about breast cancer.”
Helen Peedell, 52
Helen was diagnosed with grade three inter-ductal breast cancer in September 2016 after finding a lump in her breast. During the past year, she has undergone chemotherapy, a double mastectomy and radiotherapy.
“When I was told on 1st September 2016 that I had grade 3 breast cancer it rocked my world. I was determined that it wouldn’t take away my sense of humour or my life with my husband and two children, so I vowed to fight it with everything I had. I’ve met so many amazing people; patients, doctors, nurses and health care assistants and they inspired me to do everything I could to raise awareness of breast cancer, to get people to check themselves for an early diagnosis, to not be embarrassed by their bodies and to love themselves no matter what!
“After going through chemotherapy, a double mastectomy and radiotherapy I received an email from Breast Cancer Now, looking for volunteers to take part in this campaign. It was then that I decided to show people that this disease shouldn’t stop you being who you are. I want to show women that you can still look beautiful and glamorous in gorgeous underwear after surgery.
“I can only thank Breast Cancer Now and M&S for giving me this opportunity to show the world who I am. I have enjoyed every second of this experience. I have met six other amazing women whom I shall remain friends with for the rest of my life. So let’s keep on raising awareness and get women all over the country to check themselves and turn our stories into something positive.”
Hayley Rock, 40
Hayley found a lump in her right breast in January this year during one of her regular self-checks. After thinking it was just a cyst, she was told it was breast cancer. She has just completed her chemotherapy and is currently undergoing radiotherapy.
“I wanted to be involved with this campaign to represent the younger women who are faced with a breast cancer diagnosis. After hearing the words ‘it’s cancer’, you imagine that everything has to stop and your life is over but primary breast cancer is very well treated. There are lots of options available to carry on living your life as best as you can – I used a cold cap to keep things as normal as possible for my two daughters so that they didn’t have to see me lose my hair.
“I feel very strongly about the need for further research into breast cancer, and I know all too well how research and access to new drugs can extend lives and reduce reoccurrence. It is so important for us to invest in vital research that means in the future nobody will die from breast cancer. Having two girls’ means this is particularly important to me as I want to safeguard their future.”
Heather Shekede, 42
Heather was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer aged 32 after a very lengthy diagnosis process and then underwent a mastectomy. Heather is passionate about speaking about her breast cancer journey and raising awareness, so she can help other women in the same way that she was looking for help and reassurance 10 years ago.
“When I was diagnosed with breast cancer ten years ago, I felt isolated, I didn’t see anyone that looked like me. I felt that although breast cancer was happening in the black community, women were not openly speaking about it. I wanted to show women of all backgrounds and ages that there is a life after a breast cancer diagnosis. It is a hard journey but that doesn’t mean there is no hope.
“Taking part in the campaign has really helped me to stop and think and be grateful that I am still here. After everything I have been through, I realise I have and will always be me. I have some scars and bruises but this just adds to the richness of the person I am.
“I am floored and in awe of the six other amazing and strong warrior women, who are still on this breast cancer journey, working, being parents, partners and wives. The love and sense of friendship that we have formed being in this campaign together has been the best thing to come out of this incredible experience.”
Lesley Stephen, 51
Lesley was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer in early 2014. At the time of diagnosis, the cancer had already spread to her lungs, liver and bones. Lesley began chemotherapy treatment but in 2015 discovered she had three brain tumours and she started full brain radiotherapy.
After a family holiday, which Lesley believed was her last, her consultant offered her the final place on a trial for a cancer drug that was in very early stages of development. Lesley has been on this treatment for 20 months now and it has been very effective.
“I got involved in this campaign to raise awareness of secondary breast cancer – many women don’t realise that when the disease spreads to other parts of the body, it cannot be cured. I wanted to be the voice of those women who are on permanent treatment, and often too ill to speak out.
“It was also a chance to spread a message of hope – I have been on a clinical trial for almost two years and I am doing incredibly well. Science is catching up with cancer, and having secondary breast cancer isn’t necessarily the death sentence it once was, especially if you are proactive and take part in trials and research.
“It was such an amazing and fun experience taking part in this campaign. I met six inspirational women and feel privileged to have taken part in this campaign with them. Together we hope to raise a heap of money which will fund life-changing breast cancer research.”