Breast cancer threatened to break them all. Then they met and found strength in the most joyful, surprising way
Sally Thompson watched TV at home in Plymouth in March last year when a program came that would change her life. The Real Full Monty: Ladies & Night 39 followed a group of celebrities who had agreed to dance and strip for a live audience for breast cancer awareness. Every woman had a personal bond with the cause – the TV presenter Victoria Derbyshire had survived, Loose Women & Col. Nolan had lost her sister Bernie to the disease, while former Liberty X singer Michelle Heaton had undergone a double breast amputation after she heard she was carrying a mutation of the BRCA2 gene, which increases the risk of breast cancer.
"We were all in different places in our travels and very different shapes – breasts, not breasts, lumpectomies, scars," says Sally Thompson. "But this was about showing that we didn't care. We were this. We would become showgirls! & # 39;
Sally also had her world turned upside down five years ago when she was 47 due to breast cancer. She had been juggling raising her two children aged 11 and 9 working in the family's body shop when her cancer was discovered through an early screening program. Although she felt no lumps and no symptoms, she had a total of eight tumors. & # 39; I was told that if I had been screened at the normal age of 50, it would have been too late & Sally says. She was shocked and hurled to the treatment roller coaster – a breast amputation, radiotherapy and then hormone tablets, probably for life.
"I have had a malfunction," she says. "After breast amputation, I would sit on my bedroom floor and sob. I tried to be strong for my children – I had reassured them that the cancer had contracted on time, and they had fully absorbed it and trusted me – but it felt like an act. Dark thoughts penetrated my mind all the time. Everyone tells you, "It'll be okay," because they want it to be true, but we can't know that. One stray cancer cell could have spread somewhere else. I no longer wanted to leave the house. & # 39;
It was at this point that the Sally man contacted Boezem Pals, a support group formed by women who had been treated at Primrose Breast Care Center in Plymouth. An ultramodern clinic, where women from a large part of Devon and Cornwall are screened, diagnosed and given a care plan. "I felt nervous about going to the first meeting," says Sally, "joining this group of women I've never met – but the understanding and compassion were incredible. Suddenly you are no longer alone. All these people had experienced it too. & # 39;
Now, watching this broadcast stripathon, Sally posted a message on the Boezem Pals Facebook page asking if anyone would like to do something similar in Plymouth to raise money for the Primrose Center that had treated them all. "When you've had breast cancer, your body is exhibited so many times that you don't care," she says. "All inhibitions go out the window."
Ready for curtains! The Dare 2 team in their showgirl ruffles. These showgirls, with their different careers and ages, would probably never have met any other way. But the bond they have built up is life-changing
Eight women reported back. There was Denise Holgate, a funeral director and grandmother who, she says, was not a natural dancer – & I am more like an ironing board & # 39 ;. Another volunteer was Nanny Camp, who was diagnosed at 68 and needed a lumpectomy. "I didn't care to take off my clothes," she says, "but I was worried about the dance moves because my legs are almost ready and there is a lot to learn." Kathryn Short, mother of three young children, was also in favor, & although I had never been topless on a beach before! & # 39 ;, she says. Kathryn had found a lump when she was in the shower and was sure it was a cyst. When it turned out to be cancer with a small trace in her lymph nodes, she was shocked. "I thought," That's it, I'm dying. "" Kathryn needed chemo, breast amputation and radiotherapy, after which she had a breast reconstruction.
"We were all in different places in our travels and very different shapes – breasts, not breasts, lumpectomies, scars," says Sally. "But this was about showing that we didn't care. We were this. We would become showgirls! & # 39;
These showgirls, with their different careers and ages, would probably never have met any other way. But the bond they have built up over the coming months is life-changing. From the beginning there was so much to organize – the location, costumes, the band, an auction and not to mention the dance. They were helped enormously by a local choreographer and businesswoman Shelley Coleman, a good friend of Fiona Osmaston, 54, one of the Dare 2 teams (as the show girls called themselves). "We all assumed different roles because we had different strengths," says Sally. Michelle Hull, who has worked at Barclays for 30 years, took over the finances and became "queen of spreadsheets". Nanny Camp had no trouble marching into a store or business to ask for prize donations.
When I travel to Plymouth to meet them, it is a Saturday and all nine have gathered in the home of geography teacher Fiona – she has just had a breast reconstruction and is instructed to sit down, lie down or take a nap at the other Dare 2 women. There is constant laughter. It feels like an exciting, special reunion – except that they come together every week.
… And from them during last year's show. "By the time we got up, everyone got up, cheering," says Marie Bryan, a business manager and mother of three grown children. "We danced and at the end everyone was in pieces; the whole audience cried. I still can't believe we did it! "
& # 39; On Saturday we practice in a fitness studio & # 39 ;, Sally says. The more time they spend together, the closer they come together. "Cancer tests all your relationships," says Denise. "One family member couldn't let himself come if it happened. It was great to have this group who just understood. "The women support each other in all sorts of other ways. "The breast reconstruction I just had is a major operation that two of the ladies have gone through," says Fiona. "Before I had it, they were both generous and showed me their breasts and scars. That gave me an idea of what the end result could be. It is our own version of show and tell! "Their annual mammograms have also connected them. "You still worry every time you go," says Kathryn. Sometimes the results are not entirely clear and someone is called back. & # 39; When it happens, you think: & # 39; Well, this could be it & # 39 ;, Sally says. "I would probably tell these ladies before I told my family."
The location Dare 2 Bare was chosen – a local hotel, the Duke of Cornwall – and the set date – Friday, September 21, 2018. Tickets were sold out within fourteen days. Lottery prizes piled up and donated auction prizes include a sailing day and a flight in a small aircraft. As the day approached, the women realized that something special was happening.
We have gone through the works … we are determined to live life to the full!
A memorable moment was in their local Marks & Spencer. "They had generously agreed to offer us free underwear for the dance, so we all went on an evening to measure," says Fiona. "About 15 female employees gave us a little soirée, a manicure, cakes and a glass of fizz. When we sorted the bras and shorts, we wanted to show them our dance – they were our first audience. "There in the empty store, the music started with" I am every woman. " "We were so excited, then it changed to" This Is Me "from The Greatest Showman," says Fiona. "We beat our fans back for the big revelation and the women of Marks & Spencer were all crying. We also sobbed, & Fiona says, now crying for the memory. "I think it was kindness."
The night itself was just as emotional. The ballroom, decorated with primroses, was packed. After the auction, the public was shown a short film in which each woman was introduced. "By the time we got up, everyone got up, cheering," says Marie Bryan, a business manager and mother of three grown children. "We danced and at the end everyone was in pieces; the whole audience cried. I still can't believe we did it! "
WHY WE WANTED
The nine friends share their stories
Kathryn Short 43, part-time babysitter
"These are women I have never met in any other way and it was great."
Cathy Loft 69, retired health teacher
"When you've experienced this, it's kind of like a birth – you've shown everything you have and you don't care!"
Sally Thompson 52, carries out a repair company
"We have created this huge bond by spending time together and understanding each other. It is a sisterhood. We still have our bad days, but we have had so many great times that we will never forget. & # 39;
Fiona Osmaston 54, teacher and senior leader
"For cancer, if you had told me that I would strip on stage one year and do the cancan the following year, I would have thought you were crazy. We have all endured the work and we are determined to live life to the full! "
Denise Holgate 51, funeral director
"I don't trust and I now only have one boob, but the ball was so liberating. The generosity and compassion, the standing ovation when we entered – it gave power, fantastic! & # 39;
Hellen Baker 44, office manager
"The first ball was incredible but nerve-racking. I have had a reconstruction, but one breast does not look like the other. We said, "We are not perfect, but we are here."
Michelle Hull 46, risk assessment analyst
"I had only lived in Plymouth for three years when I found the clog. Apart from my husband and some colleagues, I hardly knew anyone; now i have the best group of friends in my life. & # 39;
Nanny Camp 73, retired asset manager
"I was diagnosed five years ago. I am a widow and my children and grandchildren live abroad. I was ready to break – being involved with these girls saved my life. & # 39;
Marie Bryan 50, primary school manager
"I didn't want to meet women who went through treatment when I first got the diagnosis – I was afraid to meet someone with a poor prognosis. But once you start making friends, it feels so easy. We have cried together, but there is much more laughter than tears. & # 39;
"It's strange because it was so liberating," says Kathryn. & # 39; I hate my body now – cancer treatment has caused menopause and has caused so much weight gain along with medication. But it was nice to stay naked and say, "This is it."
That one event raised £ 13,000 for the Primrose Foundation and helped buy a scanner so that local women could be seen faster. The Dare 2 team even won 2018 Fundraisers of the Year in the Pride of Plymouth Awards. A year later their second event is about to take place: the Dare 2 Burlesque Ball next Saturday (September 28). For this they have taken lessons with a dancer from the Moulin Rouge in Paris. "One of the goals is to raise money for a separate room where you can gather when you get a new diagnosis," says Denise. "After I was told that I had cancer at Primrose Center, there was nothing but going back to the room where women were waiting to be seen. I didn't want to cry for them, so I went to the loos to cry. & # 39;
& # 39; Once you've reached a certain age, you tend to stop making new friends & # 39 ;, says Kathryn. "All these women are amazing. Of course I wish that breast cancer would never have happened to me, but I would know nothing about it or do these things if it hadn't. They will be friends for life. & # 39;
Go to to support the Dare 2 Burlesque show justgiving.com/crowdfunding/michelle-hull-1
- Hair: Craig Chapman. Makeup: Ellie Binns
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