Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014, Helen started a blog as an outlet for her experiences while undergoing treatment and a year later, found herself modelling a new M&S lingerie range in support of breast cancer research.
On December 30 2014 I received the news that a lump I’d found three months earlier was an invasive and highly aggressive tumour.
I don’t need to explain the shock and and dread that followed, but the fact that it had taken this long to be diagnosed certainly hadn’t helped.
Despite the initial panic, I quickly decided to tackle the situation as positively as possible. I’m 37, relatively healthy (aside from a particular interest in Rioja), there’s no family history of breast cancer and I had always considered myself to be indestructible.
We are lucky enough to have a huge network of friends and an even larger Irish family, so the power of social media meant that the news of my diagnosis spread like wildfire and I was immediately inundated with phonecalls and messages of support.
As reassuring as it is to be told that all of these wonderful people are 'thinking of you' and asking if there is 'anything they can do to help', I found myself constantly re-living the moment of diagnosis with them, as most people ask the same questions out of love and compassion rather than morbid curiosity (at least that’s what I’d like to think!)
Starting my blog
I remember telling a colleague at M&S how difficult I was finding the experience and she suggested starting a blog. I had always considered blog-writers to be mildly narcissistic and didn’t really think anyone would be interested in reading my ramblings, but immediately found it to be a cathartic and thoroughly practical experience, as it kept all of our well-wishers informed of progress and provided me with an outlet to write about whatever the heck I pleased!
As I embarked on my mastectomy and subsequent unplanned lymph-node removal on the unexpected news that my cancer had spread, it became clear that my ramblings about the experience were becoming rather popular. It didn’t take long for the blog views to shoot past the 100,000 mark or for me to be recognised on the streets of our village as friends of friends started to share it.
It took a long time for me to get used to talking to complete strangers about my recent bout of chemo-induced side effects, but I soon began to realise that people were genuinely interested in learning more about the disease and seemed to enjoy my style of frank and, I’m reliably informed, humorous storytelling.
As interest in the blog grew, I learned of three women who’d been diagnosed as a result of reading it. One in particular had found a lump and like me, had been sent home by her GP with the assurance that she was simply overreacting.
After reading about my experience, she promptly made another appointment, was referred and it was confirmed that it was cancer but had been caught early enough to avoid adjuvant therapies.
'Standing around in my underwear' to make a difference
That will always stick in my mind as the moment I was able to do something positive with my experience and is the reason I jumped at the chance to become involved in the M&S Rosie Huntington-Whiteley lingerie campaign.
The thought that simply standing around in my underwear with six other fantastic Breast Cancer Now ambassadors could help to raise £13 million, saving 9,000 lives a year sends shivers down my spine, but to be completely honest, if it meant that our beautiful four year old daughter will never have to deal with this wretched disease, then I would have done it naked!