I walk a catwalk. I change my hiking boots for heels, my waterproof for smart casual, cosy winter, classy coat, wow them at work, dressy dress and party time. I have four pairs of shoes, chosen with care to match these six outfits. They are not mine; I borrow them for this glamorous and glitzy occasion. I do this for charity, to raise money; along with six other brave women we walk this catwalk in our borrowed clothes and the high, high heels we would never normally wear to raise money for breast cancer.
I am a statistic. I am one of the one in every eight women who will develop breast cancer in the UK in her lifetime. We are all, these seven brave women who walk this catwalk tonight, women who have faced that fear of feeling that lump, of knowing that how much we might deny its existence, that it is real and it will not go away and we are about to face a reality in our lives that will change us forever.
We each have our stories and today I do not tell mine in whole, distracted by hair appointments and make up sessions and rehearsals, but there are moments to share. Annie has only finished her treatment six months ago. Lumpectomy, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, Letrozole. The words are familiar, a similar journey, apart from the chemotherapy. I was lucky; the only therapy I needed was the heat that is radio.
Even as I write these words, even as I prepare to walk the length of a hotel ball room, facing 500 guests who have paid to watch me walk in my borrowed high heels, I still find it hard to relate to these words as relating to me.
I am nervous, we are all nervous, we have been nervous deep down where no-one else can see, since the moment we felt that lump for the first time. The lump itself is gone now. Lumpectomy, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, Letrozole. But the nervousness remains and always will, if we are honest. The raw anxiety eases with time, I tell Annie this from the benefit of being two years further down the journey than she is, but I cannot lie and say it goes forever.
But tonight we are nervous because we walk a catwalk and we have never done this before. We look at one another and smile; all too aware of the irony. The audience we face will look at us and think how brave we are to be surviving breast cancer. Backstage we worry about whether we will trip or look foolish or walk too fast or walk too slow or … or … or … We are handed a glass of wine, just one and it is time.
I cannot say I enjoy it, not truthfully. Annie dances and is delighted; the music matches her mood of joy and pride that she is facing a fear, again, and she is wearing cherry red lined lace as she does it. I want to be able to say it makes me feel feminine and fabulous and proud of myself but I am glad when it is over. I will do it again because we raise a lot of money, a lot, and that is important. I will do it again because I admire and respect Sarah, who asks me to take part, for the dignity with which she travels her own journey. But these shiny patent shoes are not mine and I am glad to return them to their box.
I stay in the hotel overnight. This catwalk is an hour’s drive from my home and it is late when we finish. I am tired; mentally, emotionally, physically tired but the room is airless and my mind restless. I open the window and breathe. There are trees nearby, I hear them, I feel them. I long to be walking through them but it is midnight and I must rest.
This walk has been challenging and finding my centre again may take time. I have been unsettled. I have not written of my cancer before and the words do not flow easily. But if there is any pride today it is that I have written something. Maybe there are more words to come on another day of what this experience is meaning to me and the changes that it brings to my life and my journey. Many of these are positive. Yes, when I am home and settled and the peace returns, I will explore if there is more that is ready to be revealed, to be spoken about, to be shared.
The wind outside freshens. I am quieter, calmer. I will sleep.