TV panellist Carol McGiffin has opened up about her secret battle with cancer, one year after she first discovered a lump in her left breast.
The 54-year-old was diagnosed with a tumour last April, and has since had a mastectomy, six courses of chemotherapy, and fifteen rounds of radiotherapy, supported by her fiance, Mark Cassidy.
Until today, Carol’s family and close friends – including fellow Loose Women panellist’s Denise Welch and Lisa Maxwell – knew of the star’s illness, but she has now decided to break her silence.
Carol tells The Mirror: “I don’t want to pretend any more. I kept it a secret because I didn’t want anyone feeling sorry for me.
“I feel it is over now and I’ve got I through it.
“I just want to be able to go out without my hat on and for people not to be bothered.
“I just want life to get back to normal.”
Speaking of the horrifying moment that she discovered the lump, whilst in the shower in Malaysia, Carol revealed that she didn’t tell her 33-year-old partner about her worries until she saw a doctor, saying: ““I knew from the moment I saw the doctor it was cancer.
“She seemed pretty shocked at the size of the lump. “It was a bit like, ‘Oh, right then. I know what this is about.’
“My mum had cancer and she’d brought us up to be tough about illness. I thought, ‘So what if I’ve got breast cancer? Thousands of women get it every year. I’ll get through this.’
“I told Mark not to come to the hospital. But when I came out he was waiting in the reception area for me.
“I thought he’d gone to work as promised. I looked at him and said, ‘Yep, it is breast cancer.’ We just went straight to the pub and got absolutely plastered.
“But there weren’t any tears. Cancer is not the death sentence it used to be if it’s caught early because there is loads of good research.
“You just have to get on with what life throws at you.”
The star was advised to undergo a mastectomy because her tumour was so aggressive, and grade three, but thankfully it hadn’t yet spread, which gave her hope.
Carol recalls: “I went in for the operation on June 4. I sometimes think whether I should have had both breasts removed but the consultant said it wasn’t necessary.
“It’s bad enough having one part of your body chopped off – why have more than you need?”
Speaking of Mark, who she has been with for six years, the Loose Woman reveals that she considers him her rock, sharing: “The cancer has not fazed him at all. Mark is very matter of fact and said, ‘It is what it is and we will deal with this.’
“He has been unbelievable really. I’ve got a right good ’un there.
“I think it has been tougher for Mark than me. When my hair started falling out in clumps I thought there was no point in hanging on to it.
“So we bought a pair of hair clippers and Mark shaved it off. When you look at yourself in the mirror and you don’t recognise your reflection it is very weird.
“I have been wearing a hat – and a wig on a few occasions, although it is really uncomfortable. I kept thinking it was going to fall off!
“But Mark has lifted my spirits. I sometimes wake up and he is walking around with my wig on. It makes him look like a 70s porn star.
“He keeps saying, ‘Oh, you’ve got a great shaped head.’ I reply, ‘Well, that makes it all right then.’ We have a good laugh.”
Despite her inspirational attitude towards her battle, Carol does admit that she feels self concious about the way she looks now, explaining: “What really did it for me was losing my eyelashes and eyebrows around two months into the chemo.
“I felt like I couldn’t go out because people would stare and then notice I was ill. I’m not very good at make-up. I tried fake eyelashes but I didn’t feel comfortable. I thought I looked like Humpty Dumpty so I didn’t go out.
“When you’ve got a giant scar, no hair, no eyebrows and no eyelashes it is pretty shocking. I took a few selfies but I deleted them. I don’t think I need to be reminded of what I looked like.
“Thankfully my hair is starting to grow back now, but it is not long enough yet. It’s a bit like baby hair. It’s so soft and I can’t believe how dark it is. But at least it hasn’t grown back all grey.
“I plan to grow it long again and dye it blonde – I want to get back to the old me.”
Her illness forced Carol to cancel all of her TV commitments, but kept quiet about the reason why because she didn’t want to have any sympathy: “I’m not good with that stuff.
“I know people mean well when they ask how you’re feeling, but there’s only so many times a day you can say ‘I feel like s***’ before having to explain.
“Part of my reason for keeping it quiet until now has been due to other people’s reactions. Some friends haven’t been able to deal with my news and got really upset. I then feel really guilty.”
And Carol goes on to explain that she definitely wanted to keep the news from her fellow Loose Woman, Lynda Bellingham, who died of cancer last October, aged 66.
Carol says of her friend: “I thought it would be really unfair of me to tell Lynda about my situation. She was such an unselfish person, so she would have loved it if there was someone else to worry about.
“The last time I saw her was one of the handful of times I’ve worn my wig. I met up with some of the old Loose Women beforehand and we’d agreed not to tell her.
“But as we were chatting, Denise said, ‘I think you should tell her,’ so I did. Bellers said to me, ‘F****** hell! Not you an’ all.’ It broke the ice and she was laughing and joking with me.
“It felt really comfortable. She was a bit annoyed that I hadn’t told her before but that was Lynda all over – worrying about others. She had enough to worry about and was in a lot of pain. I suffered nothing like she did.”
Now that she has completed her treatment, Carol is focusing on her future, planning to marry Mark next year and have breast reconstructive surgery later this year, she explains: “I don’t relish the idea of another giant scar on my body but I want to be able to wear a bikini again.
“It’s not an issue about femininity, it’s about missing a body part. If you’d lost half a leg you’d get it replaced if you could, wouldn’t you? Why is a breast any different?
“Mark said he would support me either way but I want to wear summer clothes.
“Fingers crossed the treatment has seen off the cancer. My next appointment is a follow-up with the oncologist in April and in July I’m back at the breast clinic. And then it is check-ups every six months. If it hasn’t come back in five years I’ll get the all clear.
“So for now normal service is resumed. If it comes back I’ll deal with it. It’s not a battle. I just see it as a bit of a health hiccup.
“For now I’m going to get on with my life and enjoy every minute of it.”