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Helping you through breast cancer treatment

Guest blog: Q&A with Helen Addis aka The Titty Gritty

Guest blog: Q&A with Helen Addis aka The Titty Gritty

Let me introduce the fantastic Helen Addis who has participated in this week’s Q&A. Helen (aka @thetittygritty) was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018 and has subsequently spent a large proportion of her time involved in breast cancer awareness campaigns and helping others who are going through breast cancer. If you are on social media then you’ll probably have come across her fabulous energy in one of her posts or stories. She does so much in terms of raising awareness and bringing support and advice to those who are going through treatment. What is was that led her to focus a lot of her time in helping others who are facing breast cancer…

Can you start by telling us a bit about your diagnosis?

I was diagnosed with triple positive grade 3 breast cancer in April 2018. I have no family history and was relatively fit and well so didn’t think for a second that I would be cancer material! I was 39 years old and about to turn 40 the following week. My to-do list was all about how much gin to order for my party but that was soon replaced with a mastectomy, lymph node clearance surgery, 16 x chemotherapy, 15 x radio and 17 x hormone treatments. Happy Birthday!

Your diagnosis came at time when you had young children – how did you deal with being a parent when you were diagnosed and then as you went through the treatment? 

I had a 5, 7 and 9 year old at the time of diagnosis. It was a tricky one to manage because their understanding was so different. I explained it like I had a verruca (like they had on their feet from time to time – don’t judge!). I said that the doctor had to take it out so that it wouldn’t get any bigger and start hurting me. They really took it in their stride apart from my eldest who just asked ‘Is it cancer?‘. I was floored that a 9 year old knew what cancer was. He told me he knew that it killed people. From that moment on we made a pact to be really open and honest with our kids about the diagnosis and my treatment. We didn’t keep any secrets but I made sure that I never got upset in front of them. It was tough when I found that my son had googled in secret ‘What will happen the week before my mum dies of breast cancer‘. Again, I dealt with this by talking to him about it lots and being as reassuring as possible. He now tries to use the C-card to get to the front of the queue the shop….so he’s adjusted quite well!

I see that you’re a working mum, how did you juggle everything during your treatment? Were you able to carry on working during treatment, or did you take some time off work?

I had to take time off. I found it just too hard to concentrate on anything other than getting better. Plus the children definitely needed to see me more so I felt I made the right decision to go on sick leave. 

You shared a lot about your breast cancer treatment on your blog and via the Lorraine TV show (on which you work as Features Editor). I’m a huge advocate for sharing personal stories and showing people who’re going through a traumatic event (such as breast cancer) that they’re not alone. Is that how you felt? How did you come to share all this information?

After my diagnosis I asked my friends and family if they ever checked themselves and 90% said that they never did. This frightened me no end. I knew that if this could happen to me then it could happen to anyone. So my mission started. I started writing a blog and then began The Titty Gritty on social media to try and get the message out there as much as possible. 

I’ve been following your brilliant awareness campaign, “Change and Check”, since it’s launch. Can you tell us a bit about the campaign?

I started the Change and Check campaign to get the message out there as much as possible. It’s a simple reminder sticker which goes on shops and gym changing rooms up and down the UK. I’m so happy to say that over 35 women have now contacted me to say that they’ve caught their cancer early as a result of seeing the sticker. They are in John Lewis, Asda, Monsoon, David Lloyd gyms…to name a few! Also, Madonna, Sheryl Crow and even the Prime Minister endorsed the campaign!

You’ve been very active in the cancer community raising awareness of breast cancer issues extending beyond checking, what sorts of things have you been involved in?

I’ve been getting involved in raising awareness and generally getting people to KNOW THEIR BODIES. I’ve also been doing lots of support work for the NHS during lockdown.

I’ve found your lockdown Instagram talks really informative. Along with experts in their fields, you’ve covered all sorts of breast cancer topics including, treatment induced menopause, living with secondary breast cancer, post-surgery bra advice and more. What would you say have been the key messages to take from these interviews?

The key messages from all of my insta live interviews have been that there are choices for women out there. When you hit the menopause thanks to cancer treatment… there are options you can go for to help with symptoms. There are lots of bra choices out there if you know what you’re looking for. The other key message is that no-one is alone. The essence of the interviews are to empower listeners and make them feel like they’re not the only ones feeling down, lonely, scared etc.

What’s next? What plans do you have going forward and what should we look out for?

Loads more to come. Especially in October for BC awareness month…including a climb of the O2 with all the women that the campaign has helped! Plus, I’m launching a non-profit website of different branded beauty products which can be used by people going through cancer treatment…that’s coming soon….

To download the change and check stickers click here.

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