Breast cancer mademy life bet­ter

For­mer su­per­model Claire Far­well, 45, chan­nelled her in­ner war­rior to beat breast cancer and re­alise her dreams…

Friday - - FRONT PAGE -

Most women talk about bat­tling and sur­viv­ing breast cancer, but for­mer su­per­model Claire Farewell – who had a dou­ble mas­tec­tomy af­ter be­ing di­ag­nosed – be­lieves it was one of the best things to hap­pen to her.

“It changed my life for the bet­ter,” the mother of two says. “Breast cancer made me re­alise I needed to be­my­self, to be what­ever I wanted to be.”

And for Claire, who worked on cam­paigns for French Elle and Vogue with Naomi Camp­bell and Clau­dia Schif­fer in the 1980s, that means run­ning her own suc­cess­ful fash­ion la­bel while jug­gling be­ing a wife and mum.

“Hav­ing cancer un­leashed this in­ner cre­ativ­ity in me,” she says. “My fash­ion line wouldn’t have hap­pened if I hadn’t had it. I feel so pos­i­tive to­day. What I’ve faced has changed my life in more ways than I ever could have imag­ined.”

Claire was di­ag­nosed in Novem­ber 2009 at the age of 40. She had two small daugh­ters, Devon, now seven and Avalon, six, and was ex­hausted. “But it was more than run­ning around af­ter two lit­tle girls all day,” she says. “I had just been feel­ing re­ally, re­ally tired, so I de­cided to go to the doc­tor for a check-up. I didn’t have any other symp­toms, but I’ve al­ways been fit and healthy. I knew by the way I was feel­ing that some­thing was wrong.”

Tests con­firmed Claire was de­pleted in vi­ta­min D, but at the fol­low-up ap­point­ment she ca­su­ally asked the doc­tor when she should start hav­ing rou­tine mam­mo­grams. “It was just be­fore my 41st birth­day,” she says. “I had no idea when I was sup­posed to have one.” Doc­tors booked Claire in for a mam­mo­gram, and on the way she re­ceived some

ter­ri­ble news – a friend had died of breast cancer. “She was only 35, so young and she had a small child,” says Claire, who lives in Los Angeles.

“I didn’t know if I had cancer, but I knew I’d found this out for a rea­son. I was so distraught for this young sweet woman we’d lost. I knew if the worst hap­pened to me – if I had breast cancer – I’d fight it with all my strength.”

Claire was out shop­ping when the doc­tor called with the re­sults of her mam­mo­gram. “I was in a cloth­ing-shop chang­ing room, com­plain­ing that I couldn’t wear a beau­ti­ful, low-back top be­cause I’d need to wear a bra with it. Then my phone rang.”

Claire lis­tened in shock as the woman doc­tor told her they’d found ‘cal­ci­fi­ca­tion’ in her left breast and she’d need fur­ther tests. “I just knew it was breast cancer,” she says. “They wanted to do tests to see if I had any ab­nor­mal­i­ties else­where in my body. My first thought was – ‘shouldn’t we be deal­ing with the lump in my breast first?’”

Shortly af­ter­wards a biospy con­firmed the lump was cancer. At the hospi­tal with hus­band Gus be­side her, a few days later, Claire was hor­ri­fied to hear they had found a golf ball-size lump in her breast and ad­vised her to opt for a sin­gle mas­tec­tomy.

“I said ‘Take them both off, I don’t need them’,” she says. “It was a no-brainer. I didn’t want to live wor­ry­ing about the healthy breast, won­der­ing if it would be­come can­cer­ous or if I’d need to go through an­other mam­mo­gram and biopsy again in a year’s time.”

When the doc­tor con­firmed there would there be a risk of the cancer re­turn­ing if she kept her nip­ples, ex­plain­ing can­cer­ous cells from a tu­mour in­side the breast can travel through the milk ducts to the nip­ple, Claire didn’t waste any time. “I told him to take those off too,” she says. “Of course I had a flash of ‘why me, why is this hap­pen­ing’, but I just wanted to get it fixed and I got through it all, with a joke and a smile.”

In Fe­bru­ary 2010, just a few months af­ter be­ing di­ag­nosed, Claire had a dou­ble mas­tec­tomy – a five-hour long pro­ce­dure. “I woke up nau­seous from the painkillers,” she re­calls. “I felt like I had a hip­popota­mus onmy chest. I couldn’t breathe. I was in pain. But I was de­ter­mined to keep bat­tling. I couldn’t see the scars, all I could think of was the nau­sea, and the pain I was in.” The breast sur­geon and plas­tic sur­geon worked to­gether to per­form the dou­ble mas­tec­tomy and the re­con­struc­tion process took a

‘You just come to re­alise you won’t be like you were be­fore, and move for­ward’

fur­ther eight months. “I couldn’t sleep ly­ing down for months, thanks to spe­cial ex­panders in­serted to keep the shape of my breast and skin stretched,” she says. “You just come to re­alise you won’t be like you were be­fore and move for­ward. But not be­ing able to hug my daugh­ters for weeks due to the surgery I was un­der­go­ing, and re­cov­ery time, was heart break­ing. I had to tell them not to run up and hug me as it was too painful. Luck­ily the girls un­der­stood that Mummy was un­well but I missed hold­ing them.”

Slowly, she re­cov­ered and in Oc­to­ber 2011, once she was in re­mis­sion, she de­cided to or­gan­ise a fund-rais­ing event for breast cancer char­i­ties.

“I was re­ally lucky,” she says. “I’d beaten cancer and was in a po­si­tion to help oth­ers.” But she had no idea what to do, un­til she re­alised think­ing about her long ca­reer as a model gave her an idea. Claire had been dis­cov­ered at 16 and mod­elled un­der her maiden name of Fer­ris for

in­ter­na­tional model agency Storm. She even be­came room­mates with Naomi Camp­bell when she lived in Paris in the 1980s.

“With my modelling back­ground a fash­ion show made sense,” she says. So Claire booked a venue, in­vited 300 people and asked hus­band Gus, an opera singer, to per­form. She then asked real women who’d bat­tled cancer or lost loved ones to the dis­ease to model in the show along­side pro­fes­sional mod­els in­clud­ing her­self. The event was booked for just a few weeks away. But then she couldn’t find any out­fits from lo­cal de­sign­ers that she felt matched the look and theme she was af­ter. “It didn’t feel right us­ing lo­cal de­sign­ers some­how,” she ex­plains. “I wanted to take on the chal­lenge of mak­ing them my­self.”

Claire had no for­mal de­sign train­ing be­hind her, but armed with 15 years of ex­pe­ri­ence in the fash­ion in­dus­try, she made 24 dresses by hand in a mat­ter of days to be mod­elled and sold at auc­tion af­ter the show.

“It was a chal­lenge, but I worked around the clock and hired a seam­stress to give me a crash course,” she says. “It was a cre­ative out­pour­ing I couldn’t stop.”

The event was a suc­cess. “I’d cry at the drop of a hat on hear­ing other people’s sto­ries about cancer, but that day we were war­riors,” she says. “I couldn’t quite be­lieve all those people were there be­cause of me.

“People loved my de­signs and said, ‘you should do this full time’, which got me think­ing. When you go through breast cancer you go through phys­i­cal changes. But once you’ve been put back to­gether again, you start to think: ‘Why did I have cancer? What comes next?’ And you get on with it.

“I wanted to cre­ate a line for cheeky and classy women who live life, and tell their story through fash­ion. I ploughed my sav­ings into get­ting it started, sought out po­ten­tial in­vestors and found a PR team to get the word out there. “

A year later her fash­ion line, Claire Far­well Lon­don, was launched. De­scribed on the web­site as ‘el­e­gant, com­fort­able and unique de­signs with a Bri­tish ac­cent,’ Hol­ly­wood celebri­ties such as Eva Lon­go­ria and Car­rie Kea­gan have been seen in her de­signs..

And her la­bel fea­tured in last year’s Nolcha Fash­ionWeek – part of New York Fash­ionWeek. “That never would have hap­pened if I hadn’t fought cancer and won,” she says.

“The speed at which my busi­ness has grown has been in­cred­i­ble. Breast cancer some­how un­leashed this cre­ativ­ity in­side me, and now I’m build­ing a brand I’m pas­sion­ate about.”

But Claire wasn’t fin­ished in her cre­ative quest. In 2012, in­spired by – a 126page book con­tain­ing por­traits of cancer sur­vivors shot by fash­ion pho­tog­ra­pher David Jay, Claire de­cided to pose for her bravest shoot to date – show­ing off her post post­mas­tec­tomy fig­ure.

“Now the cancer was un­der con­trol, I started think­ing about why I’d had it,” she says. “I used to show my body off, use it to show­case amaz­ing clothes. Why couldn’t I still do that? Could I show off my post­op­er­a­tion body, scars and all?

“I wanted to show other women there is life af­ter breast cancer.”

Tak­ing cre­ative con­trol, Claire chose a lo­ca­tion and re­cruited a top make-up artist and hair stylist and asked renowned fash­ion pho­tog­ra­pher By­ron Atienza, who has shot cam­paigns for the likes of H& M, to shoot her im­ages.

“I’d mod­elled for decades, so be­ing in front of the cam­era was noth­ing new,” she says. “But this par­tic­u­lar photo shoot was the defin­ing one of my life. Be­cause it was show­ing the world my new body – the one that had fought breast cancer – and won.”

In the black-and-white pho­tos Claire bravely posed top­less show­ing off her scars and re­con­structed breasts mi­nus her nip­ples. The pho­tos have since been seen glob­ally on­line as well as in news­pa­pers across the world.

“I’m so proud of my pho­tos – they are the most im­por­tant pho­to­graphs of my ca­reer,” says Claire.

She is now fo­cus­ing on her fash­ion line. Her de­signs are avail­able on­line and the de­signer is keen to con­tinue her work for breast cancer through fundrais­ing events and pub­lic speak­ing.

“I was lucky. If I’d have waited a year to get the mas­tec­tomy I’d prob­a­bly be dead,” she says. “There are women younger than me who have died be­cause they weren’t as lucky as me. I have a fu­ture ahead of me as a fash­ion de­signer, mother and wife.”

Claire Far­well de­scribes her de­signs as el­e­gant, com­fort­able and unique

While she sup­ports breast-cancer cam­paigns to­day, in her hey­day, Claire worked with the likes of Naomi Camp­bell (be­low)

Hus­band Gus, 36, helped Claire get through her di­ag­no­sis with a joke and a smile

REAL LIFE Claire lives in Los Angeles with Gus and daugh­ters Devon, and Avalon

Mul­ti­tal­ented Claire served on the jury for the 2013 An­gel Film Awards, ‘a cel­e­bra­tion of non­vi­o­lent films’

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