The Sunday Post (Newcastle)

Adrenaline took over actually want to stop


Judy Alexander at home with her dog, Honey.

Kath Flannery we had such a wonderful life together. I used to ask him not to take my hand while we were crossing the road as I felt like I was his child. I wore high heels as much as I could.”

Both times Judy was fighting cancer, she said she tried to push it to the back of her mind and get on with her life, especially the first time when she had a new baby to look after. She said: “I look quite small and fragile, but I am not really, I am strong.”

She still needed to deal with how the disease had upturned her life though, and that’s something Courage helped her do. “My daughter told me one day that she had put me forward for something she had seen in the paper, Courage on the Catwalk,” explained Judy.

“I said they wouldn’t want me, I was 81 at the time, but then I was accepted. I was worried sick, but it was the best thing I have ever done.

“I met 23 really wonderful girls of all ages, mind you I was the oldest, but we became best friends. I remember at the first rehearsal I thought ‘my goodness this is going to be difficult’ and I wondered if I could really do it, but it was just wonderful.

“When it came to the actual show, they chose lovely clothes for us all to wear and it was a joy. I was terrified to go onto the catwalk, but my family were all there and the adrenaline took over. I didn’t actually want to stop.”

While the fashionist­a in her loved the clothes, her most treasured memories of Courage contain women she walked alongside. They don’t only reside in her memories either. She said: “We meet up a lot for birthdays and things, it’s like a family. I had one of the girls from the show here last week and another two the week before.

“It gave me a different outlook on life when I met all the girls in 2013. I think I gave them courage in a way because they looked at me and thought ‘if Judy can do it, so can I’. I had cancer not once but twice and it is a killer, it’s a horrible thing. There is hardly a family that hasn’t been touched by it.”

The impact her Courage appearance has had on her is something she shouts from the rooftops. “I owe Courage a lot,” said Judy. “I am blessed to be here, everything is a blessing.

“The zest for life I have now came from meeting all those girls, there is so much good in the world. It has made my life.”

Gail Roberts has always been fit and active, her degree even sits in sports and exercise science. That’s why it came as a shock when she started getting pains in her chest and, as a result, was diagnosed with nonHodgkin’s lymphoma in 2005.

“I did think ‘how can this happen to me when I am so fit and healthy?’,” said Gail.

“But it was a treatable cancer so I got on with it. I had chemothera­py and radiothera­py and here I am 18 years later, pretty fit and healthy.”

Gail kept striving through her cancer with help from her tight-knit family unit and enjoying the little exercise she could do outdoors. Though she says she has always been a positive person, she can see now that her experience changed her outlook on life. “I say all the usual things people say at times like these, life is too short, learn to dance in the rain,” she explained.

“You do live with ‘what ifs’ because you don’t know what is around the corner. I had a tumour in my chest that was never removed, so if I get any kind of pain in my chest even 18 years later it still crosses my mind. But I try and enjoy life as much as I can. Live life, that’s my motto.”

Rememberin­g the moment she found out she had been selected for the first Courage, Gail said: “I was surprised and delighted, I just thought it would be a really fun thing to do.

“It was exciting getting to choose clothes, wearing things you never usually would, and having your makeup done – I couldn’t believe these makeup artists could take 45 minutes to do my face when I usually don’t take more than five.”

Gail had beaten the disease by the time a friend put her forward for the event, but she still leaned on those she met.

“I made life-long friends,” she said. “Coming together with people who have been through similar things to you, it’s just easy and you feel like you can talk about anything and everything.”

The 2013 models get together to go to Courage every year, but it is impossible to ignore the empty chairs at the table. “As with all the groups that have done Courage in the last 10 years, there are a lot of people not with us anymore. It’s tough every time it happens, it brings everything back to reality,” she added.

Gail is now an active volunteer with Friends of Anchor, helping at the reception desk at the Anchor Unit daily but also throwing herself from a plane for a sponsored skydive from time to time.

“We greet everyone that comes into the hospital and some people want to talk, others don’t,” she said. “I work in the radiothera­py reception so it helps that I can say I have been through it.

“I know how much they will appreciate just seeing a smiley face. I want to give back for all the help I have had and all they have done for me. Friends of Anchor is part of my family now.”

To donate to or find out more about Friends of Anchor, go to friendsofa­

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