The greatest gift: Lorraine saved me
Tracey Curnock, 48, was in hospital when she tuned in to the daytime show – and everything changed
Lowering myself onto the sofa, with a cup of tea in one hand and the TV remote in the other, I’m all set for the daily dose of my favourite show. I’m joined for breakfast most mornings by Scottish presenter, Lorraine Kelly, as she hosts her eponymous show, discussing current affairs and interviewing special guests. But for me, Lorraine is far more than a TV show, and every morning when I hear the familiar theme tune, I can’t help but feel incredibly grateful. See, it was the show, and the people who work on it, that saved my life – and without it, I dare say I wouldn’t be here today.
In 2018, while working as a make-up artist and being a single mum to my two daughters, then aged 15 and 13, I rarely had time for myself. Then, in summer that year, I was diagnosed with a twisted gut. I arranged for the girls to stay with my friend, while I had a colectomy.
In recovery the morning after surgery, in June, I put the TV on, tuning into
ITV’S Lorraine. Lying in bed, I watched a segment about the Change and Check campaign, which aims to raise awareness of breast cancer after its founder – one of the show’s producers, Helen Addis – was diagnosed with the disease a year earlier. ‘All women should be checking their breasts regularly,’ a doctor on the television said to Lorraine.
Admittedly, I’d never really thought about checking my breasts before, but as the experts revealed how to do it, I decided to give it a go. Feeling my right breast, I mimicked the actions shown on the screen. But when I repeated the check on my left breast, I felt a peculiar lump that I hadn’t noticed before. ‘It could be anything,’ I reasoned to myself, quickly taking my hand out of my gown.
I tried not to overthink things, but every day I kept feeling for the lump, only to find it was still there. After being discharged from hospital, a week after surgery, I returned home, but the lump was really playing on my mind, so I went to see my GP.
‘I’m sure it’s nothing,’ I said, letting her inspect my breast and noticing the serious expression on her face.
‘I’d like to send you for a mammogram and a biopsy, just to be sure,’ she said.
I had both the very next day, and a week later I was called to the hospital for the results.
Led into a private room, I knew it wasn’t good news as soon as I sat down.
‘I’m so sorry, but you have cancer,’ the consultant confirmed. I didn’t get upset or break down; I was actually in denial. At just 46, I couldn’t quite believe it was happening to me.
But as soon as talk turned to treatment and I heard the words ‘lumpectomy’ and
‘The lump played on my mind’
‘chemotherapy’, the reality of my situation suddenly hit me. In the car on the way home, I struggled to fight back the tears as I wondered how on earth I was going to tell the girls.
When they got home from school, I sat them both down in the living room and tried to be as honest as I could without worrying them. ‘I’ve got cancer, but it’s OK. Doctors are going to remove the tumour and I’ll be fine,’ I told them, wishing it really was that simple.
Through streams of tears, they both promised to help where they could.
The operation went ahead in August 2018, but there was little to celebrate when, just a few weeks later, it transpired that there were still traces of the cancer and more treatment was needed. The following month, I started chemotherapy and, within weeks, I noticed the toll it was taking on my body. Nothing could have prepared me for seeing the clumps of my long red hair on my pillow when I awoke one morning. I’d always taken pride in my appearance and considered my hair one of my best features. But as the days progressed and more strands accumulated on my hairbrush, I could barely bring myself to look in the mirror, and instead began wearing hats in order to hide my head.
Ulcers also formed on the inside of my mouth and throat, while the nausea I felt from the chemo left me violently sick. And as I lay on the bathroom floor, where I’d often sleep to save walking from my room to the toilet, I couldn’t quite believe how quickly my life had changed.
‘I should be the one caring for you,’ I’d say to my daughters, who took on all the household chores, including the cooking, cleaning and washing. To give myself something to focus on, I decided to create an Instagram page, a space in which I could blog my journey, with the hope of encouraging others to check themselves frequently. By the time my mastectomy came around in January 2020, I had over 1,000 followers. Surgeons worked for three hours as they took away the tissue in my left breast, replacing it with a silicone implant. And though the surgery was initially a success, it was short-lived as, just a few weeks later, the implant began pulling down on my skin, causing immense pain. ‘I’m in agony,’ I sobbed to the girls, recognising that I’d need further surgery to fix the problem.
Then, things only got worse when, in March 2020, the coronavirus pandemic struck, bringing a halt to various treatments and operations all over the country. For me, zoledronic acid treatment, an intravenous treatment to prevent problems caused by the effect of cancer on the bones, was postponed, leaving me in terrible pain all over my body. And the surgery to fix the pain caused by the implant in my breast would have to wait, too.
Yet I actually consider myself one of the lucky ones – so many people will be missing crucial appointments to detect cancer and also vital treatment to help them beat it.
I’m still very much in the midst of my cancer journey and it’s far from over, but if there is one thing that I can take from my ordeal, it’s using my experience to help others. I’ve been studying for a degree in Counselling, with hopes of providing vital support for men and women through their cancer journeys. And this summer, I hope to climb the O2 and raise money for the charity Future Dreams.
I just hope my story serves as a warning to all women – and men, too – that checking yourself regularly is crucial. Just a quick feel in the shower each morning could be the difference between life and death. If there is one thing you should do each day, please, make it that.
● Follow Tracey’s journey on Instagram @tits_up_uk. To donate to Tracey’s O2 climb, visit justgiving.com/fundraising/Tracey-curnock1
‘I consider myself one of the lucky ones’