My name is Balwinder, and this is my story.
From a cancer-fighter to a catwalk model
Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would ever ‘strut my stuff’ in front of an audience of over 800, not once, but twice in one day! In 2017 I was a model in The Show, a fashion catwalk event centred around women who have had breast cancer diagnoses, all thanks to the wonderful Breast Cancer Now team who made it happen and made me look and feel like a million dollars! Since then, I continue to support Breast Cancer Now by wearing it pink in October.
Breast cancer stepped into my life like an uninvited guest to a party
I underwent a routine annual medical in August 2015, though nothing had been unusual and I hadn’t had any symptoms. Then there was the diagnosis. Grade 3 invasive ductal carcinoma, right mastectomy, 12 lymph nodes removed, 2 invasive surgeries, 8 aggressive chemotherapy and 15 radiotherapy sessions and 10 years of medication to keep the cancer under control.
When I heard those 3 words, ‘you have cancer’, my world crumbled around me. The shock, devastation, disbelief, butterflies in my stomach, the fear, finding it hard to breathe. My sixth sense proved my worst nightmare, was I going to die? Lots to do. A million thoughts spinning around in my head.
The five steps that helped me
I remembered the five beliefs of Sikhism, which helped me. Own your emotions - it’s ok not to be okay. Let your feelings surface and know that crying is not a sense of weakness, but of resilience.
Create a story. Writing helped me cope, because sometimes we brush thoughts under the carpet, hoping they will go away – but they don’t. The whole point, for me, is to face things head-on and make sense of them.
Connect. Sharing experiences with like-minded people is crucial because they ‘get it’. It’s an incredible comfort to know that there is a friendly ear somewhere willing to listen, without judgement. This gave me the strength to talk and accept support.
Don’t try to do everything yourself. We are not Superman or Wonder Woman. Be kind to yourself, and learn the art of self-care, self-love, being selfish, and treating yourself to an afternoon of trash TV or buying a bottle of perfume. Let family and friends support and care for you as this gives them a purpose as well.
Have a goal. No matter how small or big my goal was, it helped me start life again. I went back to the gym slowly – baby steps, it’s one day at a time. I also signed up for a 5k race and plan to keep writing.
I don’t want to be defined by my diagnosis
I have always had a positive outlook in life and realistic expectations of myself. I’m not a quitter, this disease is not going to get the better of me, and it will not define me!
I will wear it pink for the future
I will always be grateful to the Breast Cancer Now team, who played an important part in my life when I was going through such a traumatic ordeal. For me personally, I want to show the Asian community and other underrepresented diverse communities that there is no need to be ashamed to or shy away from talking about a breast cancer diagnosis openly and honestly without fear or judgement. It should not be a taboo topic!I have a sense of pride and fulfilment that I can make a difference to raise awareness and vital funds, so that Breast Cancer Now can go from strength to strength, and help fund their future research. I wear it pink for the future.
My top fundraising tips
Everyone loves a bake sale, so get your work colleagues to bake something and hold a raffle for the best cake. Or get your ‘craft’ on with friends and share your crafty bits like art or knitting in a local community centre. I would say start with a small event and gradually develop your capacity for medium or larger events because all funds raised are just as important.
I did a bucket collection at my local Asda store (wearing a pink tutu), hosted coffee mornings at my workplace and participated in the 5k race for life, just 3 weeks after my treatment in 2016. I believe it’s important to wear it pink on 21 October because it’s our opportunity to raise vital funds and awareness, giving back to and helping those in need.
Will you join me in wearing it pink?