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WEEKEND, 8 June 1996
(Thanks to Anneloes for the translation from the original Dutch!)
Wendy Richard, whom we know as Pauline Fowler from the series EastEnders (BBC 1) and as Miss Brahms from Are You Being Served? (TV 10), was overjoyed when her doctor told her that everything was fine. This happened three months after a malignant little tumor was removed from her breast. The 49-year-old actress was convinced she has won the battle with this feared illness. And she went back to work.
But after a day's rehearsal, followed by the filming of a new episode of EastEnders, she took a quick shower before dinner. And while she was showering, she felt something in her breast.
"The first time, I had a small lump in my left breast. This time it was my right breast. I was shaking on my legs from fear. I felt again, but there was no mistake. It wasn't as big as the previous lump, but it could clearly be felt. I didn't want to believe it. The doctor told me loud and clear that I was healed, and I believed him. I thought: 'Oh God, do I have to go through the same hell again?' I didn't have an appetite and went upstairs. I was in bed, paralyzed with fear. The craziest things went through my head.
"When I got to the set in the morning, my make-up artist, Lucy, who is a good friend of mine, immediately saw that something was wrong. I confided in her. She was terribly shocked and tried to lift my spirits. Todd Carty, who plays my son in the series, also knew immediately that something was wrong. I told him too. To comfort me, he hugged me. That afternoon I had a consultation with Dr. Coulter, the specialist. He told me the lump was most likely a benign cyst. I told myself that it would be alright, but I was terrified really. When making the mammogram, Dr. Coulker [sic] turned the monitor in such a way that I could see it myself as well. The lump was visible as a completely black thing and that was a bad sign. I was so terrified that I couldn't stop crying. But Dr. Coulter explained to me that the lump was benign. 'Sometimes they will disappear just like that,' he said. And indeed, a few days later the lump was gone.
"It is very important to regularly feel for lumps. The specialist agrees with that. 'Even if that would mean that we would have to check out every little lump, however innocent, women are better off feeling for lumps every day,' according to Dr. Coult [sic!]
"When I left the hospital, I was still crying. The young taxi driver recognised me. 'Are you alright, Wendy?' he said. 'You shouldn't cry; it will be alright.' He was so nice. And when I told him I had just heard that everything was fine, he said: 'Thank God!' After that he told me that his mother had just been diagnosed with cancer. I dried my tears, because I suddenly realized I should feel very happy that everything was OK."
Now, eight weeks later, Wendy doesn't need radiotherapy anymore. "It was very difficult. Especially because I continued to work. When I got home, I didn't even have the strength to give water to the plants. Many people do not realize that you get so tired, because it is hardly visible. I have sometimes fallen asleep on the set, simply because I was so tired. The a cameraman had to wake me up. They were very helpful at the BBC though. Scenes were rewritten and the schedule was rearranged. If they hadn't, I would not have coped. I felt so horrible when my hair started falling out. From stress, not from the radiotherapy. Still, radiotherapy isn't easy. You can't take a nice shower, because the water hurts. And you can't wear a bra. That hurts too much. It is as if you have gotten a bad sunburn, and that for a few months in a row.
"Thankfully, it is healing, now that the treatment is over. I sincerely hope I will never had to go through this again."