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How Breast Cancer Can Transform Survivors' Outlook On Life

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Artwork by Austin Watts.
Breast cancer affects millions of women around the world every year. It's the most common cancer in the UK, with 150 women diagnosed every day and one in eight women receiving a diagnosis during their lifetime, according to statistics from Cancer Research UK.

It's clear we can't afford to not talk about it.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, occurring every year to raise money for research into its cause, prevention, diagnosis, treatment and cure. Crucially, as the name suggests, it also aims to get more people talking about how the disease has affected them and transformed their lives.

While awareness-raising initiatives of this sort often focus on the negative impact of cancer and the physical symptoms, we very rarely hear about the positives that can result from a life-changing experience like a cancer diagnosis.

And survivors' lives do sometimes change for the better after a brush with cancer.

According to figures released today, 72% of women who are currently being treated for breast cancer, or who have survived treatment, said there are positive aspects to come from their experience.

The research, by the Estée Lauder Companies’ Breast Cancer Awareness (BCA) campaign, involved speaking to 117 women who have been diagnosed with the disease. They found that 78% of women said their outlook on life changed after their diagnosis.

One such woman is Lara Honnor, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014 when she was 31. She finished treatment in June 2015 and has since been in remission. Since recovering from the disease she has completed a skydive for charity and proposed to her husband on this year's leap day. They got married last month.

Honnor said she most likely wouldn't be married now if it hadn't been for her disease. "My husband has cystic fibrosis and before I had cancer I'm ashamed to say I probably wouldn't have considered dating him," Honnor told Refinery29.

"I would have been afraid and worried about being with someone who has a chronic illness. How stupid I was, I could have missed out on the best thing that has ever happened to me. So I thank you cancer."

Honnor's experience of the disease also made her appreciate people's flaws and realise the beauty to be found in people's imperfections. "They show a journey that person has gone through and the challenges they have overcome," she said.

"It's potluck what bodies we are born in... It's what's inside that matters the most and how good a person we can be."

Nearly two thirds of women surveyed by the Estée Lauder Companies' BCA campaign (65%) said their diagnosis made them want to try new experiences and over a third took up or re-discovered new hobbies.

Jo Bayles was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer in early 2015, aged 40, and was given the all clear last November. To regain the sense of "self" that she felt she lost during treatment, she started going to CU Fitter, a specialist gym for cancer patients, to help build her strength back up.

Bayles has since been inspired to become a personal trainer at CU Fitter herself. "My life-changing experience at CU Fitter inspired me to give others the same help I received," she told Refinery29. "I will give patients the tools to get their bodies as 'match fit' as possible, ready for their treatment through to recovery."

Bayles realises the importance of recognising that everyone is different, with different capabilities and mental states. "Each individual will need an exercise programme designed for their needs and goals," she told us.

Everyone responds differently to a cancer diagnosis and, as Honnor and Bayles' stories show, for some women it can provide a whole new lease of life.
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