Andrea Cowherd, 45, stands just five feet nothing tall but has the heart of a lion.
She greets me at the door of her Keswick Road home in Lancaster, with sparkly-eyes and a winning personality.
Her head has recently been shaved to the skull.
It hadn’t yet started to fall out, but Andrea wanted to be one step ahead. So she had it done for charity - North Lancashire and South LakelandCancerCare, raising £1,100 in the process.
She shows me a photo on her phone. Of the days when she had luscious, long blonde hair. But there’s no looking back with Andrea - only forward.
She likes her “GI Jane.”
When her hair came off for charity, she was surrounded by her two sisters, two daughters, her son, nieces and nephews - all of whom took turns with the clippers.
Many of them - standing behind her that day - were crying as her locks fell to the floor. But not Andrea, she loved it.
Cheerily energetic, she moves from kitchen to laptop with speed with no sign that anything is “wrong.”
“I’m not ill,” she insists. “Cancer doesn’t make you ill. You don’t take to your bed. It’s the medicine that makes you ill. The one thing that makes me really poorly is the thing that is supposed to make me better - the medicine.”
She means, of course, chemotherapy. It’s all happened so fast.
Andrea noticed a change in her breasts in the summer, but didn’t think anything of it.
She’s always been busy and on-the-go - being involved in umpiring netball for years.
Not just locally but international level and the England Netball team.
The mum-of-three left it 12 weeks before going to see a doctor - although there’s no suggestion it would have made any difference in her case,
She had the tests and it was confirmed on August 30th. She has stage three breast cancer - one of the most aggressive forms. The official statistics suggest around 50 per cent of women with stage three live for more than five years, and 40 per cent lived for more than 10 years.
To get through this, Andrea requires six lots of chemotherapy treatment, then a masectomy, her lymph nodes removed, reconstruction surgery and possibly radiotherapy. She admits there have been tears, but when she found out there was no “end-of-the-world,” breakdown.
The closest she comes to being emotional is when she tells me she had to tell her three children - Jenna Delaney, 24, John Delaney, 20, and youngest, Elena Cowherd, nine.
“It helped that the next door has been through the same thing recently and Elina plays with her children,” says Andrea.
“I’ve been fine about it. I personally think it’s the word - cancer. What it says to people...is such a negative thing. But the way I look at it, it’s just a process I’ve got to go through, and survival rates are much higher now.
“Everyone else is struggling with it more than me,” she says. “I just see this as the challenge. This is the fight. I’m just going to get through it.”
Andrea even turned in for work the other week. She’s an office manager at Viva Dental in Carnforth. “They were all like: ‘what are you doing in,’ and I just said: “I’m fine, I want to be here, I want to work.”
Andrea is one of six children and her twin is Audra Mulholland, 45, from Lancaster.
The family have been justifiably upset, including her other sister, Sue Walker who runs Brookdale Day Nursery in Lancaster - as Andrea once did. “Cancer is hard on everyone. It’s like being in a bubble and you see it touching everyone you know.”
She’s had her first dose of chemotherapy. It takes around and hour and a half at the oncology unit. You sit in a chair and they inject it.”
“Around four to five days later, you start to become really poorly,” Andrea explains.
“It’s like really, really bad flu and I have to take to my bed. I’m very lethargic and you sleep, but it’s broken sleep. Luckily, I’ve only vomited once.”
She has carried on as far as she can. She still collects her daughter from school. “I go out, I see people. I’m not letting it completely take over,” says Andrea.
It’s the reaction of other people that has been the hardest but Andrea doesn’t hide.
“They just don’t know what to do or say,” she explains. “I want them to ask - ‘what’s it like?, what happens? What’s involved? The more people that are aware, the better. I’m not afraid of cancer and I’m not afraid of being bald.”
She has some good news. Her partner Mark Partridge, 29, of Bolton Le Sands, who she has been seeing for 19 months, asked her to get engaged some time ago. Two weeks ago, the industrial floor layer, produced the ring. The diamond design means “yesterday, today and forever.” “He is so supportive, I really wouldn’t be able to cope without his strength,” she says.
When you have breast cancer, there isn’t such a thing as setting a wedding date. “We have to take each day as it comes,” says Andrea. “I have to be realistic.”
But she has set herself a goal. She hasn’t seen her brother, Keith Cody, since he emigrated to Australia five years ago. She wants to get through this, and then recover Down Under. Asked for a final thing she wants to get across to readers, Andrea says: “Don’t be scared. It’ll be fine. Don’t be afraid of getting it checked out, if something is different. Don’t think: ‘I won’t bother’.”
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Weather for Lancaster
Sunday 19 May 2013
Temperature: 10 C to 14 C
Wind Speed: 14 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 10 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: North west