Local women tell their cancer stories to help others as they hit the catwalk

Breast Cancer survivor Claire-Ann McCallum
Breast Cancer survivor Claire-Ann McCallum

Two Midlothian women who defeated breast cancer are set to hit the catwalk next week at the Breast Cancer Care Scotland Fashion Show.

Claire-Ann McCallum (37), an IT worker at Standard Life, and Napier University design lecturer Ruth Cochrane (38) were both diagnosed at a young age, and they are keen to highlight that an increasing number of young people are hit by cancer.

Ruth Cochrane from Cousland.

Ruth Cochrane from Cousland.

The pair are coming together with 20 other inspiring women to strut their stuff on the catwalk in Glasgow to raise money for, and awareness of, Breast Cancer Care.

The pair admit doing the catwalk is somewhat out of their comfort zone but they are still looking forward to it.

Claire-Ann said: “I have stood up in front of people before for Cancer Research but this is a bit different from talking to people telling them my story, so I’m a bit nervous.

“I have raised money for cancer charities for years now, I have always done runs and stuff like that for Cancer Research and the Race for Life – it was actually two days after doing that in 2014 that I was diagnosed.

All of the women taking part in the fashion show.

All of the women taking part in the fashion show.

“I raised £700 last year and raise hundreds pretty much every year, so I’m happy to be doing something a bit different to raise money this time.”

Ruth said: “It’s pretty important. If this helps raise awareness and makes a difference to even one person’s life then it is worth doing.

“It’s completely out of my comfort zone. I’m much more a jump off buildings and run marathons kind of a girl, I’m not really one for high fashion.

“But I’m very much looking forward to it, I have got to know a lot of the girls involved in it, we have spent quite a lot of time together now.

“It has been great making friends with people from completely different situations and walks of life. It also makes you realise that cancer can happen to anyone. It doesn’t matter your background.”

When Claire-Ann McCallum from Mayfield was diagnosed with cancer she didn’t just fight the disease – she began a battle against a hospital policy that could have ended her hopes of ever becoming a mum. Then single, she challenged the policy at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary (ERI) to charge thousands of pounds to have her eggs harvested and frozen, and she was delighted when NHS Lothian then approved the treatment she needed for free.

Claire-Ann said: “They put me on the fertility unit and the only option for me at the time was to freeze my eggs, they wanted £4,000 for that. I had a mortgage by myself so I didn’t have that money. And I didn’t know how long I would be off work. However, if I had a partner I would have got one free cycle on the NHS.

“Fortunately, after a lot of heartache, they said they would cover funding for me to have treatment at the fertility unit at the ERI.”

As a result of her case, other women who in the past might have missed out on having their eggs frozen are now undergoing free treatment, something Claire-Ann is delighted about.

She added: “I was at a ‘younger women together’ course run by Breast Cancer Care and I went to a fertility workshop where I heard that the ERI was now automatically offering free egg freezing because of women like me.

“So something amazing has come from a bad situation and I’m so proud of that.”

Claire-Ann was 34 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2014, after finding a lump in her breast.

The IT worker is now keen to make younger people realise that cancer can strike at any age.

Claire-Ann said: “I think it’s always been seen as an older lady’s disease but there has been a massive increase and shift to younger women getting it. Younger women think they are too young to get breast cancer. I was 34, but luckily I caught it really early.

“I have always wanted to raise awareness so that young men and women know their body.

“It really effects younger lives, you can feel like you have aged 40 years overnight. You get joint pains, memory loss and hot flushes from chemotherapy and the different hormone treatments.

“I was the fittest I had ever been at the time I got cancer, doing half marathons and clean living, which put me in good stead for what was in front of me.

“When you get diagnosed you go on this conveyor belt dealing with everything. People around you don’t really get it, I was so busy focusing on treatment and surgery.”

Now able to look forward to a brighter future, Claire-Ann will marry her fiance Garry Thomson in April at the Capital Hotel in Edinburgh before jetting off to Mexico. “I’m looking forward to it, and the honeymoon too, just to have a holiday is great,” she said.

To donate to Claire-Ann’s catwalk challenge click here.

Ruth Cochrane from Cousland was only 27 when she found a lump on her breast.
She explained how the diagnosis actually changed her life for the better, cementing her then blossoming relationship with her now wife Nicola, who had lost her mum to the disease just two years previously.
Ruth said: “I had only been seeing her for six months so I thought it wasn’t really fair to ask her to go through it all again.
“It was obviously going to make or break us and it all kind of clicked us together.
“It sounds bizarre but in some ways breast cancer was one of the best things to happen to me.
“It really gives you a kick up the bum and makes you realise and appreciate how important life is and how you have to make the most of it.”

Ruth’s diagnosis inadvertently led the couple on a trip of a lifetime around the world.
She said: “You just have to get on with it and live every day like it is your last, life is so precious.
“We chucked everything in, we each sold our flat, gave up our jobs and went around the world for a year, it was fantastic.
“We went to North America, South America, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. We created memories that will live with us forever and saw the world together.
“Since then we have got on with life and we now have a young family and a brighter future to look forward to together.”
The couple are happily married and have three young sons – Riley (4), and twins Leo and Deacon (2).

Now cancer free and very much getting on with her life, Ruth, like Claire-Ann, is keen to make younger women aware that cancer can strike at any time.
She said: “I’m ten years post diagnosis so it’s in my rear mirror now, but for younger girls that get cancer it is a nightmare. It takes over your life completely.”