A group of friends who have all had major breast surgery have posed in lingerie designed to help breast cancer sufferers recover their body confidence.
Eleanor Howie, 33, from King’s Lynn, Norfolk, started a lingerie business for cancer survivors after having surgery to remove her breast tissue and reconstructive surgery, as a preventative measure aged just 24.
Howie’s mother and aunt had both been diagnosed with breast cancer at 31, and she had genetic testing which revealed she had a faulty gene, putting her at high risk of getting breast cancer.
Her mother was successfully treated, but her aunt Lesley died aged 34.
Howie set up her lingerie business in 2019 and has been supported by two friends, Caroline Scott and Laura Middleton-Hughes, who have both had surgery following breast cancer diagnoses.
Scott, 38, from Attleborough, Norfolk, was 31 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a single mastectomy and reconstructive surgery.
Middleton-Hughes, 32, from Norwich, was diagnosed with incurable cancer at 28 and has had similar surgery to her friend Howie.
Howie says she believes the preventative surgery she underwent may have saved her life.
“Psychologically, preventative surgery was very difficult for me because I had a healthy body and yet I was subjecting myself to this very invasive surgery which would change my life and my relationship with my body forever,” she said.
“After surgery I wasn’t completely flat but I had bumps and not breasts.
“I consider myself a feminist and looks are not everything but as a young woman feeling sexy and attractive is important.”
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Howie says she believes part of the problem was a lack of attractive post-surgery lingerie.
“There was none, unless you like beige and uninspiring,” she explains.
“There was nothing that made me feel confident and beautiful, and that’s why I set up Valiant Lingerie to help women like me feel more confident about their bodies after surgery.”
Commenting on taking part in the photoshoot Scott said: “Before I had cancer I would never have dreamed of posing in my underwear, but after surgery your outlook on life changes dramatically.
“I want to live and I want to grasp life with both hands – a few scars is not going to stop me modelling or being a voice for thousands of women whose self-esteem has perhaps taken a knock after having surgery.”
While Middleton-Hughes said she never regretted her surgery, she did “initially feel frumpy” afterwards.
“I didn’t think I would ever feel sexy and pretty again,” she explains.
“You do lose confidence and, at first, I could never look at myself in the mirror, but my reconstruction helped me.
“It allowed me to accept who I was and it was a sign that I was getting through my illness.
“It felt that I was taking back control of my body and confidence and self-esteem soon came back.
“You learn to love your scars because ultimately they are reminders of what saved your life and it is possible to feel and look sexy again.”
Howie is now seeking more models who have been through cancer surgery to hold a photography event after lockdown to highlight the fact that cancer affects younger women too.
The trio are also backing Cancer Research UK’s campaign for World Cancer Day on 4 February, highlighting the need for more research and better treatments.
They are encouraging people to donate and wear one of the charity’s Unity Bands to show their support.
For more information see cruk.org/worldcancerday
Additional reporting PA Real Life.