Samantha Womack has revealed she is breast cancer-free just five months after her diagnosis, but is having ongoing treatment as a preventative measure.
The actor, best known as Ronnie Mitchell in Eastenders, 50, took some time off work after being given the news. She went on to have a lumpectomy (where the tumour and some surrounding breast tissue is removed), lymph node removal and chemotherapy treatment.
"It was a bit of a rollercoaster... it was quite quick," she told OK! magazine in a new video.
"Now I'm just having some treatments while I go back to work as a prevention... We're feeling a lot better than we were."
Womack has been supported by her partner Oliver Farnworth, 40, throughout her breast cancer journey.
"My treatment is ongoing for breast cancer. The surgery was quite difficult to recover from just because it's quite tender when you have lymph nodes removed. There's kind of mobility issues at the beginning," she explained.
"The first round of chemotherapy was pretty hardcore really, it was quite toxic. We were lucky because I got to recover in Spain." Womack recalled being picked up from the airport in Valencia by Farnworth, who she calls Ollie, and her dog Wally, in the middle of a thunderstorm after the treatment.
She also acknowledged she was lucky that her diagnosis came from an ultrasound she had, as she hadn't felt a lump or had any symptoms beforehand. Within a couple of weeks of being given the news, she'd had a lumpectomy.
"I was lucky enough to find it when I did and it's made me feel very passionate about reminding women of all ages – a lot of the women reaching out to me were in their 20s and 30s – that it's imperative if you can to get a scan or ultrasound."
Anyone registered with a GP as female will be invited to a breast screening every three years between 50 and 71 (if you have not been invited but are of this age and think you need one, contact your local service). If you have higher chances of developing breast cancer, such as due to family history, you may be invited before 50.
Previously speaking on This Morning, Womack said of her diagnosis, "There's been a lot of illness around our friends and family and I actually just thought I'll do a random check, and I had an ultrasound, and it showed a little shadow.
"And at that point it could be anything, it could be a cyst or... and then I had further investigations, and then that [breast cancer] was diagnosed. I was lucky, it was less than two centimetres."
So, while you should be vigilant about having checks you're entitled to, you may have to go private if you wish to have one before this.
Watch: Samantha Womack recalls 'random check' that led to cancer diagnosis
"I've got radiotherapy for a period of time to just try and nuke any leftover cells," Womack added in the new OK! video.
She also explained how a cancer diagnosis can change everything.
"It's a strange journey of feeling lots of different things all at the same time. You feel incredibly frightened at the beginning because you suddenly value your life so much," she explained.
She recalled the difficulty of telling people about her diagnosis, including her kids, Benjamin Thomas Womack, 21, and Lily Rose Womack, 17, who she shares with ex-husband Mark Womack (the couple split in 2020).
"It's more complicated with your children just because I like to be open and honest with them. That's the relationship that we have, so I don't want to patronise or keep things from them but at the same time the idea for them that they could potentially lose one of their parents – that's terrifying," said Womack.
"So you try to protect them from your feelings or fears. I made sure I was as positive as possible and then I was hoping that that would translate to their feelings. So far they've been very good. It's a huge bombshell for anyone but then you adjust to the news.
"They've been very supportive, very sweet."
The actor uploaded an Instagram video speaking to the camera back in October, after her surgery and lymph node removal, and just before her first session of chemo.
"Hey, I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who has been sending me love after I shared my story about battling with breast cancer," she said, before giving the update. She said she felt very humbled by the fact everyone had reached out and promised her followers that she would keep them posted.
Her Eastenders co-star Rita Simons, who played sister Roxie Mitchell, commented, "I love you so very much my absolute soldier," while Denise van Outen wrote, "Sending so much love to you Sam."
Meanwhile, fans felt compelled to share their own breast cancer stories, while showing their support.
"Sending so much love I was 34 at diagnosis I'm now 45 and doing really well," commented one. "I'm actually walking 100 miles in October for breast cancer. I had a lumpectomy and lymph node removal then chemo and radiotherapy... Sending positive vibes and so much love. You got this... And your friends and family have got you!"
"Be strong warrior. Got my mammogram next week," said another. "My lovely mum is a 2 times breast cancer survivor so I’ve been having them yearly from the age of 35. I’m 53 now. You got this."
Earlier this year, Womack gave an insight into how she is being looked after at home by Farnworth. Uploading a photo of soup, she wrote, "Recuperating after breast cancer op. My love makes me turmeric and ginger in the morning and homemade butternut squash soup in the evening……. #feeling loved and grateful."
It was Olivia Newton-John's death after living with breast cancer for nearly three decades that first prompted Womack to reveal she had the disease herself, the day after on 9 August.
She recalled meeting the star, sharing an old photo on Twitter of them together with Newton-John's daughter Chloe when she was a child.
"This was the most magical of evenings. Olivia and Chloe had come to see Grease in London and we had dinner together afterwards. I was so excited and in awe, she was my childhood," Womack, who played Sandy in the West End at the time, captioned the post. "I now start my own battle with this disease and am left feeling deeply moved," she added.
Not alone, many other celebrities have bravely opened up about their experience with breast cancer too over the years.
Sarah Beeny opened up about having breast cancer at the end of August.
The presenter of TV shows including Help! My House Is Falling Down and Sarah Beeny’s New Life In The Country, 50, shared that she was being treated for the condition.
In an interview with The Telegraph, she recalled the moment she was first diagnosed three weeks earlier. "The nurse was so sweet and they were really nice to me but I thought, 'You don't understand. I have waited 40 years to hear those words.' I knew I was going to hear it one day."
Beeny's mother died from breast cancer at 39 years old, when she herself was just 10.
She admitted she had "a little bit of a breakdown" when being told the news in a hospital consultation room.
The broadcaster found out she had the disease after finding a lump in her breast. With her initial mammogram not showing anything unusual, but her biopsy going on to confirm it was cancer, Beeny has urged women to check their breasts regularly and trust their instincts
"Go for the mammogram. And always go for a second check-up if you can still feel a lump. Keep on going until you get a biopsy. Be vigilant," she told the publication.
She had began chemotherapy and said she will have a mastectomy (where the whole breast is removed) and radiotherapy in the New Year.
Beeny also said she decided to cut off her hair rather than wait for it fall out during chemo, which her husband Graham Smith, and teenage sons Billy, Charlie, Rafferty and Laurie helped her do at the time.
"To be honest, I wouldn’t recommend getting four teenage boys to cut off your hair,” she said, joking about how they said she looked like Cersei Lannister from Game of Thrones.
"I mean, she’s beautiful so I was sort of flattered, but my hair is now in some places about a centimetre long and in some places it’s an inch long," she added. While there was laughter during the moment, that didn't stop it being a tough decision to make.
“I was really, really sad before. I think because losing your hair is so real: before that, you can sort of pretend it’s not happening," Beeny explained.
Documenting the process on Instagram, with pictures of her sons snipping away and her shorter hair, she announced she plans to donate it to a charity that provides free wigs to children and young people who have lost theirs through cancer treatment and other conditions.
"A little pile of not very good condition hair on it’s way to @officiallittleprincesstrust - my trainee hairdressers cut off my hair on Friday night - getting one step ahead after first chemo treatment for breast cancer on Friday - the exclusive club you’d rather not be a member of!" her caption reads.
The Little Princess Trust's account responded, "Wow! What a wonderful hair donation, thank you so much for your support. Everyone here at LPT are wishing you and your family the best of luck."
Meanwhile, others flooded the comments with support. "I’m so incredibly sorry to read this. You are a strong beautiful woman, and you can overcome anything. Best of luck with the chemo, sending lots of love to you all" wrote one fan, while another said, "I’ve been in the club and come out the other side 5 years clear you have got this."
The presenter, who first graced our screens with Property Ladder, also told The Telegraph at the time she would continue with a new series for Channel 4 and write a book in the autumn as planned.
Beeny discussed what is helping to keep her going, including what she learnt from the loss of her mother. "I guess resilience is the main thing it taught me," she said, later explaining that she feels lucky to have been diagnosed with a treatable cancer and that she lives in a family where they all talk [openly about things].
Despite having a brief moment where she thought she wouldn't tell anyone to avoid it becoming real, she said, "But sometimes you have to find something inside yourself; you have to focus and centre to find your inner strength, and say, ‘Come on!’ We all have our own coping mechanisms, don’t we, and mine is to kind of go into myself a bit and then come out.”
Olivia Newton-John, who died at the age of 73 on 8 August after living with breast cancer for nearly 30 years, made a huge impact for her words and work on the disease.
The British-born, Australia-raised star, loved for her role as Sandy in Grease, was first diagnosed with the disease in 1992, with it returning in her shoulder in 2013 and in her spine in 2017.
"When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992 I had my moment of fear and panic. But I had to make a decision that I was going to be OK, because I had a young daughter to raise," she told You magazine last year.
With Chloe Rose Lattanzi being just six then, and 36 now, Newton-John achieved her goal.
"She is now in her 30s and I am still here, so I am very lucky," she added at the time. "I know not everyone is as fortunate as I have been, but the mind is an extremely important part of your healing."
The singer and actor, who underwent a partial mastectomy, chemotherapy and breast reconstruction launched the Olivia Newton-John Foundation with husband John Easterling to help with cancer research and plant-based medicine in 2020.
"I am not trying to replace anything. I just want to find out if we can heal cancer in a gentler way that will boost the immune system – rather than destroy it," she explained.
Newton-John has also demonstrated a more positive attitude to cancer over the years, and her reluctance to join in on the discourse that makes it sound like a 'battle' or a 'fight'.
"I don’t think of myself as sick with cancer,” she told The Guardian in 2020. “I choose not to see it as a fight either because I don’t like war. I don’t like fighting wherever it is – whether it’s outside or an actual war inside my body. I choose not to see it that way. I want to get my body healthy and back in balance. Part of that is your mental attitude to it."
When Easterling announcing her peaceful death surrounded by family and friends at her Ranch in Southern California, he added, "Her healing inspiration and pioneering experience with plant medicine continues with the Olivia Newton-John Foundation Fund, dedicated to researching plant medicine and cancer."
Loose Women star Carol McGiffin, 62, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer in 2014. While her treatment was successful (including a mastectomy and chemotherapy) and she passed the five-year remission milestone in 2019, her disease wasn't suitable for the types of drugs which can help prevent it from returning.
“I am constantly aware and fearful of secondary cancers that might not be obvious early on but can never be cured. I monitor my health religiously and attend checks all the time," she has said since, as a Make 2nds Count ambassador.
"But I’m concerned at the lack of awareness of secondary breast cancer and of this brilliant charity which does so much to help women who are suffering.”
Speaking on Yahoo UK's podcast White Wine Question Time with Kate Thornton back in March 2022, she opened up about her experience of cancer, also having lost her mum and sister to the disease.
"It was absolutely hideous, that kind of chemotherapy. There's lots of different levels as well. The one I had was properly toxic. It was awful. It was terrible," she said. "You kind of you realise what your levels are, I could tolerate that. And I could put up with it because I knew what it was doing."
Showing her strength, she added, "The treatment makes you feel so sick, it's hard to believe that that it's actually making you better. But it does, apparently. So I just thought: 'I'll just get through this.'"
TV presenter Julia Bradbury, 52, shared her breast cancer journey in her documentary Breast Cancer And Me earlier this year, from diagnosis (announced in 2021) to surgery, including the difficult moment she got her mastectomy.
"It genuinely is something that stays with you forever," she told the Loose Women panel earlier this year.
Commenting on the reaction to the show, she explained, "I think generally people were quite surprised at how vulnerable I appeared to be. I was happy to show that side.
"Kelly Close [director] wanted it to be personal, touching and emotional. We don’t talk a lot about the emotional impact of having cancer. It’s a big thing psychologically to deal with.
"It genuinely is something that stays with you forever. There is a chance of recurrence, whether that's in five years, or 50 years."
She said she "found telling people quite hard" because of their reaction and the "sadness in their eyes", but that telling her children, Zephyr Cunningham, now 11, and twins Xanthe and Zena Cunningham, seven, was the hardest, with her originally considering not telling them at all.
But, she added, "I thought that was an impossibility because of what I do. That’s why I controlled the story - I knew it would come out."
While she felt "guilt" for feeling like her diagnosis also affected her loved ones' lives, seeing the positive side, she said, "There is always someone who has had it much harder than you. You have to frame your own position and think of others."
Girls Aloud star Sarah Harding died in September 2021 at the age of 39 after suffering from breast cancer.
Harding first announced she had the disease in August 2020 on her Instagram. With a picture of her in hospital wearing a gown, her caption read in part, "I feel now is the right time to share what’s been going on. There’s no easy way to say this and actually it doesn’t even feel real writing this, but here goes.
"Earlier this year I was diagnosed with breast cancer and a couple of weeks ago I received the devastating news that the cancer has advanced to other parts of my body. I’m currently undergoing weekly chemotherapy sessions and I am fighting as hard as I possibly can.
"I understand this might be shocking to read on social media and that really isn’t my intention. But last week it was mentioned online that I had been seen in hospital, so I feel now is the time to let people know what’s going on and this is the best way I can think of to do so.
"My amazing mum, family and close friends are helping me through this, and I want to say a thank you to the wonderful NHS doctors and nurses who have been and continue to be heroes."
In an extract from her memoir Hear Me Out, which was published in The Times in March 2021, she said, “In December my doctor told me that the upcoming Christmas would probably be my last.
“I don’t want an exact prognosis. I don’t know why anyone would want that. Comfort and being as pain-free as possible is what’s important to me now.”
Harding said publicly revealing her diagnosis was “scary” but was also “the right thing to do”.
Kylie Minogue, 54, said after her doctor missed her breast cancer in 2005, she decided to go back a few weeks later for a second opinion, resulting in her receiving a diagnosis and a lumpectomy to remove the small tumour, as well as chemo.
“I was misdiagnosed initially," she told Ellen Degeneres. "So my message to all of you and everyone at home is, because someone is in a white coat and using big medical instruments doesn’t necessarily mean they are right.”
While she didn't reveal many details, she said it happened before her 2005 Showgirl concert tour. “If you have any doubt, go back again."
Comedian Jennifer Saunders, 63, was diagnosed with the disease at 51.
"The cancer was caught early enough, and I had doctors I trusted,’ she told SAGA magazine. "I just had to make it easy for the doctors to do what they had to do, by doing what they told me and behaving myself."
Aside form the treatment, the worst part for her was going into menopause, brought on by taking the drug tamoxifen.
"I did crash into menopause a bit. It was quite brutal, especially because no one had warned me," she said. "Doctors deal with their own specialty and if you face cancer, they deal with the cancer. But if you go on tamoxifen it stops you having any oestrogen and I don’t think they quite understand how that mentally affects you. You don’t quite know what you should feel like, so you think, 'Is this depression? I don’t know. I just feel angry'."
Dame Maggie Smith
Dame Maggie Smith, now 87, was diagnosed with breast cancer at 74 while filming for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, persisting through despite having chemotherapy.
“I was hairless,” she told The Telegraph. “I had no problem getting the wig on. I was like a boiled egg.” She went on to film the last in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, being given the all clear in 2009.
Some people say you have to fight cancer. But it was fighting me," she explained, years after her diagnosis. “The cure was worse than the disease, and it left me totally exhausted and depressed.” But she came back stronger, with more recent roles including Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham in Downton Abbey.
Sharon Osbourne, 69, underwent a double mastectomy after she discovered she had a gene that increased her chances of having breast cancer.
Osbourne, who had already suffered from colon cancer when filming the reality show The Osbournes with husband Ozzy, had the surgery as a preventative measure.
"As soon as I found out I had the breast cancer gene, I thought, 'The odds are not in my favour,'" she told Hello! magazine in 2012. "I've had cancer before and I didn't want to live under that cloud. I decided to just take everything off, and had a double mastectomy."
The decision to have the double surgery, which lasted 12 hours, was a "no brainer" for Osbourne, who didn't want to "live the rest of my life with that shadow hanging over me" and instead wanted to "be around for a long time and be a grandmother for Pearl", who had recently been born, now 10.
Because her mother had breast cancer when she was a child, Cynthia Nixon, 56, underwent annual screenings form the age of 35. In 2006 she was diagnosed with stage one breast cancer.
She said her doctor had told her at the time, "You know I wouldn’t have thought anything of this. It is so small, except it wasn’t there on any of your previous mammograms'."
"I think that speaks volumes of how important it is to get mammograms, how important it is to get them regularly and how important it is to get them young," she also told Cure Today in 2011, because of the close-call. "If I had started when I was 40, maybe they wouldn’t have caught it."
She had a lumpectomy immediately. "I was in a play at the time, and my doctor, anaesthesiologist and all the people involved in the procedures and operation did an amazing job and went far and beyond for me," she recalled.
"I didn’t want people to know I had the operation because I was in the play, and I thought it would be very distracting for audience members. The doctors did my procedure on a Sunday so I wouldn’t have to miss any performances. I healed from that."
While she didn't need chemo, she had about six and a half weeks of radiation, and then went on tamoxifen.
She also had a very pragmatic attitude to her cancer. ‘I’ve learned that if you catch breast cancer early, the chances are overwhelmingly good that you’ll be cured," she told Shape magazine. "So my attitude, which very much mirrored my mother’s, was this wasn’t a big deal."
For support and advice, call charity Breast Cancer Now on 0808 800 6000, 9.00am to 4.00pm Monday to Friday and 9.00am to 1.00pm Saturday. And to help stay consistent with self-checks, use CoppaFeel!'s regular boob check reminder.
Watch: Know your body: How to check for signs and symptoms of breast cancer