When HELLO! joined Strictly Come Dancing's Amy Dowden in the South Wales sunshine last July as she said an emotional "I do" at her wedding to her long-term dance partner Ben Jones, we could never have imagined that barely ten months later we would be sharing tears of a very different kind.
Having battled the chronic gut condition Crohn's Disease since she was a child, Amy has already spent far more time in hospitals in her 32 years than most of us will do in our lifetime. And as she bravely composes herself to deliver her heart-breaking news, her famous resilience is being tested more than ever, as HELLO! can reveal that Amy has been diagnosed with breast cancer.
"I've been through quite a lot in my life and this is another hurdle," Amy, 32, tells HELLO!. "But if I'm positive and strong, I've got a really good chance of getting back out on the dancefloor as soon as possible."
Bravely sharing her personal news, which she only received last week, the Welsh-born dancer hopes to raise awareness of the disease and help others going through their own diagnoses.
"With what I've done for Crohn’s, I want to do the same here,” explains Amy, whose advocacy around her chronic condition has included making a powerful BBC documentary, Strictly Amy: Crohn's and Me. "If I can try and turn this negative into a positive, it's going to help me get through this."
"You just don't ever think it's going to happen to you," she adds. "I hadn't thought it was possible to get breast cancer at my age. My mum has had breast cancer, but she had it at a later age, in her 50s."
It was Amy's experience of doing the CoppaTrek! with Gi – the fundraising 100km walk led by Giovanna Fletcher in support of breast health awareness charity CoppaFeel! – last June that ultimately led her to discover her own breast cancer.
"Last year, I did the CoppaFeel! trek and I spoke to so many incredible ladies who had battled breast cancer. I was thinking to myself: 'I don't even check my breasts'," says Amy, who married fellow professional dancer Ben Jones last July.
"This last year, obviously, I made a conscious effort to check my breasts. CoppaFeel! has now potentially saved my life, because I don't know how long this lump could have been there before I would have noticed and done something about it. So me speaking out might end up saving some other people's lives because they start checking their breasts."
Amy also tells of the heartfelt support she received from Giovanna and her husband Tom, with whom Amy was partnered on Strictly in 2021, when she told them her news.
"Tom and Giovanna got straight in the car and came to see me when I told them the news, and we went for a walk," says Amy, adding: "Giovanna's encouragement has been central to my decision to share my story in the hopes of helping others."
Amy Dowden's cancer diagnosis
It was in April that Amy first discovered a lump in her right breast, the day before she and Ben flew to the Maldives for their belated honeymoon. "I was in the shower and I felt this hard lump in my right breast," recalls Amy. "I was in shock; I checked again. I thought: 'Right, it could just be period-related, or so many things. I decided I was going to keep an eye on it for a few weeks. On holiday, putting body lotion on every day, I was noticing it.
"I started to check it less because it was worrying me, and I didn't want to flare my Crohn's up. Then, once we were back home, I went to do a [dance] show with Ben and I was putting some shimmer on and the lump felt so much bigger. I just knew I needed to go to the doctors."
Amy rang her GP and went in straight away, before being sent for an emergency referral. "Everything happened so fast within that day. I went on my own and didn't tell anybody, but when I was there, the nurse said to me: 'You need to have somebody here' and that's when Ben found out." Continues Amy: "They told me it was looking very suspicious and to prepare for the worst, hope for the best. They did the biopsy and then we had a wait."
It was only last week that Amy and Ben were told the news that she had grade 3 breast cancer. "All I wanted to know after I was told was: 'Ok, what's the plan? How long until I’m back on the dance floor?'" recalls Amy. “My doctor explained to me that there are three grades, and three is the most aggressive, but they feel like they've caught mine early and to not be too alarmed because grade 3 would be expected in somebody of my age."
Amy is still waiting to hear more before she is given a full treatment plan. "They are still gathering all the information, but the treatment will definitely include surgery," she says. "I don't know what stage the cancer is yet, until I have an MRI scan and a biopsy on a second lump they have found in the same breast. Once they’ve got that, they can give me a full prognosis."
At the core of Amy's strong support network is Ben, who is keeping a positive mindset, she tells us. "Ben only hears the positive, and then he only talks about the positive side of things." Teaching at the couple's West Midlands-based dance academy, Art in Motion, is also helping keep Amy grounded amid current uncertainty: "I am keeping myself as busy and focused as possible; life has got to carry on."
Who is Amy Dowden's husband Ben Jones?
Amy and Ben's paths first crossed on the dance competition circuit over a decade ago, and romance blossomed when they became dance partners in 2013. Now, Ben runs West Midlands-based Art in Motion Dance Academy with Amy, teaching people of all ages and abilities dance styles including ballroom and Latin. The couple got engaged on New Year’s Eve 2017, in a romantic gesture while they were performing the rumba to a crowd during an event at Art in Motion.
Amy Dowden's HELLO! Wedding
Amy and Ben said 'I Do' on 2 July 2022, in a romantic celebration in the serene surroundings of Amy's native Wales – on the Gower Peninsula. The ceremony, exclusively covered by HELLO!, was attended by Amy’s Strictly Come Dancing 'family', including fellow professional dancer Dianne Buswell, who served as bridesmaid, former Strictly dancers Janette Manrara and her husband Aljaz Skorjanec, and Amy's 2021 celebrity partner Tom Fletcher.
When did Amy Dowden join Strictly Come Dancing?
Amy joined the Strictly professional line-up in 2017, when her first celebrity partner was actor and comedian Brian Conley. Her other famous pairings since then have included actor Danny John-Jules, children’s TV star Karim Zeroual, with whom she made the final in 2019, broadcaster JJ Chalmers, McFly's Tom Fletcher and EastEnders actor James Bye.
Amy Dowden's Crohn's disease battle
In May 2019, Amy revealed that she has suffered from Crohn's disease – a painful inflammatory disease of the gut – since she was a child. Speaking for the first time about her chronic condition, Amy told HELLO! at the time: "I realised there will be other girls and teenagers suffering – and now, because of my profile, I'm in a position to help."
A passionate ambassador for Crohn's & Colitis UK, Amy has learnt to take her condition in her stride and does her best to manage painful flare-ups, which can be brought on by stress. She is using that same mental strength as she faces her latest health battle with breast cancer.
"I'm going to be as positive as I can and I want everybody who is surrounding me to also be positive – that's really important," she says. "I want put out there how important it is to check your chest – whether you're male or female."
With the love and support that has already been show by her friends and family, and her boundless bravery and resilience, there is no doubt that Amy will face this challenge with the same positivity she has faced many of life's other challenges. We at HELLO! wish her the very best for her treatment and hope for a speedy recovery.
What has the BBC said about Amy Dowden's news?
Sarah James, Executive Producer Strictly Come Dancing said: "Amy is an exceptional person, both on and off the dancefloor, and is adored by her entire Strictly Come Dancing family. Everyone on the show is sending Amy all our love and she knows that we are all here to support her, whenever she needs us."
Will Strictly be introducing a new professional dancer?
A Strictly Come Dancing spokesperson confirmed to HELLO!: "On the subject of this year's series, we will not be introducing another professional dancer for 2023."
Amy's Strictly Come Dancing co-stars send their support to the dancer
Former Strictly champion Oti Mabuse was quick to write a comment underneath Amy's post sending her love: "Sending you love and power and all the strength – you're such an incredible woman love you Amy! Take care of yourself." Dianne Buswell, who is a close friend of Amy's as well as a colleague, wrote: "Our Welsh dragon is going to fight this!!!! and I cannot wait for the moment you are back on that dance floor with us. We love you so much Amy."
Nadia Bychkova also sent well wishes to the 32-year-old: "Amy darling Sending you all the love and the strength to get through this. Take care of yourself." Vito Coppola wrote: "We are All with you Amy, by your side."
Meanwhile, some celebrity alumni from the dance competition also sent their love; 2022 finalist Fleur East said: "Amy! You're in my thoughts and prayers! You have the best fighting spirit of anyone I know! Sending you so much love." Steps singer Faye Tozer Smith, who competed on the show in 2018, said: "Brave girl! Thinking of you and sending all the strength and superpowers your way."
For more of Amy's story, including support from Ben and her fellow Strictly stars, pick up a copy of HELLO! magazine next week. For more information and support, visit: coppafeel.org