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Put on a Happy Face


A positive attitude to life can help us to put on a happy face whatever situation we find ourselves in as the years pass.  And, it’s common sense to look after your body, it's your body, it’s your life, so remember the basic rules.

·        Regular moderate exercise

·        Plus a well balanced, varied and nutritious diet

And the good news is that fitness gives you the best chance to maintain BOTH physical and mental independence as the years go by.

I believe good health is like an insurance policy, the more you put in over the years – the more you have in reserve to get you through difficult patches.   My fitness has certainly helped me through bad times.


I recently asked myself at WHAT age did I feel my best?  Sparky, sexy even? You’d imagine I’d say in my hey-day as the Green Goddess on breakfast telly 30 years ago...when my slinky body was held up as the picture of health.  But no!  Not only was I insecure about my lack of curves back then, but I was soon to be diagnosed with cancer and an onslaught to my femininity.


At the height of my career in 1988 I discovered I had breast cancer. I was 47 years of age and it was found quite by chance.  I’d put myself forward as a guinea pig for on trials for HRT. They said to me, ‘you’ll be an ideal candidate,’ but added....” you need a bit of a medical check-up... heart,

lungs x-rays, a cervical smear and a mammogram”. They called me back a few days later and told me I had breast cancer, found on the mammogram.  I was shocked, I felt so alone and ashamed to have cancer. After all I was the Fitness Queen; how could I teach others when I myself was unfit? I felt a hypocrite.


Having always kept to a healthy and active lifestyle and being a national symbol of fitness, the news came as a bombshell, leaving me confused, angry and frightened.  I went into ‘secret mode’ telling only my two sons who were in their twenties, my agent and two of my closest friends.  


Back in the 80s there was a lot of stigma associated with cancer, and it was hardly ever talked about:  When it was, it was behind hands, whispered and referred to. as the big C.  People assumed cancer patients died and I didn’t know that there were women still living with it! Anyone being told they have cancer finds it very difficult to come to terms with.  I felt cancer happens to other people not to me. For a week I believed there had been a mistake.  I was in total denial!


But following the diagnosis, I finally signed the consent form and underwent a double mastectomy.  It took place in August 1988 followed by immediate reconstruction - inserting implants directly under the skin. Afterwards I was relieved to find that despite the scarring, my breasts didn’t look too bad.


As well as facing the physical battle with breast cancer, many women also have a tough time battling body image issues. A poll by Breast Cancer Care (of which I’m an Ambassador) found that 88% of people who have had breast cancer say the disease and its treatment have had a negative impact on the way they feel about their bodies.... and 68% say that it has affected their sexual and intimate relationships.  Although I made a remarkable physical recovery and was back on television within three months before the media had even known I’d breast cancer.... the emotional journey was to be ongoing. My own body image had never been good, but I’ve always tried to put on this happy face! 


Like many girls, I grew up comparing myself unfavourably to others.

Back in the Fifties, femininity was tied up with the voluptuous bosoms and waspish waists of Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell.  Meanwhile I was 5ft 10” and positively skinny, and developed a bit of a stoop to conceal my towering height. Dad called me a ‘whippet’.  Mum had died when I was at school so with nobody to confide in I resorted to secretly buying myself a 32A bra to try to boost my flat chest. When it didn’t make much difference I made my own clothes in an effort to disguise them altogether!


I married my first real boyfriend at the tender age of 19.  By just 20 I was pregnant with the first of my boys, and I remember the doctor joking: ‘How does it feel to be like Marilyn Monroe?’ My breasts had swelled to double their usual size and for the first time I felt a like a ‘real woman’.  This happened again with our second son, two years later. It was fun to dress in a more flirty fashion and I loved the flattering comments that pregnancy provoked.  Of course I was disappointed when my cleavage shriveled back to its original size – now 34B– but by then I had two boisterous boys to contend with and I got life into prospective!


A few years later I was spotted and asked to work as a catwalk model which soon led on to me travelling abroad for fashion and photographic shoots and TV commercials.  My two fried eggs became a bit of a joke although I must say none of the other models had much to boast about either! But modeling did nothing to change my deep-seated feelings of inadequacy in that department! Thankfully my career took off regardless leading on to my working as a broadcaster for HTV, Television Wales and The West and BBC Radio Bristol.


It wasn’t until 1983, by then I was in my 40s, that I became the Green Goddess. The dreadful shiny green leotard and tights was purely a costume accident, by the way.   I had been doing keep fit classes at Butlins in red, which had lead to TV classes on HTV in green, and the BBC headhunted me for ‘Breakfast Time’ from there.

Nobody laughed at my boobs then!  In fact millions admired my lithe physique. The national papers praised me at the launch of the programme with headlines like: ‘Who is this Goddess – this Green Goddess?’ spawning the nickname.  I was so surprised, flattered and it was easy to put on a happy face!  But by then I was more pre-occupied with health and fitness issues to bother unnecessarily about just my appearance.


The Green Goddess was on screen daily for over 4 years. And life on BBC Breakfast Time early every morning was hectic and exciting.  But sadly during this time and after 27 years… my marriage floundered.   Regrettably I then took up with a Jack the Lad character of a boyfriend. The relationship progressed with us getting married on my 50th birthday. But it wasn’t easy and within a couple of years he rather famously and publically betrayed me. Divorce followed immediately.


I pulled myself up by my boot straps, put on a happy face (with some difficulty) and got on with my life.  But the betrayal had shaken my confidence and like many breast cancer suffers I had body image issues. At times like this it’s important that a woman has the opportunity to talk to others, the problem is often halved or at least put into perspective as a result.


But my battle with breast cancer wasn’t finally over.  Just 2 years ago I was in some discomfort and an MRI scan revealed that after more than 20 years my prosthesis had ruptured.  Ironically, this happened around the time of the PIP implant scandal and, as we were to discover mine too were the same make.  Once again I underwent major surgery, but thanks to my brilliant NHS surgeon Venkat Ramnankrisnan, I now look as good as new!


The illusion is complete and life goes on.  Yes, it has been a bit of a saga but I’m all the stronger for it.  In fact, it is only now at the age of 74, and a year after my recent third bi-lateral reconstruction in as many decades, that I finally feel at ease with myself.  I can honestly say I am happier and healthier than I’ve been in a long while and I still lead a very active life, both socially and professionally. I may be single but I have many men friends and romance isn’t dead!  


However, my clutch of female friends is extremely important to me, many of whom have also battled breast cancer.  I call them my bosom pals!  I love life and live it to the full: you do when you’ve been given a second chance!  Above all I feel relaxed and accepting about whatever life still has to offer, so I put on my happy face and I like to think the best is yet to come! 


One final thought......should you see someone looking down in the mouth... put on a happy face and give them your smile – it will cost you nothing – but could make their day richer.

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