Real Full Monty star Dr Zoe on why she's skating topless on TV for cancer charities

IT has to be one of the scariest things I’ve ever done, and I was a Gladiator and played rugby against some pretty tough women.

Agreeing to dance on national TV in front of millions when I’m not a dancer is tough enough. Add in doing it on ice and topless and you’ve got the stuff of most people’s nightmares.

Over the next two nights that mini nightmare will play out for me and my Real Full Monty On Ice dance mates, Hayley Tamaddon, Jenni Murray, Shaughna Phillips, Linda Lusardi and Coleen Nolan, and the boys Perri Kiely, Jake Quickenden, Chris Hughes, Gareth Thomas, Jamie Lomas and Bob Champion.

We’ve spent weeks learning a routine cooked up by the wonderful Ashley Banjo. It ends, as you’d expect, with a final reveal, and us all showing our boobs and bits. While it’s terrifying and nerve-wracking it’s a small price to pay for the incredible impact this show has, year on year.

From having it themselves, to losing loved ones to it, the people I am skating and dancing with all have their own stories of cancer, loss, survival and the hardships a diagnosis brings. It’s what binds us.

We might feel embarrassed but we’re all passionate to do our part to make a difference. For me it’s a mix of my own brushes with cancer, losing loved ones and seeing patients in my day job face the disease.

My grandmother and aunt both died of colon cancer, while I had tests after a bowel cancer scare this year.

Thankfully, my investigations turned out to be nothing serious but in my clinic I see so many women coming in with breast lumps and a major concern is they’re often not coming in when they first detect it.

I’ve had patients in the past who have left it for months before getting breast lumps checked. Delaying a diagnosis means that cancer is likely to have progressed to a more advanced stage and is therefore likely to be less curable and require more aggressive treatment.

A few months can make all the difference. I have lost patients to breast cancer who were diagnosed late, where they could have likely been cured if they had come to see me when they first felt the lump.

What is breast cancer and how does it spread?

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in the UK – with one woman diagnosed every ten minutes.

While most women can get breast cancer, it is most common in women who are over the age of 50.

According to Cancer Research UK, breast cancer starts in the breast tissue.

Breast cancer develops when abnormal cells in the breast begin to grow and divide in an uncontrolled way and eventually form a growth.

Most invasive breast cancers are found in the upper-outer quadrant of the breast.

If it’s not diagnosed and treated it can move through the lymph or blood vessels to other areas of the body.

Each year in the UK there are around 55,200 new breast cancer cases.

This equates to around 150 new cases a day.

It also accounts for 15 per cent of all new cancer cases each year.

If the cancer is diagnosed at its earliest stage then 98 per cent of people will survive the disease for five years or more.

If it is diagnosed at the latest stage, then just 26 per cent of people survive for five years or more.

What are the four stages of breast cancer?

Stage one: The cancer is small and only in the breast tissue – but can also be found in lymph nodes close to the breast.

Stage two: The cancer is either in the breast or in the nearby lymph nodes or both.

Stage three: The cancer has spread from the breast to the lymph nodes or the skin of the breast or the chest wall.

Stage four: The cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

What are the signs?

  • A lump in the breast or armpit
  • Changes in the positioning of the nipple
  • Nipples leaking in women who have not had children
  • Skin changes

I want to get the message across loud and clear, “Don’t delay, get it checked today”. I’m not the only doctor with that story. It’s heart-breakingly familiar in my clinic and to GPs up and down the country.

Whenever I ask a woman why they delayed seeking treatment, overwhelmingly the answer is that they were scared to find out. They suspected it was cancer but didn’t want to have to break it to their families.

Early detection is vital to clinical success though. The sooner you get a diagnosis, the higher your chances of survival, it’s that simple. More than 90 per cent of women diagnosed with breast cancer at the earliest stage survive the disease.

Yet despite all the cancer campaigns we see on TV and in newspapers men and women are still delaying getting lumps or changes checked and it’s become even worse in the pandemic.

We’ve had some really fun times rehearsing, with Jenni and Bob whipping it all off in the dress rehearsal, and only actually getting three lessons with all the Covid restrictions.

But the reasons we’re all doing it is to make sure we keep repeating the message. It’s about checking our bodies regularly, getting to know what’s normal for you so you can be alert to any suspicious signs.

Checking for lumps and bumps is a skill, so the sooner you start to do it, the better. If you’re a mum or dad, do it in front of your kids to set a good example.

As far as I’m concerned, you’re never too young to start – in the hope girls and boys will grow up and it’ll be second nature, like brushing our teeth.

The Real Full Monty On Ice is one of the most daunting things I’ve ever done but it’s a huge privilege to reveal my boobs to the nation to urge them to check their own.

It was empowering and emotional and on the plus side we women just had to get our boobs out, ice rinks are pretty cold and the boys are revealing much more.

  • The Real Full Monty On Ice will air on ITV tonight and tomorrow night.

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