THEY say every girl’s best friend is her mother . . . and Kirsten Mills didn’t think she could possibly get any closer to her mum.
They’d battled through Kirsten’s stormy teenage years, discovered a mutual love of clothes and shopping and found they really loved each other’s company.
But when mum Val McGavin was suddenly diagnosed with breast cancer, Kirsten discovered a new element to their relationship – one that turned out to be stronger and even deeper than she’d thought.
“There’s not a day now that I don’t call mum at least twice just to chat and see how things are,” says Kirsten, 20. “I really hated it when mum was sick but, on the other hand, we’re now dramatically closer than ever before.”
It’s a unique, powerful bond which, according to charity Breakthrough Breast Cancer, can be one of the unexpected side effects of the harrowing condition. For, confronted with the most challenging of battles, mothers and daughters often reveal inspirational unity to see them through.
Now, inspired by that bond, the charity has launched a striking timeless high street fashion collection designed for mums and daughters to share.
And West Lothian pair Val, 55, and Kirsten were among the first to try it out.
Modelling the stunning Fashion Targets outfits – which help raise cash for the charity with each one sold – was a chance to put Val’s nightmare breast cancer battle behind them.
Her diagnosis came in May 2011 after a routine breast cancer screening session revealed a suspicious shadow.
“I hadn’t felt any lumps at all, so it was completely out of the blue,” recalls Val, a marketing manager for clothes firm Fruit of the Loom.
“Kirsten was away travelling and I didn’t want to worry her, so I didn’t say anything and just got on with it.”
In fact, Kirsten was enjoying a gap year holiday, oblivious to the drama unfolding at home in Uphall. When she did find out, she ricocheted from being terrified for her mum, to upset that she hadn’t been told, to understanding why her parents had decided to wait until she was home.
“I got home to see dad sitting on one sofa and mum on the other looking quite serious. I thought ‘OK, either someone has died or they’ve bought me a car’,” she says.
“I was hysterical. It was such a shock. Mum said straight away that she would beat it and I saw a completely different side to her.
“She was always so kind hearted and soft, and now there was this ‘bad-ass’ side to her, she was so determined.”
While Kirsten was marvelling at Val’s courage, Val was seeing a side to her daughter that she hadn’t expected. Suddenly, it was Kirsten taking on a caring and nurturing role, telling her what to do, to take it easy and to ease off with her busy lifestyle.
“There were times when she was being quite stubborn and insisting on doing things even though she was ill and I’d take on the parenting role and say to her ‘no mum, you can’t do this, you have to stop’.”
Kirsten started university in Aberdeen just as her mum began her first sessions of chemotherapy and later radiation. And while daughter fretted at not being by her side throughout it, Val was just relieved she was spared seeing her at her most poorly.
“It was pretty hellish,” nods Val, who opted for a hot pink dress from Coast and a silky floral print frock from Laura Ashley, both part of the Fashion Targets collection. “To think about it now takes my breath away, it was a difficult time.”
Ironically, just weeks before the screening session which revealed her lump, Val had started to organise “women only” ballroom dance sessions with plans for any proceeds to go to Breakthrough Breast Cancer.
“My sister and I put on what we called Moon Dances, aimed at women who love to dance but only get the chance at family weddings. I never thought that I’d be needing care for breast cancer myself,” says Val, who lives with partner Steve Mills.
Surgeons removed a grade two 15mm tumour and five lymph nodes which revealed the cancer had spread to one. Val had chemotherapy and radiotherapy which finished in January last year. She has been all clear since.
James Jopling, director for Scotland at Breakthrough Breast Cancer says: “Val and Kirstin both know the true value what Fashion Targets Breast Cancer is all about. What they have experienced and overcome together makes our work so worthwhile. With 4500 women in Scotland diagnosed with breast cancer each year, it is so important we continue to fund life-saving research into breast cancer to help changes the lives of all those affected.”
“It has been a hard journey, but it was not a fight I was willing to lose,” adds Val. “I got a huge amount of strength and support from Kirsten, and the fashion campaign captures the importance of that support beautifully.”
And Kirsten says the experience has dramatically altered what was already a solid mother-daughter relationship. “When I was 16, we really clashed. But as you get older you start to appreciate what you have. I couldn’t even bear to think of what it would be like without her.
“I couldn’t be more proud of my beautiful mama; of everything she has achieved, of everything she’s overcome and everything that she refused to get the better of her.”
YOU WEAR IT WELL – INDUSTRY TAKES ITS STAND
Every year, fashion designers from top high street stores join forces under the Fashion Targets Breast Cancer banner to help raise money for Breakthrough Breast Cancer.
The idea started in 1996 with a range of distinctive target T-shirts, now it’s evolved to include entire fashion ranges and exclusive designs available at Marks & Spencer, River Island, Warehouse, Topshop, my-wardrobe.com, Coast, Laura Ashley and Debenhams.
It has raised £12.5m for the charity since its launch.
This year’s items range from £2 to £275. Each carries a minimum 30 per cent donation to the charity.
The 2013 campaign is being fronted by celebrity mums and daughters Sharon and Kelly Osbourne, right, and Pearl and Daisy Lowe.
Sharon Osbourne underwent a preventative double mastectomy last year. She said: “I know the importance of the research this campaign funds – it’s vital that their scientists can keep making breakthroughs to improve the lives of women affected by the disease.”
Designer Pearl Lowe said: “This year’s theme of uniting mothers and daughters really brought it home for me. We must raise money for breast cancer research now to make a difference for our daughters in the future.”
Each year, nearly 4500 women in Scotland are diagnosed with breast cancer and 1000 women in Scotland die from it.
It costs £2000 to fund one day of Breakthrough Breast Cancer’s work in Scotland.