Old make-up canvases help breast cancer charity

An artist who had a double mastectomy after losing her mum to cancer has launched an awareness campaign with a difference.
Wendy Helliwell with some donated make-up. Picture: Malcolm McCurrachWendy Helliwell with some donated make-up. Picture: Malcolm McCurrach
Wendy Helliwell with some donated make-up. Picture: Malcolm McCurrach

Wendy Helliwell, 42, discovered she had the faulty gene BRCA1 after mum Diane lost her battle with the illness.

She has teamed up with Marjory Kenny, an Arborne skin care consultant, to devise a novel way to spread the word.

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Their CHECK YOU project encourages people to donate old make-up, which Mrs Helliwell will use to create two huge canvases, to be auctioned off for Breakthrough Breast Cancer in October this year.

Mrs Helliwell and her sister Angela Brand had their breasts and ovaries removed after being diagnosed with the BRCA1 gene, which brings a high risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer.

The faulty gene hit the headlines last year when Hollywood star Angelina Jolie revealed she had had a double mastectomy to reduce her chances of suffering the illness.

CHECK YOU will officially launch on Sunday – Mother’s Day – as a tribute to Mrs Helliwell’s mother, who was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1998. Doctors later found that she had terminal secondary bone cancer and scans also showed a shadow on her ovaries.

A blood test confirmed that she had the faulty gene – and that Mrs Halliwell, her sister and their brother Gary Blair also carried it.

“If there was any chance, I was going to have preventative surgery,” said the mother-of-two, who lost her mum in 2001.

“There was never a question. When you become a mum, you don’t care about anything apart from being here as long as possible for your children.

“For me, my sister and our families, we knew we had to take the risk away.”

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The CHECK YOU team is now urging women to donate unwanted make-up as materials for Mrs Helliwell’s canvas. Mrs Helliwell, of Cammo, said the project would be one of the biggest challenges of her artistic career.

“The actual make-up will be scooped out, mixed up with PVA, and there will be stitching and glueing,” she said.

Mrs Kenny, who through her business provides pure oil for use by mastectomy patients directly after surgery, said the idea had captured the imagination of women across the Capital and Lothians. She added: “It’s incredible the amount of donations we have had already. It’s really just lifted off.”

Kirkliston mum Kirsty Roberts, who had her second mastectomy just last week, is among those supporting the campaign. After finding a lump in her left breast when she was pregnant with son Blair, she was diagnosed with cancer when he was just ten weeks old.

Mrs Roberts – who was 33 at the time – started chemotherapy when Blair was 12 weeks.

Undergoing such gruelling treatment was tough – especially with a newborn whom she couldn’t see during her radiotherapy – but Mrs Roberts got through it with the support of husband Steven, family and friends.

After spending much of her maternity leave at her workplace – the Western General, where she works in administration – she was cleared of cancer.

But when Blair was five she found another lump – this time on her right breast. Doctors found that it was a completely new primary cancer.

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Mrs Roberts, now 40, said: “I just had to start it all again. Chemo, radiotherapy and injections. The second time, even my doctor was crying. He just couldn’t believe it.”

“But every day, I got up, put my hair and make-up on, and got on with it. I decided I had two separate lives – my hospital life and my home life,” she said.

With the support of her “amazing” doctor, Professor Mike Dixon, Mrs Roberts made it through the treatment.

In June last year, she had a seven-hour operation for a mastectomy and reconstruction on one breast, and last week she had the same surgery on her other breast.

Mrs Roberts, who doesn’t have the BRCA1 gene, said: “I didn’t want to take any chances. Next up is to get my ovaries taken out. I’ll do absolutely anything, because it was hormone-related.”

“I will do anything to help raise awareness. I have come across so many amazing people that aren’t here any longer – so many young people.”

Victoria Sampson from Breakthrough Breast Cancer said she was delighted to support the CHECK YOU campaign.

She said: “It’s a sad fact that breast cancer is still the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the UK, killing 1000 women in Scotland every year.

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“Everyone at Breakthrough Breast Cancer is dedicated to ensuring that more women survive breast cancer; but we cannot continue our vital work without the help of inspiring supporters like Marjory and Wendy.”