WEEKEND, 9 March 1996
(Thanks to Anneloes for the translation from the original Dutch!)
"I was standing in the shower two weeks ago and suddenly I felt a lump in my left breast", said Wendy Richard, who we know as Pauline Fowler in the series EastEnders and as Mrs. [sic] Brahms in the series Are You Being Served? (which is shown daily on TV10 Gold). "I was terrified and my stomach has never hurt as much as in that moment. I regularly check my breasts while being in the shower. And I felt something. I got out of the shower and stood in front of the mirror. And yes, at the upperside of my left breast was a lump. It must have grown fast, because the day before I hadn't felt it yet."
Wendy was immediately being referred for an operation by her family doctor. The 49-year old actress is certain the danger is out of the way. Sitting up in the hospital bed she exclaims with a smile: "I have won! The past ten days have been the worst of my whole life. I've never been this scared. But because I reacted quickly, I have caught this in time. The tumor has been taken out. My doctor has assured me that I'm 100% healthy. And I feel fantastic, knowing that it is over. Just like Pauline Fowler, the part I play in EastEnders, I'm a fighter. After the weekend, I will go to the set as usual. But they are going to have some patience with me, because I can only work mornings for the time being. That's because I will get radiotherapy in the afternoons. And that could last a few months."
On Valentine's Day (14th of February) Wendy had the appointment for a mammogram. "That wasn't at all. It wasn't embarrassing and it didn't hurt. It was over before I knew it. But by just looking at the face of the young assistant that was operating the machine, I could see that we were dealing with something serious here. Immediately after they made a scan. And after that they took away some tissue from the lump with a hollow needle. And at the end of the afternoon I got to hear that it was indeed a malignant tumor.
"At that moment I thought: Nice, it's Valentine's Day today. And my only present is the message that I have cancer..." The next day Wendy had an appointment with another doctor. After an investigation he confirmed the diagnosis. The next morning she had to come back to the hospital for more tests - heart, lungs, bone marrow and liver.
"My liver was alright. So I didn't have a drinking problem," she says with a meaningful twinkle in her eyes. "But of course they wanted to know whether it had spread already." Wendy had surgery in the Princess Grace Hospital in London. "I said to Gerry Gilmore, the man who operated on me, that I would rather die than lose my left breast. With two breasts it's hard enough finding a boyfriend, let alone with one! He had to laugh about that. And he reassured me. He said that these days they rarely had to remove the breast in these kind of cases. 'We remove the lump and we fill the freed space up and in such a way that it will look completely natural,' according to Gerry. But if there had been no other way, I would have opted for the amputation."
When Wendy came to from the anesthetics that night, her two best friends were sitting at the side of her bed. "I knew that the cancer was out. I had the feeling that I could conquer the whole world and we were laughing and joking. My friends have helped me through that horrible time. It started the night before the operation. Till three in the morning, I've been chatting and laughing with a friend, while we watched Blackadder video tapes. As soon as I have my energy back, I'll invite them all for a wonderful dinner party. I know the cancer is gone. It's somewhere in a bowl in a laboratory and there's nothing wrong with me. The only thing is, that I'm still a bit tired.
"The nurses were amazed I wanted to go back to work again. But thankfully the doctors agreed." The actress stresses that women should check their breasts regularly. "I would like to ask every WEEKEND-reader to do so every day. Believe me, before I had this lump, I couldn't believe it would ever happen to me either. But when I heard the diagnosis, I have cried and screamed at home so loudly, that my little dog Shirley began to squeak of fear."
For Wendy breast cancer is the umpteenth bit of bad luck in her life. Her father committed suicide when she was 11 years old, and 13 years later her mother died. Two years ago, her third marriage ended. The Irish carpetfitter Paul Glorney asked for a divorce, because [he alleged] she took Pauline Fowler's problems home with her and he couldn't handle it anymore. Before that the actress had been married to Leonard Black for six months. After that she was married to Will Thorpe, who physically abused her all the time. That marriage was disbanded after one and a half years. Wendy became addicted to alcohol and was a wreck. She stopped drinking alcohol when she met Paul Glorney. But after four years, their marriage ended as well.