Victoria Derbyshire can vividly remember the moment the email arrived in her inbox. “Dear Victoria,” it read. “I want to thank you for saving my life.”
They were the words of Margaret Witts, who felt compelled to write to the journalist after she stripped off for the fundraiser The Real Full Monty.
The 86-year-old had listened to her on-screen plea to women to check their breasts and was shocked to find a lump, later diagnosed as cancerous.
“When the email dropped, I remember saying out loud, ‘Oh my God’,” Victoria tells the Mirror.
“One, the shock that someone else has breast cancer but two, a feeling of, ‘Thank goodness she checked herself after watching The Real Full Monty’.”
The TV presenter was staggered when, a short time later, she received a second email. “Marin Marshall, who was in her early 50s, told me a very similar story. She checked herself the next day, too, and within days she too was told she had breast cancer.
“She’s already had surgery. It was a similar emotion, I couldn’t believe it.”
Victoria had a special reason for stripping off for ITV’s show in March, with stars including Loose Women’s Coleen Nolan and comic Helen Lederer . In 2015 Victoria, who has two sons with BBC editor husband Mark Sandell, learned she had breast cancer.
She broke the news on Twitter and posted video diaries during her six rounds of chemotherapy, 30 doses of radiotherapy and a mastectomy.
Victoria hoped to reassure other women dealing with the devastating diagnosis and “demystify” treatment. During chemo, she told of feeling like she had a “severe hangover” and said it left her “drained and low”.
After receiving the emails, Victoria decided to meet up with Marin and Margaret. This will be shown today on the Victoria Derbyshire programme.
She says: “When I first saw Marin, she started crying. I gave her a massive hug. Then we drove to meet Margaret near Birmingham. Margaret was very composed and potentially still in shock, as she has surgery to come.
“Really touchingly, they were both grateful I talked about my symptoms on the show, and they found the same.
“They were numb as they had both been diagnosed within weeks, but so grateful.” In moving scenes, Victoria clasps hands with the women as they share stories. Recalling sitting down to The Real Full Monty, Margaret says: “I got a nice big glass of sherry, put my feet up and put a blanket over my legs.
“I laughed and I cried with you. And then, at the end of the programme, it flashed up to check my breasts.
“If I hadn’t, I’d have been none the wiser. It’s amazing what you did.”
She is having a mastectomy next week. Marin, who has had a lumpectomy, agreed that without Victoria stripping off, she too would still be in the dark.
She says: “Because of you bravely talking about it in front of goodness knows how many people, we both did something. I don’t believe I would have done something about it [otherwise].” She adds: “How does it make you feel knowing what you did had this effect?”
Victoria replies: “That’s a really hard question. I’m really sorry that you have, and have had, breast cancer. But I am also really glad that you took the message from the programme.
“You found something, but thank God you did; you very soon will be good, then hopefully you can get on with the rest of your life.
“I’d like to say to you good luck, loads of love, loads of strength; you know you have it in you. We are here for each other when you need it.”
Victoria has kept in constant contact with the pair. She tells the Mirror: “Margaret and I have been emailing loads and on the phone. Marin and I have shared lots of emails. I feel we can all support one another.” In The Real Full Monty, Victoria broke down in tears at their first rehearsal, saying: “This is so out of my comfort zone.
“This is day one, what the heck? I haven’t cried for ages about having cancer, or my body or whatever.”
After visiting the Moulin Rouge strip club in Paris on the TV show, she said she no longer wanted to do the topless routine to raise awareness of cancer.
But she bravely went ahead, and says all the tears were worth it. “We had no idea that women would take the message from the programme.
“People were saying they had the letter for the mammogram appointment in their drawer and they were now going to go. They’d ignored it until now. It seems to be having the desired e ffect. Thank God they have checked.”
Source: Mirror Author: Tom Bryant