WHEN Rae Bell was just 15, her mother, Marion, was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Marion was just 36 at the time, and Rae’s younger brother Kieran was just nine years old.

Since then, Rae has written ‘Identities’ – a comedy she also stars in, focused on breast cancer and inspired by her Mum’s story. Rae wrote and developed the play in Warrington, with her Mum still living in Appleton. 

The diagnosis came for Marion after discovering a lump on her right breast, which was uncomfortably rubbing against her bra.

After an initial doctor dismissed it as ‘fatty issue’ a fact which offended Marion greatly, a second visit required multiple scans.  

Warrington Guardian: Marion discovered she had breast cancer after noticing a lump on her breastMarion discovered she had breast cancer after noticing a lump on her breast (Image: Dave Gillespie)

Marion says that her consultant, Dr Lund, was shocked: “he said he was really shocked because I was young, and he wasn't expecting it and he said he couldn't tell me I didn't have it that day.

“So, when the following week with my Nana, my best friend Paula, who we talk about she's the 'auntie' in the show. They told me then that I did have stage two breast cancer but they think it was contained. I then had an operation.”

Whilst the breast cancer was able to be removed, during the procedure they discovered it had spread to Marion’s lymph nodes, which had to be removed in a further surgery. The then 36-year-old underwent a course of chemotherapy and tamoxifen, which she took for the next ten years.

Rae remembers vividly being told her mum had cancer: “I'd been at my best mate’s house and we'd been to a party or we'd had a sleepover the night before.

“So, I was exhausted, and I came home and was like "I'm going for a nap" and then went for a nap and when I woke up everyone was just being really weird. I came downstairs and my mom was sat with Paula and they sat me down.

“They were like we've got something to tell you, and I went ‘you’re not pregnant, you’re not pregnant, are you?’ She went ‘No’. Then they softly and gently explained that she had cancer. She said to me that she'll always be honest with me and tell me but right now it's at this stage and I went upstairs, and I just cried.’

“I was a selfish teenager I wanted to just be and have fun and I just… one thing I do remember was my birthday. I remember during this at one point it was my birthday, I don't know what birthday it was, and I remember you couldn't wrap.

“You didn't wrap all my presents because you weren't well, and I remember that being really, I know that sounds so selfish, but it just being so alien because you always used to make such an effort for my birthday.

“I remember coming into school that morning and it just hitting me that and that being a really sad poignant moment that day.”

Marion was supported by friends and family at the time, with her, at the time separated husband, providing a great deal of support, as well as work.

Working for Timpson at the time, she says when she told work, owner James Timpson informed her personally that she didn’t have to worry about money or working, that she’d be taken care of.

Rae said this level of support was vital for them all to make it through such a tough time, saying: “I look at people I know or other people in the world who don't have the relationships and the community and the family that we have. And I think ‘how on earth do they get through that? How do people get through that?’

“It must be so lonely and so scary and so awful. I just think we were really lucky to have the people in our lives.”

With the support of friends and family, however, Marion beat cancer, and has been cancer-free in the 13 years since.

In 2020, however, during the pandemic, Rae found a lump on her breast.

“I think the pandemic sparked anxiety for me, and part of that was I decided that I was going to start checking for the first time which is ironic, but I just convinced myself that I found a lump.

“I went to the doctor and they were like it's not and I was like… ‘but it is, it is’.

“Mum emailed in and told them she was really young when she got it, so can you just please send her to the breast clinic? I wouldn't have been able to stop worrying about it.

“That's what the word cancer does. It makes you worry. It makes you just jump to the inevitable. And it was just a really scary experience.

“All I had was anxiety all the time in my brain about it and I couldn't stop checking. And I went to the breast clinic and it was fine.”Warrington Guardian: During an operation on her breast cancer, Marion was told the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes, leading to further surgery, and chemotherapyDuring an operation on her breast cancer, Marion was told the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes, leading to further surgery, and chemotherapy (Image: Dave Gillespie)

This scare, however, got Rae thinking even more frequently about breast cancer, and what her and her Mum had been through.

One day, she decided she needed to get out the house and ‘be creative.’

The Warrington creative said: “I took my laptop and it was the worst laptop ever. I toddled over to Costa in Stockton Heath and I sat and I love the film Inside Out and thinking 'How would your body speak to you if it could speak to you?'

“So I just sat in Costa and wrote the scene that's called ‘we are running’ and it's the it's one of the first scenes in the show and originally it was the first scene of the show about running as boobs.”

‘Identities’ is a comedy play, written by Rae, from the perspective of a woman’s left and right boob. The scene, involving their perspective as their ‘human’ goes running, is one of the funniest in a play which – despite the topic matter, is full of laughs.

Warrington Guardian:

Rae said: “The show is saying exactly what we wanted to say it's talking about being a woman and being silly and being funny as a woman.

“And, that’s okay, you're allowed to be a funny woman. Also check your boobs and also go to the theatre and have a great time, we're just so proud of it!”

The play, which is set to embark on a nationwide tour starting in Warrington this weekend, features verbatim interviews with Marion and women from Prevent Breast Cancer, who became involved in the play via Marion.

Marion, a few years ago, decided to give back and began working with Prevent Breast Cancer running coffee mornings.

After being involved in the play alongside Rae every step of the way, Marion managed to put Rae in touch with Nicki Barraclough, who aided throughout the development of the boob-based comedy.

The play made it’s initial debut in Warrington last year, receiving a standing ovation and numerous laughs from a teary-eyed crowd.

Marion said of this first performance: “It was strange because I knew the story inside and out. I used to practice Lauren's lines with her, I couldn't even have a bath without her sitting on the toilet reciting the lines.

“So, the content emotionally didn't move me so much. What moved me was when she finished and the whole audience just stood up and clapped. I just looked around and people were crying with joy.

“But I don't really think it's about me I never say it's about me. I started about my story but it's bigger than that now. I don't sit there thinking all this is about me, in fact I cringe when I hear my voice I hate that bit, absolutely hate it!

“This is just, I'm so proud. I'm so proud of where it's come from now, with her reading the scene she wrote to me on my couch, and it's blossomed into this, it's amazing.”

Identities is playing at Pyramid Arts Centre, Friday September 22, and Saturday September 23. Tickets are available now, with multiple pay-as-you-can levels.