PENKETH mum Mel O'Neill has been fighting breast cancer for more than a decade.

She writes a regular blog for the Warrington Guardian on her experiences.

As I stood there in front of the 5.30pm Slimming World ladies awaiting their consultant (Jenny) to begin their session, my legs started to shake and my heart was pounding out of my chest as I was introduced to the group. Having been allowed to talk to the three other sessions last week, I honestly believed my nerves would be a thing of the past when talking this week. But I was mistaken as my voice trembled telling the ladies of my journey with cancer and how the NHS will no longer fund my treatment of Herceptin which is keeping the cancer asleep.

A few times I inhaled deeply trying to calm my nerves but that didn’t work as I became tearful when sadly recalling the time when I first lost all my hair including my eyelashes and eyebrows, looking into the mirror and not recognising myself thinking I had lost identity and my appearance to a chemo-ravaged cancer victim I was becoming. So because I had trained many years ago in Manchester to become a makeup artist and working tirelessly for Bobbi Brown cosmetics - travelling all over the country doing the make-up at photoshoots, catwalk shows and charity events to the stars as well as opening new accounts and turning declining accounts into thriving ones - I had the essential knowledge of how to make myself look and therefore feel better about myself. Being able to recognise the person looking gratefully back at me in the mirror was such a blessing I want to give to others with and without cancer.

So after a lot of reading over the years, mainly about life and being able to like myself instead of creating a different persona that I thought others would like better, I embarked on vlogging about life with cancer. That didn’t completely eliminate my fear of what others thought of me as I worried too much about being uninteresting and not engaging enough, but then I’d remember who I was doing it for and that was me. It was the performer I’d always wanted to become coming right out of me, albeit from a different angle.

As my cancer finally fell asleep back in January 2021 (having not had chemo since November 2020) it was a struggle to find interesting things to discuss as the path that lay ahead became a pretty smooth one, cancer-free, with only a three-weekly visit to The Christie Hospital for my anti-cancer drug Herceptin. After a 10-year rollercoaster ride with an untold amounts of lows, it was my time to experience the highs.

And that’s exactly what I did. I began vlogging about my love of my dog, about loving the fact that my hair was growing back, about my love of clothes and what I was wearing and most importantly my love of makeup. I became completely blown away by the support and comments I’d receive on social media and how ladies wanted to know what lip colour I had on or what blusher I was using.

This gave me so much pleasure knowing I was interesting to someone and I was being taken seriously finding my identity and purpose I had had all along, because I was finally being myself.

With the brain injury and cancer I had lost who I was, feeling worthless with no purpose. Unable to contribute to our earnings I tried convincing myself that I was a great homemaker (which I am) and a great mum (which I am), but that was never enough as forgot about my dreadful memory and hospital visits along with permanent side effects from chemo, I wanted more.

It was only when Sheila, my first makeup lesson appointment, saw my vlogs about makeup and contacted me to ask if I did personal one-to-one lessons? My first thought was no. We had just come out of lockdown, I didn’t know any of the current guidelines for work and I hadn’t worked in the salon for more than 10 years. But the more I thought about it, the more I convinced myself that I could do this with my makeup background. I hadn’t forgot the basics, and knowing that was where my passion lay I could help women to look and feel better about themselves. Sterilising my equipment was a necessity when working with the public so the guidelines were easy to follow, I could work around my hospital appointments too (three-weekly Herceptin, lymphedema clinic and yes, I still have to have scans).

If I charged a fee of £30, I could help with the cost of the Herceptin and because of my love of doing it I would reduce the price (£10 just to cover my costs) to anyone diagnosed with cancer as I know how it feels to have someone do something out of kindness for me and how it made me feel and still does. And I know Estee Lauder do a Look Good Feel Better at cancer hospitals free of charge (I have been to one by the way, and thought it was great) but this being a one-to-one is so much more personal to you and the benefits are far greater than in a group.

So I agreed to give Sheila a one-to-one makeup lesson at O’Neill’s Hair and Beauty. I separated all my makeup to 'work and home' makeup along with my brushes but decided (due to Covid government guidelines) what if the ladies brought their own makeup and brushes in with them? I had all mine there sterilised as a precaution or a 'just in case' but as I am not selling any products I am able to give unbiased advice showing each lady how to get the most out of their own stuff.

So my thanks go to Sheila for unknowingly inspiring me to finally feel worthwhile after being lost for so long. Thank you for asking for the lesson so now I get the chance to feel so elated when I see the lady’s face during and on completion of the lesson. Now that’s a feeling I want to bottle but it is there every single time I’m doing a lesson.

It’s taken a long time but I’m finally following my passion, and as I once read: “Do something with your life that you could do for free and you’ll never do a day’s work in your life again."

How right that was and maybe because of cancer, I’ve finally found my bliss, being happy with the person I’ve become.