If you’ve visited The Nightingale Centre over the past 10 years, or took part in one of our events, the likelihood is that you’ve spoken to Janet Royle.

One of our much-loved and glamourous volunteers, who at the same time is very much down to earth, with more than a hint of affable cheekiness and a glint in her eye.

It’s hard to believe that in January of this year, she turned the big 80. To celebrate this milestone and to mark thirty years since her initial breast cancer diagnosis, Janet has made a significant donation to Prevent Breast Cancer. Anyone who knows Janet, will know that she hasn’t made a song and dance about it, and just sees herself as someone who is extremely fortunate and can contribute to something she truly believes in.

Well, we weren’t having that. Cue to the launch of The Prevent Breast Cancer 100 Club, where Janet received the well-deserved recognition for her donation and service over the years.

Fast forward to the present day and we’ve been lucky enough to delve deeper into why Janet supports Prevent Breast Cancer. It’s not every day you get to talk to an 80-year-old yoga teacher, but then we don’t know many women like Janet!

My initial breast cancer diagnosis

When I was 49 I found a lump underneath my arm, and I also found a small lump in my breast. I was a yoga teacher, with no history of breast cancer in my family. I had had other lumps, and they’d been nothing but cysts. I went along to my GP, and I was lucky to have private health care, and was seen in Whalley Range pretty quickly. The Nightingale didn’t exist then.

They started doing a biopsy and I thought that wasn’t a good sign. Later in that week, I knew I had breast cancer. It turned out it was Grade 3, and I was operated on by Mr Bundred. I had the operation and had a lumpectomy. I needed to have chemotherapy and radiotherapy and Mr Bundred recommended Professor Tony Howell, although he wasn’t a professor then. He didn’t do any private work, so I went to The Christie, and I had 12 sessions of chemotherapy, followed by 15 sessions of radiotherapy, and then I resumed my life.

I was a yoga teacher, not overweight, never smoked, had children, breastfed them all, all the things that are meant to protect you, and so it did come as a shock. But I made a remarkable recovery and carried on teaching yoga. I became a magistrate, my sons got married, and I had grandchildren. Everything I wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t been cured at the time. I started volunteering at Prevent Breast Cancer (then Genesis) about 10 years ago after I retired from being a magistrate.

My second diagnosis

When it got to 25 years since my diagnosis, I was fortunate enough to be able to make a significant donation to Prevent Breast Cancer and gave a talk. Gordon Burns also interviewed me and we got Professor Howell there and I gave him the cheque, and he didn’t know that was going to happen and so that was a lovely occasion.

So, then we had lockdown, and I thought I had a problem with my left breast. By this time I’d met Consultant Oncoplastic Breast Surgeon, Mr James Harvey, through my volunteering, and as it was lockdown and I didn’t want to go into Wythenshawe, I went to see him. Turns out there was nothing there, but they checked the other side and I’d got two lumps. They were so small that the mammogram picked them up, and I would never have detected them. So, it was cancer, and I had a mastectomy, but did not need any chemotherapy or radiotherapy, and touch wood, I’m fine. It was absolute fate, otherwise I wouldn’t have gone. James had said he was sure it was nothing, but to be on the safe side to do a mammogram, and then they did an ultrasound. Then they were like, we’ll just do a biopsy. He operated on me and that went very well, but it was all a bit awkward because it was lockdown.

The first time I was diagnosed, I was very shocked because I didn’t think I fitted the criteria. But you know, I was determined to get back to my previous life. Strangely enough, I had been interviewed to be a magistrate and they told me they wanted to appoint me the week after I found out I had cancer and I had to say, sorry I can’t do it at the moment as I have to have chemotherapy! Luckily I was able to take up their offer a year later, and so that was quite an achievement.

I carried on teaching yoga on the weeks I wasn’t have chemo, so I kept going. My students have always known all about it and it’s never been a secret. I still teach now. It’s a part of my life and I can’t imagine not doing it.

I always feel like it happened to someone else

In September 2023, I had a party for all my yoga students, past and present, as it was 50 years since I started teaching and 30 years since I’ve had breast cancer. I asked them for no presents and instead for donations, and with the Just Giving Page and what people donated at my house, we raised £725!

I almost feel, and I’ve said this to Professor Howell because I know he’s retired now, but when he pops in, I always feel like it happened to someone else as it was so long ago. And yes, in the beginning, I think the scariest thing is when every time you have a headache or a backache you do think, is this more serious? I used to have a one-week rule that if I still had a headache or a backache a week later, I would go see someone, but invariably, it’d gone away. In the beginning, you do live like that, but that fades.

My boys were in their early twenties, and I think because I was so positive, we just got on with it. They were always there for me and my husband. I knew I didn’t want to have re-construction even when it was a lumpectomy and certainly not the second time. My husband passed away ten years ago but I didn’t feel the lumpectomy was going to bother him and it didn’t, you know. We had a very happy marriage and so I didn’t feel any less of a woman, and so it didn’t bother me.
I always remember my GP, who was a woman the same age as me, saying she’d been to Italy and France and along the beach the women go topless and she saw this woman walking proudly along the beach with a mastectomy, with just one breast, and I thought was just marvellous.

You wanted to know if there was anything I wish I’d known before I experienced breast cancer, and I don’t think there is. I almost feel sorry for the women nowadays as there’s too much for me on the internet. I didn’t go looking and obviously there wasn’t the internet then. I think if you’re going to ask a question, be sure you’re prepared for the answer. To me the internet makes it scarier as they know too much information. I’d also say don’t Google! Ask the questions to the right people, as they’re not going to lie to you, and they can’t give you false hope and so be sure you really want to know before you ask it.

A breast cancer free future would be wonderful

I volunteer because I think it’s a brilliant charity and the fact that it’s prevention and research is so important. I’ve heard Lester speak many times and he said before the charity, that he was on a conveyer belt just treating people and he wanted to stop us having it. The best thing is the sooner you discover it, and the sooner you do something about it…the better the outcome.

A breast cancer free future would be wonderful. I think with all the research, they’ll get to know those who are more likely to get breast cancer. Gene testing and trying to work out who is higher risk, and so who needs checking more often is fantastic and that’s why I raise money and donate when I can.

I just think I’m very fortunate to have enough money that I can donate, because I still feel that without research and all the doctors, I wouldn’t have had the last thirty years.

A huge thank you to Janet for taking the time to chat to us about her life since her initial breast cancer diagnosis 30 years ago.

Prevent Breast Cancer would be nothing without women like Janet. Women who give their free time to volunteer in our shops and at our events. Women who understand after being diagnosed themselves or who have lost family members to this cruel disease. Women who wholeheartedly believe in our cause. Women who make a difference.

Published On: February 28th, 2024 /

Would you like to share your story?

We’re always looking to speak to people who are interested in sharing their story and experience of breast cancer. It not only helps us spread awareness but can be helpful for others who are dealing with the disease. If this is a cause close to your heart and you would be comfortable sharing your journey with other supporters, and potentially the media, then please get in touch today by emailing info@preventbreastcancer.org.uk

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About Prevent Breast Cancer

Prevent Breast Cancer is the only UK charity entirely dedicated to the prediction and prevention of breast cancer – we’re committed to freeing the world from the disease altogether. Unlike many cancer charities, we’re focused on preventing, rather than curing. Promoting early diagnosis, screening and lifestyle changes, we believe we can stop the problem before it starts. And being situated at the only breast cancer prevention centre in the UK, we’re right at the front-line in the fight against the disease. Join us today and help us create a future free from breast cancer. If you have any questions or concerns, email us today.