Breast Cancer Awareness is ALWAYS important, but by having Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we have an opportunity to act to prevent breast cancer. This means raising more awareness, showing solidarity and support for those affected by the disease, and raising money for continued research and support.
I was having chemotherapy this time last year, I remember not being able to believe that it was Breast Cancer Awareness month, and I had breast cancer at just turned 35 (I had chemotherapy on my 35th Birthday).
I knew I wanted to help to raise awareness once I had finished my treatment. It was important for me to give back, and If I can make one person check their boobs, chest or pecs this month, then even that can make a real difference. CoppaFeel! is an amazing charity. Their mission is to ensure all breast cancers are diagnosed early and correctly by encouraging you to check your boobs, and pecs regularly from a young age. They educate you on the signs and symptoms of breast cancer, and empower you to seek advice from a doctor if symptoms persist. They are the first breast cancer charity in the UK to solely create awareness amongst young people, with the aim of instilling the knowledge and tools they need to get to know their bodies. They talk about a serious message in a light-hearted way, and that lightness stuck with me during my treatment. Ideally we want to live in a world where all breast cancers are diagnosed at the earliest stage possible, at which treatments are more effective and survival rates are higher. That’s what I’m rooting for this month, because early detection saved my life.
Something I always say in my Peloton classes is, ‘hard work is a privilege’, and it really is. Cancer is cruel. There’s no denying it. From losing hair, to surgery, to fertility, it takes so much of what I believed to be my femininity.
On keeping moving...
Having said that, the truth is, I’ve actually never loved my body more. My boobs look different, of course, my hair is growing back but very difficult to manage, and often looks completely bizarre, and I’m in maintenance treatment to (hopefully) preserve my fertility, but I am in awe at how my body showed up for me when I needed it the most, and how resilient it is. Watching my hair regrow, my energy return, and my mental capacity grow, I am definitely on a journey to trusting my body again, and I made a promise to myself to never put it down again. The goal is: healthy.
Movement has been a must have for me this year. Mentally, I’ve needed it more than ever, and I found it helped me hugely with the fatigue that cancer treatment brings. It also made me feel like me, and that is so important not to lose. I wasn’t pushing myself to my limits with movement, but I wanted my body to be in the best position it could be at the time, to handle the treatment as best I could. It’s about being Fit For Life. Ready for whatever life throws at you.
I had days I couldn’t move from the sofa, or walking up the stairs would exhaust me, and one task a day would be my limit, before I needed to rest, and I hated it. Mentally, it was very tough. Movement is freedom. For the body, and the mind. I remember the first time I could lift my arm above my head after surgery, I was so emotional. It was such a goal. It became so clear to me that being able to move your body is such a gift, and something I will always prioritise.
On her changing approach to wellness and beauty...
My hair was a huge part of who I was. The first thing I asked when I was diagnosed was ‘Am I going to lose my hair?’. I was fixated on it. I didn’t want to ‘look sick’.
My approach to beauty and wellness has completely changed. I have definitely let go of any desire, or pressure to ‘look perfect’. I lost 50% of my hair, all of my lashes (multiple times) and my brows, and I couldn’t have felt less like me. My nails were seriously affected too. I’m definitely on a mission to get them strong again.
Cancer pushed me to re-define what beauty means to me. Although, I can’t say I felt confident in how I was looking during treatment, I wasn’t ever treated differently and who I am didn’t change. Basically, I’ve got more to give than good hair, and I don’t think I gave myself credit for that before.
In terms of beauty now, I definitely lean towards clean products, and a less is more approach. I’m super conscious of what goes on my skin and in my hair. Wellness is a different ball game too, with my main intention always being to reduce stress on my body. I use a sensate daily, I find it really calms me, and as I’m not as good as I’d like to be at meditation, I really appreciate how it calms me. I never knew I’d be so grateful for a few lashes and some side burns. Who knew I’d miss my sideburns so much?
The importance of awareness...
I think there needs to be more awareness amongst younger women. I just think that it should be second nature to check our boobs, especially as women are being diagnosed younger and younger. I noticed my lump, and felt immediately that it wasn’t right, but I can’t say that I was checking regularly or even knew how to check properly, or what symptoms beyond a lump were. This is where I think CoppaFeel! do an amazing job. They keep their information light and fun, but in the process you are getting to know your body.
One of my big messages that people resonated with when I first shared my story was ‘check, and check again’. I truly believe that we are in charge of learning and understanding our bodies and what feels normal, and what doesn’t. If you have something checked, and you’re not taken seriously, but you believe something to not be right, get a second opinion. Trust your gut. It might save your life. It did mine. I didn’t settle for being told my lump was a hormonal cyst, I knew it wasn’t.
Self advocate for yourself. I feel as younger women, we seem to not be taken as seriously as we should, (the age for our first mammogram proves that) and that’s where we need to stand up for ourselves. I’d also say that knowledge is power. So, again, if something doesn’t feel right, don’t put it off because you’re worried. Early detection is key. Knowledge and a plan are power. I don’t want anyone to have to go through cancer treatment, but if that is part of your journey, the best thing you can do is to get ahead of it. Make it a point to check your boobs in the shower, or at least on the first day of every month. Make it a habit. That way, if something is off, you know, and you can act on that.
On why Leanne kept teaching classes throughout her treatment...
It was important for me to keep teaching Peloton classes because I needed a focus that wasn’t just about being a cancer patient. I wanted to move my body, I wanted a moment to be sparkly in the week. I wanted a reason to stay connected to a routine that felt familiar. I needed It for my mental health.
I lost my best friend suddenly and very tragically, a few weeks before I was diagnosed and so I needed to do something. The fact that, that something put me on a platform in front of millions of people whilst going through chemo, surgery and radiotherapy wasn’t something I overthought to be honest.
I never allowed myself to believe I was anything other than healthy. I thought myself well every single day. I started every day by saying ‘I am healthy. I am healthy. I am healthy’. Looking back, I can understand why people are shocked that I continued my classes. I’m not sure where the strength came from, but it was way more about keeping my head above water during a time of traumatic grief and a diagnosis. Everything felt easy compared to that.
At the time, I gave myself a goal of eight weeks. The first two months of chemo, I would keep teaching. The last month, I would stop my classes and take some time off. I did reduce my teaching schedule, but I never stopped. I knew that bringing joy to others was key to feeling good myself, moving my body and having the focus of having to plan and produce a Peloton class (which is a lot by the way) was good for me, and more importantly, I was enjoying it. And there was a lot during that time I wasn’t enjoying.
My classes are just as sparkly, fun and challenging now as they were before, but I think I have a deeper connection with the members. I've shown them me at my most vulnerable, and I’ve led by example and hopefully can inspire or motivate others to do the same, in some capacity.
My family and friends knew from the beginning, so it felt like I had the right amount of support going into treatment. I wanted to come to terms with my diagnosis before sharing it publicly. I think most importantly, I needed to know I was going to be OK, or at least know exactly what I was dealing with before talking about it. It wasn’t hugely thought out to be honest, it was a case of ‘if I do lose all of my hair or enough that it’s obvious, I guess I’ll say something’, but if I can do my job, and do it well whilst maintaining a level of privacy that I’m comfortable with, then that’s what felt right at the time.
I did feel a sense of relief when I shared my news. I got to the point where it was too hard to hide, and I wanted to feel empowered by how I was showing up, and not focused on trying to hide it. I have had an overwhelming amount of love and support, and as amazing as it is, it does impact me in one way or another. I think for any cancer patient / survivor, there is a level of anxiety that will just always be there, and so certain messages can affect me. I can handle that now, but any sooner, and I think I would’ve been completely overwhelmed and would’ve lost focus where it really mattered, which was my treatment.
On her new Breast Cancer Awareness apparel collection...
During Breast Cancer Awareness month I just want to say - Check your boobs. Check again. Knowledge is power. Check on your friends that have been affected in some way by breast cancer. It can be an incredibly empowering month, but also triggering, and some love and a hug can go a long way.
For the last few months, I’ve been working on a capsule collection in collaboration with Peloton for Breast Cancer Awareness month. It includes a hoody, T-shirt and a bracelet. The bracelet is a collaboration with the Little Words Project®. Peloton will donate 100% of profits from the sales of the t-shirt and sweatshirt; and 25% of the profits from the sale of the Little Words Project® Bracelet to CoppaFeel!
The idea behind the collection was to make it fun, and fashion forward but create a really strong message. Nothing says check your boobs more than a pair of boobs across the chest of a hoody and t-shirt. The bracelet says ‘boob check’, and I love it. I hand drew the boobs, and a little stitch on the left breast, which is the side I had the cancer. Adding that and my name to the print, felt super personal and vulnerable, and I’m proud of that.
I promised I’d be giving back when the time was right, and after having the all clear, this mission is on. This is a great way to raise money for a charity that will continue to help so many people. So, buy yours at Peloton Apparel, and wear it loud and proud!