Norwich’s courageous catwalk queens

As Norfolk support group Keeping Abreast prepare for their show this week, Emma Harrowing finds out that behind the glitz and glamour are the battles and bruises of the show's stars battles with breast cancer.

In the dance studio in the basement of the Daynes Sports Centre on St Faith's Lane 26 women and one man – ranging in age from 25 to 60 – are chattering nervously under the bright lights. Then in walks dancer Stephen Knights and, with a click of his fingers, the women strike a pose.

A few moments before, many of the women didn't know how to dance, but they pick up the moves to a series of hip-hop tracks with ease and within minutes the group is dancing as one.

Far from being a typical dance class this group of women and the token man – Abhi Vadhir, owner of independent boutique Vanilla – are here for a reason. It's Norfolk breast cancer support group Keeping Abreast's hotly anticipated fashion show at Open in October and all are modelling the latest fashions from some of Norfolk's independent boutiques while dancing on the catwalk.

All of the women taking to the catwalk have had, or are still battling with, breast cancer. Their aim is to raise as much money as possible for breast cancer charities. And they all have a story to tell.

Frances Addington, 48, from Norwich. was diagnosed in May 2009. Frances will be modelling for Pure, Diva, Rock Collection and Pollard & Reed at the show.

Frances says: 'My younger sister was diagnosed with breast cancer and the disease also struck three cousins on my mother's side so when I found a lump a year after my sister was diagnosed I thought that I had breast cancer too. It turned out to be a cyst but then, five years later, I found another lump and something inside me told me that I had cancer. When I found out that it was, there were no words to describe how I felt.

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'I went to the first Keeping Abreast show which took place in St Andrew's Hall and said to a friend as I watched women like me on the catwalk 'that will be me next year'. The very next year I was part of the show. I'm now the chair of Keeping Abreast as it's a great support group that is there for you from diagnosis and treatment through to deciding on having reconstruction surgery.'

Johanna Gardener, 56, of Worstead was diagnosed with breast cancer which resulted in her having a mastectomy of her right breast in February 2010 and one lymph node removed at the end of March. She will be modelling for Pure, Rock Collection and Pollard & Reed.

Johanna says: 'I lost my sister to breast cancer so finding out that I had it too was a shock. The lump in my breast measured seven and a half inches and although the first biopsy came back inconclusive the second was positive. After I had a mastectomy I discovered Keeping Abreast. At the time I was in two minds about whether I would have reconstruction surgery but the group offered great advice and I decided after they helped me way up the pros and cons of each method to have implants.

'The main thing that kept me going throughout my ordeal was to keep to be normal routine. I work as a parish clerk and my employer gave me the flexibility to work from home. This gave me a purpose and something else to think about... One of the downsides was that I suddenly became more insular and I wouldn't want to talk to people. It sounds like a horrible thing to say but seeing their concerned faces and hearing their questions as to whether I was okay made me feel worse.'

Rachel Hogg, 32, from Norwich, had no previous family history of breast cancer but was diagnosed in July 2010. One of the youngest members of the Keeping Abreast team, she had her left breast removed in December 2010 and underwent a course of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Rachel is modelling for Vanilla and Love Couture.

Rachel says: 'I felt a lump in my breast one evening but left it for two days thinking that I was too young to have anything serious. A friend urged me to go to the doctor to have it checked out so I did and nothing could prepare me when, after a biopsy some weeks later, I was told that I had breast cancer. It was the worst day of my life.

'As it was quite a large lump and it was growing very quickly they had to use chemo to shrink it before I had my breast removed. Having chemo gave me different side effects every time I had it –from sickness to feeling drunk to feeling like I had the worst hangover ever.

'At the time having my breast removed seemed like it was the end of the world but after surgery it was not as bad as I thought. I felt a sense of relief in that you feel like the cancer has gone.

'The advice Keeping Abreast gave me was invaluable and I now co-organise the young women's group as there are many young people who are battling with this disease.

'I saw the last Keeping Abreast show and it inspired me to take part this year. Dancing for me is a big challenge, but once you have battled breast cancer you feel like you can tackle anything.'

Liselle Keeley, 43 from Costessey, was diagnosed with two different types of breast cancer in September 2008 when she was 39.

Liselle will be modelling for Vanilla and Love at the Keeping Abreast show.

Liselle says: 'I found a lump in my breast while I was pregnant but this turned out to be a cyst. After having my baby the lump got bigger so I had it checked and had a biopsy although the doctor was convinced that it was a cyst.

'Five days later I had a call from the hospital saying that they wanted to see me urgently and I was prepared for the worst... The news was shocking.

'I was told that I had three tumours and two different types of cancer.

'My main struggle was with bringing up two young children and battling with cancer.

'It seems funny to say now but at the time I felt ashamed when I dropped the kids off at the playground when I was battling with cancer; I didn't want to be the talk of the playground.

'I now run the younger women's group with Rachel Hogg as I want to make sure that no one has to go through the additional struggles that I went through.'

The Keeping Abreast More Than Just A Fashion Show takes place on Wednesday October 3 and Thursday October 4 at Open in Norwich. For more information and tickets call 07799 258084 or