A woman who started a lingerie business for cancer survivors after she had a double mastectomy has posed for photographs in her underwear alongside two friends who also had major breast surgery.
Eleanor Howie, 33, of King’s Lynn, Norfolk, had surgery to remove her breast tissue, and reconstructive surgery, as a preventative measure aged just 24.
She had discovered that her mother and aunt were both diagnosed with breast cancer aged 31, then genetic testing revealed that she had a faulty gene which put her at high risk of getting breast cancer.
Her mother was successfully treated but her aunt, Lesley, died aged 34.
Ms Howie set up her lingerie business in 2019 and has been supported by two friends, Caroline Scott and Laura Middleton-Hughes, who posed with her in lingerie photographs.
Ms Howie is seeking more models who have been through cancer surgery to hold a photography event after lockdown to highlight the fact that cancer affects younger women too.
Ms Scott, 38, of Attleborough, Norfolk, was just 31 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a single mastectomy and reconstructive surgery.
Ms Middleton-Hughes, 32, of Norwich, was diagnosed with incurable cancer at 28 and has had similar surgery to Ms Howie.
Ms Howie, who believes her preventative surgery saved her life, said: “Psychologically, preventative surgery was very difficult for me because I had a healthy body and yet I was subjecting myself to this very invasive surgery which would change my life and my relationship with my body forever.
“After surgery I wasn’t completely flat but I had bumps and not breasts.
“I consider myself a feminist and looks are not everything but as a young woman feeling sexy and attractive is important.
“Part of the problem for me was the lack of feminine post-surgery lingerie – there was none, unless you like beige and uninspiring.
“There was nothing that made me feel confident and beautiful and that’s why I set up Valiant Lingerie to help women like me feel more confident about their bodies after surgery.”
Ms Scott said: “Before I had cancer I would never have dreamed of posing in my underwear but after surgery your outlook on life changes dramatically.
“I want to live and I want to grasp life with both hands – a few scars is not going to stop me modelling or being a voice for thousands of women whose self-esteem has perhaps taken a knock after having surgery.”
Ms Middleton-Hughes said she never regretted her surgery but she did “initially feel frumpy” afterwards.
“I didn’t think I would ever feel sexy and pretty again,” she said.
“You do lose confidence and, at first, I could never look at myself in the mirror but my reconstruction helped me.
“It allowed me to accept who I was and it was a sign that I was getting through my illness.
“It felt that I was taking back control of my body and confidence and self-esteem soon came back.
“You learn to love your scars because ultimately they are reminders of what saved your life and you can feel and look sexy again.”
The trio are backing Cancer Research UK’s campaign for World Cancer Day on February 4, highlighting the need for more research and better treatments.
They are also encouraging people to donate and wear one of the charity’s Unity Bands to show their support.