Photo: Braintree & Witham Times
Sue Britton, a 47-year-old woman has cystic fibrosis. In her 20s, she became tired of being known and labeled as the ‘sick girl’, so she left her home to embark on a 7-month journey around the world. The fact that she had cystic fibrosis and needed medication on a daily basis did not stop her. Sue also has diabetes and after she had returned from her trip, she found that her condition had progressed and she was in need of insulin injections. Still, she continued to make the most of her life and moved to Essex to settle down with her partner.
In the meantime, her cystic fibrosis began to worsen. At an annual check-up in 2008, her doctors began talking to her about a lung transplant and that is when she realized that her health had greatly deteriorated. Within the course of three months, she was admitted to the hospital and one year later, she was on the transplant list and dependent on oxygen round-the-clock.
Life after a transplant
Today, six years after undergoing a lung transplant, Sue is loving life. Although she has had her ups and downs, she continues to live her life to the fullest. “The moral of my story is: live your life and enjoy every day and make the most of every moment. You never know when it might be taken away from you; you never know when you might be too ill not to do things anymore, so take the bull by the horns and do things NOW while you can,” she said.
Sue is one of several women from across Essex selected to take part in a project, known as “Warrior Women”. The project aims to inspire young girls who are battling and overcoming adversity to take control of their lives, achieve their hopes and dreams, and realize their true potential. Sue received a makeover, pampering session, and professional photoshoot as part of the Warrior Women project, which was arranged by photographer Chanon deValois.
Chanon’s heartfelt mission to create role models
Chanon felt saddened by the admiration that her 15-year-old stepdaughter and friends felt for pop stars, celebrities, and YouTube personalities from around the world. So, she ventured out on a mission to demonstrate alternative role models for young girls – modern day, real-life heroes. She teamed up with hair and make-up artist, Michelle Lacey, and launched the Warrior Women series. “Young people seem fascinated by the amount of money celebrities are making by doing things like talking nonsense on YouTube. I find it so sad that these are the people they are looking up to when all around them are truly amazing people, the real idols, achieving so much in their lives. We wanted to tell these warrior women’s stories in the hope of making young people stop and reconsider who they look up to and admire in life. We want them to realize there are people all around who are inspiring and it’s not all about looking on the internet at people who are rich and famous. It’s about realizing what real people go through and how amazing they can be,” said Chanon.
Sue said that taking part in the project was an amazing experience and it made her feel really good about herself. “I felt and looked horrible, but Chanon told me she and Michelle had the power to change all that, to make me look and feel fabulous. Not only did I come away feeling full of life, buzzing and looking a million dollars, but I have some outstanding photographs I will treasure forever,” she said.
In addition to Sue being involved in the project, other women who were among the first to be featured in the series included Annie Lewis, who fought breast cancer while building a family and Heidi Cresswell, who was unexpectedly diagnosed with cancer. “Aside from holding these ladies up as true heroes, the project is enabling them to see themselves in a new light by having these portraits done. By telling their stories, they have also realized what they have achieved and that makes them feel rightly proud. It is about sharing these stories to empower and give hope, but also to make them feel better about themselves and their lives,” said Chanon.
Warrior Woman – Annie Lewis
Annie Lewis had discovered a lump on her breast that she tried to dismiss; however, after watching a ‘This Morning’ feature on how to check your breasts for lumps, she knew that she had to confront her fear and go see a doctor. She was diagnosed with breast cancer and within a few weeks, she had undergone surgery to remove her lump. She also started chemotherapy before starting radiotherapy. Annie, a mother of three, wanted to fulfill her dream of marrying her partner Gareth. When This Morning heard about her story, they chose the happy couple to be the first to marry live on the program, in April of 2016. “Even though I was going through so much sadness with the illness, the thing that made me cry even more was thinking I would never get to marry my soul mate. Gareth and the children were my rocks throughout it all and the wedding finally cemented us together,” said Annie.
Having lost her hair during treatment, Annie was finding it rather difficult to feel joyful and confident about the way that she had looked, even when her hair had grown back. She had lost all of her confidence and when she looked in the mirror, she felt as if she wasn’t seeing her old self anymore, but merely a woman who was suffering from the everyday side effects of cancer. She had also undergone a hysterectomy to rid her body of additional cancerous cells and it left her with fibromyalgia, a condition that causes her to feel constant pain. For her, the Warrior Woman project came as a much-welcomed boost that she needed in her life. The project made her feel like a brand-new woman.
Warrior Woman - Heidi Cresswell
Heidi Cresswell from Witham was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2016, after she had discovered a large cancerous lump in her lower abdomen. She needed to undergo a blood transfusion, an operation, and chemotherapy. “I can still remember sitting in the doctor’s office. My head was spinning, I couldn’t breathe and I felt like I was in a dream. I’ve found when going through cancer treatment, you have to take each day as it comes; cry and sleep through the bad days, make the most of the good days and count the blessings in your life,” she said. Despite the exhausting side effects that she had experienced from the treatment, she did not let it stop her from living her life.
Today, Heidi is still undergoing treatment, although her test results show that her cancer has been reduced by 50%. She hopes that taking part in the Warrior Woman project will help educate others on bowel cancer and raise awareness on the subject. “I hope my story can raise awareness of bowel cancer, particularly in young people. Once I’ve beaten cancer, there will be nothing in life I will not be able to tackle,” she said.