THE SHOW 244820 Kendra UNEDITED (1)

From cancer to catwalk

When nurse Kendra Schneller volunteered to take part in a women's health screening programme, she never imagined for a second it would change her life, far less help to save it.


19 February 2024

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When nurse Kendra Schneller volunteered to take part in a women's health screening programme, she never imagined for a second it would change her life, far less help to save it.

The mum-of-three, from Southeast London, had no medical issues or concerns at the time but just weeks after signing up, 48-year-old Kendra's world fell apart when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

A mammogram was offered as part of the screening and further tests revealed multiple tumours in the tissue of her left breast. She needed a mastectomy. She was devastated.

Now, three years later, and following successful surgery and treatment, Kendra is sharing her story to help others and to raise awareness of the incredible support she has received from Breast Cancer Now.

And she's doing it in style - strutting down the catwalk as a model at The Show by Breast Cancer Now, the charity's annual fashion show, where she will represent players of People's Postcode Lottery who have raised more than £11 Million for the charity to date.

Kendra said: "I honestly can't imagine where I would have been if it wasn't for Breast Cancer Now. They were there for me right from the start and they're still here for me now."

In the kitchen of her home where she lives with her husband Stephan, her two boys, Ben, who is 16, and 14-year-old Josh, and their pet dog Bruno, Kendra recalls the day of her diagnosis in October 2020.

At the time, the country was still in the grips of the coronavirus pandemic. The vaccination programme was yet to be rolled out, hospitals were under severe pressure and social distancing was still in place.

"The day the doctor told me I had cancer I didn't hear anything else. Just those words," said Kendra. "The next thing I knew, I was at London Bridge station. And you know when you watch movies and people are standing still and all this traffic is buzzing and speeding around them? That is how I felt. I couldn't take any of it in. It was the middle of the pandemic, and I didn't have any time to process it. I felt isolated and really scared."

On the day of her operation, as was protocol at the time, her husband wasn't allowed into the hospital. No visitors were permitted and contact with her family and her children during her stay was through video and phone calls.

"Stephan dropped me at the front door and that was it, I was all by myself. It was awful. I was in hospital for four days and when I came home, I was in a lot of pain. I couldn't even look at myself in the mirror. I felt like I wasn't the same person anymore. I'd had to have a lymph node biopsy to see if the cancer had spread and so that was always in the back of my mind, waiting for the results. Thankfully two weeks later I was given the all-clear. It meant I didn't have to have radiotherapy or chemotherapy."

It was in those early days after her surgery that a breast cancer care nurse told Kendra about Breast Cancer Now and suggested she take a look at their website. Their resources were an instant comfort. She realised she was not alone.

Kendra And Bruno Landscape BCN

Kendra turned to their Someone Like Me support service, which offers people affected by breast cancer the chance to talk to someone who has had a similar experience and has been trained to support them.

"At the time, I was considering the next stage of my treatment - to go for immediate reconstruction surgery after my mastectomy, to wait six months and have it then, or not to have reconstruction surgery at all. I was able to talk to three ladies who'd faced similar decisions. And although I knew nothing about them - only what they told me - I felt a real connection with them. I felt they totally got what I said, and I thought that was really special. It really helped me and I was just so thankful to have access to that service.

"Then from there, I turned to the charity's website and their resources more and more and I joined their forums. I'm always telling my patients about the help they can get from Breast Cancer Now. It made such a difference to me. It's why I am so grateful to them and to the players of People's Postcode Lottery, for raising money so that services like this can continue."

For Kendra, the chance to take part in this year's Breast Cancer Now fashion show in London in April felt like an "opportunity not to be missed" - a way of giving something back and encouraging more families to talk about cancer, especially within her peer group.

"In the Caribbean culture this kind of thing is just not talked about," Kendra explained. "My mum would never talk to me about health stuff. That was just a no-no in our community. When I tried to tell my mum, she wouldn't discuss it. She couldn't even bring herself to say the word 'cancer.' My mum's 83 now and has dementia so I can't have that talk with her, which is really sad.

"It's hard to know why it's so ingrained in our culture but it's something I feel really passionate about. We need to break that cycle, stop things like this being taboo." Kendra told her young sons Ben and Josh and her daughter Leanne, 32, just days after being given the news herself.

"Stephan and I sat down with the kids and we made the decision just to be honest about it. I never had that opportunity with my mum. I wanted them to know that we could talk. I didn't want to shield them. They would have been able to tell something was wrong, so it was important that we talked to them. I think it helped."

Since then, the family has supported each other - and they'll be there cheering Kendra on as she makes her catwalk debut.

"I heard about the fashion show from someone who had taken part and I said to myself, 'Why not?' I'm now 51 and I always wanted to be a model. At the time I applied, I said to myself it doesn't matter if I don't get in. Because actually, this is about having that confidence. I feel much more confident now than when I was first diagnosed and was first in treatment. I am much more body-positive. It's really shown me that life is for living and you don't know what's around the corner. So just go for your dreams.

"When I found out I had been selected as a model for People's Postcode Lottery, I was a bit like 'Really? Me?' I was so overjoyed. There is something about representation as an older woman but also as a black woman to say, 'Come on, we can do this. You don't need to feel like it is a taboo. This happens to lots of people every day. Cancer doesn't discriminate.

"I've already met some of the other models and it's such a lovely group. It's going to be a really special day and something that will live with me forever."

A total of 24 models from across the UK - 22 women and two men - living with or beyond breast cancer will take part in the event on Thursday 25th April. A fashion show like no other, it's a chance to celebrate, reflect and highlight the wealth of support available to anyone affected by the disease - a message Kendra is keen to share.

"If you do get that diagnosis, don't be scared - there is support out there and people you can talk to. And be kind to yourself. It's okay not to be okay and if you are having one of those days that's fine. Be okay with that."

As a nurse at Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust, Kendra is used to supporting and reassuring patients in her care but admits that the prospect of her own annual check-up scan still provokes anxiety.

"I have had no evidence of disease now for three years and I am feeling good," she said. "I'd just urge everyone to please ensure when you get that invite for breast screening that you go along. Don't put it off. And the main thing is if you do get that diagnosis, knowing what your treatment plan is will help you think more clearly. It allows you to be able to live your life with clarity because you know what's going on."

Players of People's Postcode Lottery have been supporting the work of Breast Cancer Now since 2018. Kendra too has played her part in raising more than £1,200 in a sponsored walk along the Kent coastline from Margate to Broadstairs. She has more plans to fundraise this year, part of her promise to herself to continue to live life to the full.

"I cannot stress how much Breast Cancer Now has helped me and even now I still use their resources. As much as I have fantastic support from my family, it always feels like coming home when I go on their website - because it has been so supportive."

Kendra reserves a final thank you for Postcode Lottery players.

She said, "You are helping Breast Cancer Now provide these services. Your support means this amazing work can be sustained and that more people like me can access them. I am so grateful and really am honoured to be your model."