Madison Joyce was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer shortly after her 22nd birthday. Now aged 24, she is cancer-free, and in May 2017 she came second in the final of the Miss Staffordshire competition. As she won the 'Inspiration' category she will compete at Miss England later this year for the Miss Inspiration title. But as far as she's concerned, she's not an inspiration, she's just living her life. Madison explains.
"When I found a lump in my breast and had some pain under my left armpit, I visited my GP and he referred me to the breast clinic where I had an ultrasound and mammogram, then a biopsy. I had to wait two weeks for the results, which was awful.
"I went along with my mum Janet, sister Lindsay and step-dad David to hear the results. They sat us down, then told us that not only was the lump breast cancer, but that the cancer had spread into my arms and chest.
"When I heard the news it felt like I was underwater, I was totally numb, and my mum started crying but I was in total shock. I thought breast cancer was something old people got. But then after that I guess I just went into survival mode and treated it like something I had to get through.
"When they said I'd need my left breast taken off I was really upset. But then I thought to myself, 'well I'd rather stick around than have my breast'. Two weeks later I had a mastectomy and all my lymph nodes were removed.
"I had six rounds of chemo every three weeks. My cancer was aggressive, so the first three bouts of chemo were really intense, and I had a lot of complications. But I’ve remained positive throughout all of this, even the toughest times.
"I had lovely long hair, so I decided to have it cut into a pixie cut before chemo started so the change from long hair to no hair would be less obvious. But losing my hair completely was hard.
"I was worried about getting a real hair wig - they are expensive. But my CLIC Sargent Support Worker Bex was great. She arranged a free one through the Little Princess Trust.
"She helped in loads of other ways too. She was always there to talk to if I was having problems or feeling down. She helped me sort out some of my finances too. She’s lovely, really bubbly and enthusiastic and even though I’ve finished treatment now we’re still in touch.
"She texts me to see how I am. I know that she’s there if I need her."
"I had a tough time during treatment. Not that you'd know it if you looked at my Facebook page. I was always posting pictures of myself on the rare good weeks, in full make-up with my wig on, out climbing or horse-riding.
"I put three stone on during treatment. The steroids just make you want to eat and eat, l was massive. After I finished treatment in January 2016 everyone was celebrating me beating cancer. But I remember looking in the mirror and I was three stone overweight, bald, and my breast had gone.
"I stayed positive though and did my best to get back to the gym, and Bex from CLIC Sargent arranged a grant so I could buy some new gym clothes, as I couldn’t fit back in my old ones due to the weight gain. But it was so hard and the weight wasn't shifting.
"Then one of my Facebook connections, Simon, who owns a local fitness centre called Urban Jungle got in touch. He offered to help me with my fitness. His family has been affected by breast cancer, and he wanted to help me because of that, and I jumped at the chance.
"With his support, I started to lose the weight and get much stronger. I made other friends at the gym too, and felt accepted and comfortable there, even though I was a bit bigger.
"Then one day Simon suggested that I enter the Miss Staffordshire competition. I couldn’t believe it! He said it could help change perceptions about cancer patients, be a really good thing for the competition, and inspire other people with confidence issues.
"I was worried about being judged, and felt weird about people staring. I'd never even been on a stage before. But somehow he persuaded me, and helped me fill in the application.
"When I heard that I'd got through I couldn't believe it! I thought maybe they had picked me just because I'd had cancer, but Simon told me to believe in myself, and got me through that period of doubting myself too.
"The final was great and I came second after winning three out of five rounds on the night including the fitness, inspiration and the public vote rounds.
"Slowly now, every step I am making now is building me back up. But I do worry it will come back. I want my other breast removed as I'm at high risk of it returning.
"I’m on the list for reconstructive surgery at the moment and there’s a long wait, but I understand that the hospital has to help the people who have cancer first.
Advice to others
"What you need to recover is time, consistency, and a lot of support.
"As well as CLIC Sargent, I had support from The Pink Sisters, a local breast cancer support group, run by Jackie Mackenzie - they supported me during and after treatment and became very close friends.
"People say I'm an 'inspiration' but people don't understand what I've been through to get to this point, and how much support I needed from my family, friends, Simon, and charities like CLIC Sargent to get here."
Find out more
CLIC Sargent is the UK’s leading cancer charity for children, young people and their families. Our care teams have been providing expert support across the UK for years. We fight tirelessly for young cancer patients like Madison – individually, locally and nationally. Donate online now to help us continue our vital work.
To find out more about how CLIC Sargent can help support you, please contact us on 0300 330 0803 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.