Pop legend Linda Nolan has become as well known for speaking openly and honestly about her breast cancer battle as for her 50-year career in showbiz.
The star, who found fame as one fifth of The Nolans – one of the most successful girl groups of all time, selling over 30 million records worldwide with hits such as Gotta Pull Myself Together, Attention To Me and their 1980 hit I’m In The Mood For Dancing – first learned she had cancer in 2006. Her devastating diagnosis came six years after her older sister Anne’s and four years before sister Bernie’s.
Bernie tragically died from the disease in 2013, aged just 52, while Anne, 72, has since received the all-clear. Linda, 63, is still continuing her cancer journey and takes each day in her stride.
Whether it’s dealing with losing her hair, or the many other debilitating side effects of chemotherapy, the Dublin-born singer insists she’s “living with cancer, not dying from it”.
Here, the former Celebrity Big Brother star gives us an update on her condition and explains why it’s vital to get checked if you’re concerned something may be wrong…
How are you feeling, Linda?
I’m doing OK. As you know, my cancer is treatable – not curable – so I’m on constant treatments. I did a strong course of chemo where I lost my hair again and I was traumatised again. People said, “Oh, well you lost it before, you must be used to it now,” and I went, “No, no, you never get used to not having any hair.”
Then I stopped the chemo because it was affecting my quality of life. It affected my legs and I had a fall while I was in town. It was in Marks & Spencer at three o’clock on a Saturday afternoon and when they came to help me up, I said, “I’m not drunk!” [Laughs]
That must have been very frightening…
I had a CT scan recently and I’m waiting for the results of that. It’s kind of like sitting on a time bomb, but I try not to worry the whole time. If I’m worried the whole time, cancer’s winning.
How do you manage to stay positive with this hanging over you?
I think anyone in this situation will tell you that you really don’t have a choice. You do have a choice – you could do it all with a terrible, negative outlook and it just makes everything worse. And you’re still going to have to go through the same thing anyway. So like I say, I’m living with cancer, I’m not dying from it.
Do you think people are more open about discussing cancer these days?
We’re not afraid to talk about cancer any more. It used to be that people died, but now I think there are more people living with cancer than there are dying of it. One person dying is too many, obviously.
I just think that we’re all more aware of it now because we’re not frightened to talk about it. I work a lot as a celebrity ambassador for Breast Cancer Now and their hope is that by 2050 nobody will die of breast cancer. That’s their aim. They spend millions on research and as [my late sister] Bernie used to say, “Knowledge is power.”
Are you optimistic about new cancer treatments coming out?
There are new treatments coming out all the time. My consultant said to me that we’re in this for a marathon, not a sprint, which I thought was great. At the moment I’m OK. I have a bit of trouble with my legs and my balance, but I’m OK.
How did you feel when you were first diagnosed with breast cancer?
It’s a scary place to be. I remember I felt like it was an out-of-body experience. I was looking down on them thinking, “What is happening here?” But there’s loads of help out there – you won’t have to go through it on your own. If you’re single and you’re living on your own, there’s help out there with Macmillan nurses. You get a breast cancer nurse and they will help you through it.
What symptoms first sparked your concern?
I had a lump in my left breast and I’d had a blocked milk duct years and years ago. That was fine and they didn’t need to do anything with it. And then at the beginning of 2005, I had a lump in my left breast and foolishly I left it. I left it until the beginning of 2006 and by then it was stage three. My lump was 9x5cm – so it was like a small courgette sitting there.
What stopped you getting it checked sooner?
I had a big panto contract coming up and I thought that if I could just get through that, then we’ve got some money in the bank. People might not know that in show business, if you’re sick and you don’t work, you don’t get sick pay. So I just thought, “If I can get that money in the bank first…”
Then Coleen found out, because my [late] husband Brian told her, and she said, “If you don’t go, I’m gonna tell the girls and they’ll all be on your back.” So I went – and they told me it was stage three. I know it was wrong to wait and I just let it get bigger and bigger. I was told I was “so lucky”.
All of my lymph nodes were infected by the time I went in because I’d left it. It’s easy to tell people to “just go” [to get checked] if they have their concerns, but you’re going to have to go eventually. So just go. Don’t be frightened. It could just be a cyst – you never know.
Does your family have the BRCA gene mutation [which makes cells more likely to divide and change rapidly, which can lead to cancer]?
We don’t, but the three of us [Linda, Anne and Bernie] tested for it. Anne had breast cancer first in 2000, then me in 2006, then Bernie in 2010. Then we tested for the BRCA gene mutation and we don’t have it, but they did say we’ll have a rogue gene somewhere – it’s just one they haven’t found out about yet. They took our blood so they could use it for testing.
It’s weird, because the doctor said it’s not just bad luck that three sisters have got breast cancer. There’s something not right there, so for the other girls it’s very scary. They’re doubly aware of checking themselves because they could have this gene that we don’t know about.
How is your sister Anne doing now?
She’s great! She’s cancer-free now. It’s amazing, because her cancer came back in 2020 at the same time mine did and the doctor said to us, “I know you love each other, but getting cancer together is ridiculous.”
She has injections every six months now to protect her bones and since becoming cancer-free, her hair’s growing back and everything. She looks fabulous.
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