Touching down on the tarmac in New York was a bittersweet moment for Edinburgh mum Lesley Stephen.
She had travelled across the Atlantic with her husband Doug and four children knowing it could be the last family holiday they spent together.
Lesley was diagnosed with incurable cancer in 2014 and despite bouts of chemotherapy she knew the disease, which had already spread to her liver, her lungs and her bones, would never leave her body.
“I thought I had a chest infection,” Lesley explained. “It was a very persistent cough that wouldn’t go away and I felt exhausted so I went to my GP and he sent me for a chest X-ray and CT scans.”
The horror that faced Lesley’s diagnosis shocked her to her core.
“The thought never crossed my mind that I could have cancer – I was young, fit, healthy and had never smoked.
“I had had no pain in my breasts. It turns out the tumours were very small.
“And then the roller coaster began.”
But in October 2015, Lesley was dealt another blow.
She found out the cancer had moved into her brain.
She said: “That was my lowest point.
“I had to go through whole-brain radiotherapy and lose my hair again.
“At that stage it was almost like marking time – things were very bleak.”
But a twist of good fortune landed at her feet when she returned from the holiday.
“When I got home my amazing consultant Larry Hayward at the Western General had found me the last slot on a trial at Beatson Cancer Centre – it was serendipity – I was really quite ill. I couldn’t even walk up the stairs at home without having to stop.
“But within ten days to two weeks my cough had gone.
“I had a very quick response to the drug and two years on I’m still on it and still stable.
“I have a really good quality of life which is so important when you know you’re going to live with cancer all your days.”
Then came the chance to channel some of her hope to others after she was chosen to take part in an M&S campaign to raise funds and awareness of breast cancer.
Initially eager to get involved, the small print nearly deterred Lesley for good. “I realised I would have to appear in my underwear!”
But her husband Doug persuaded her to sign up. “He told me – ‘what have you got to lose? After everything you have faced, finding out you have a disease that is not curable – what could possibly be worse than that?’ So I said ‘what the heck!’”
Joined by six other inspirational women from across the UK who have also been affected by breast cancer, Lesley said she did it to be a voice for women who are on permanent treatment and who are too ill to speak out.
During October, M&S will donate 20 per cent of pink bra sales to Breast Cancer Now to help fund lifesaving research. All seven women were invited by M&S to take part in the campaign, with each woman modelling one of the pink bras which will donate to the charity.
Their images will be used across UK stores and the M&S website and social media channels to promote the campaign.
To kick-start the campaign, the women have drawn on their own personal experiences to create a short film entitled Love, Laughter, Life and Breast Cancer: In Our Words.
Lesley said: “Many women don’t realise that when the disease spreads to other parts of the body, it cannot be cured.
“The campaign is also a chance to spread a message of hope – I have been on a clinical trial for almost two years and I am doing incredibly well. Science is catching up with cancer, and having secondary breast cancer isn’t necessarily the death sentence it once was, especially if you are proactive and take part in trials and research.
“It was such an amazing and fun experience taking part in this campaign.”
The money raised will contribute to M&S’ ongoing goal to raise £13 million for Breast Cancer Now over five years, with the aim of helping to prevent 9,000 cases of breast cancer a year by 2025.
Meaghan Annear, corporate partnerships manager at Breast Cancer Now, said: “We are so thrilled that these seven incredible and inspiring women have come together for this years’ M&S Breast Cancer Awareness Month campaign, sharing their personal experiences of breast cancer, helping to raise awareness of and money for Breast Cancer Now’s lifesaving research.
“We are very grateful to M&S and its customers for their continued support in raising vital funds for Breast Cancer Now, which enables our scientists to take that all-important next step to ultimately start preventing breast cancer, sparing women and their loved ones the fear and uncertainty breast cancer can bring.
“We hope women across the UK will head in-store or online to support our vital research and purchase a pink bra this October.”
Jo Jenkins, director of womenswear, lingerie and beauty at M&S said: “The words of these seven magnificent women are truly inspirational. However, we want this campaign to have a direct impact on the fight against breast cancer and, hopefully, prevent other women from having to undergo similar experiences. We know this is a cause that matters deeply to our customers and colleagues – and together we want to continue to raise vital funds for Breast Cancer Now’s incredible lifesaving research.”