Jennifer Saunders’ vividly describes her ‘brutal’ cancer treatment

Zoe Winters explains how to check for breast cancer

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Famed for 90s sitcom Absolutely Fabulous, Jennifer Saunders enjoyed two decades of laughter playing self indulgent Edina “Eddy” Monsoon. And while her character provided comic relief, nearing the end of Ab Fab, Saunders received an unwelcoming diagnosis – breast cancer. Treated with the drug tamoxifen, Saunders – who was 51 at the time – crashed into menopause.

“It was quite brutal,” Saunders recalled to Saga Magazine. “Especially because no one had warned me.”

Cancer Research UK explained that tamoxifen works by blocking oestrogen receptors, which helps to prevent cancer cells from growing.

“I don’t think they quite understand how that mentally affects you,” Saunders said of the swift transition into menopause.

“You don’t quite know what you should feel like, so you think, ‘Is this depression? I don’t know. I just feel angry.'”

After enduring six months of chemotherapy at an oncology unit at London’s Harley Street, Saunders shared her experience of the whole ordeal.

In her autobiography, Bonkers: My Life In Laughs, Saunders wrote: “There are times when you want to cry all day.

“My lowest point came when I lost all my hair; every eyelash, every follicle… I felt chemical. I felt like a chemical.

“Then I got a terrible rash all over my face. They think it was a reaction to the Herceptin.

“It was horrible. I felt like a great big overgrown baby with pimples all over my face. A big, horrible, red-faced baby.”

When reflecting on her experience with tamoxifen, which she took alongside chemotherapy, Saunders said it made her feel “fagged out”.

“You lose your motor and it makes you feel depressed,” she stated.

“You have that ‘I want to go to bed and sleep for ever’ kind of feeling.

“Normally I have the energy to get up, get ready and do something, but I wasn’t starting my days until maybe 11 or 11.30, even though I was awake.”

After a tough recovery period, Saunders entered remission, which has enabled her to recently release her third season of her podcast Titting About.

Now 64 years old, Saunders is reunited with her long-time friend Dawn French, who co-hosts Titting About, where the pair tell rollicking tales from their lives.

Breast cancer

As with any type of cancer, the sooner a diagnosis is made and treatment begins, the better the outlooks are for the patient.

Early warning signs of breast cancer, according to the NHS, include:

  • A new lump or area of thickened tissue in either breast that was not there before
  • A change in the size or shape of one or both breasts
  • A discharge of fluid from either of your nipples
  • A lump or swelling in either of your armpits
  • A change in the look or feel of your skin, such as puckering or dimpling, a rash or redness
  • A rash (like eczema), crusting, scaly or itchy skin or redness on or around your nipple
  • A change in the appearance of your nipple, such as becoming sunken into your breast.

The main treatments for breast cancer are: surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and targeted therapy.

“The type or combination of treatments you have will depend on how the cancer was diagnosed and the stage it’s at,” the NHS adds.

Jennifer Saunders stars in Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, which airs on Saturday, September 17 on BBC Two at 11:25pm.

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