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A career in modelling took Angelica Fenney to photoshoots in Los Angeles and brought her a party lifestyle on both sides of the Atlantic. But after being diagnosed six times with cancer and managing to fight it each time, she’s back in the studio with a very different mission.
“When I was a glamour model, in my 20s, it was all about the buzz of being in front of the camera and everything else that came along with that,” says Angelica.
“I’ve been battling cancer for 24 years and my body has got quite a few scars, they’re my battle wounds, so now when I do a photoshoot it’s not just about me, it’s about raising awareness. My goal is to show people that you can still be beautiful, in your own way, even if you’re not perfect.”
Angelica, who lives in St Helens, is an ambassador for Models of Diversity which promotes equality and diversity in the fashion, beauty and media worlds.
As she marks 12 months in remission for the first time in two decades, she hopes her story of survival will inspire others.
Angelica’s first cancer diagnosis came she was just 17 and doing her nursing training. Born with an inverted nipple on her left breast, she had never given it any real thought until her sister saw a documentary which said it could be a sign of cancer.
“The lady who lived next door to my mum and dad was a sister at Walton Hospital, and used to teach nursing, so she took me to see my GP,” she recalls.
Referred to the Royal, an ultrasound revealed cancerous cells at the back of the nipple.
“When I heard the word cancer I was stunned,” she admits. “It just wasn’t something that was spoken about much at the time and I honestly thought it meant I was going to die.”
Within 24 hours, she was admitted and having an operation to remove the nipple but, although a reconstruction left her with little visible signs of her ordeal, it had a traumatic psychological effect on her.
“It really changed me because I felt as though I’d been given this death sentence when I was so young, it was very hard to get over.”
On a trial for the drug Tamoxifen and still reeling from her experience of cancer, Angelica embarked on a short-lived marriage. She also gave up her nursing ambitions and, after being scouted in her local Morrisons supermarket, turned instead to modelling.
“I’d been a very shy, prudish girl but after I had breast cancer all that changed because I thought, you only get one life – I’m going to try more. When I was approached by a photographer while I was shopping I wasn’t going to follow it up, but then we met again by chance at a friend’s TV wrap party and I thought, why not?
“I was in my early 20s, which was late to start a modelling career, but I had nothing to loses. I wanted to show people – and myself – that there was life, and a glamorous life, after breast cancer.”
Being naturally curvy – she’s a 38HH – Angelica was an instant hit with American glamour magazines and regularly jetted off to LA for photoshoots.
But her career was grounded when, aged 26, a smear and follow-up biopsy showed cervical cancer. A full hysterectomy kicked her into a very early menopause and Angelica was forced to give up her hopes of one day having children.
“I’d always wanted children and that option was taken away from me which was really difficult to come to terms with. I felt like I’d lost everything. I’d had such a glamorous lifestyle and then I’d lost my chances of becoming a mother and my career was threatened because I wasn’t well enough to work.”
Although she was warned that HRT could increase the chances of her breast cancer returning, the early menopause left her at risk of brittle bone syndrome. “It was an impossible decision, so I chose the HRT.”
Before her 30th birthday, breast cancer was found for a second time in her left breast and Angelica underwent a lumpectomy and six months of chemotherapy at Whiston Hospital.
At 32, she was diagnosed with vulvic cancer after she discovered more little lumps.
It was then that Angelica turned her attention to charity work, and to Models of Diversity, determined to find a positive in her horrendous situation.
She set up Bike for Boobs, holding spinathons to raise funds and financially support other people going through cancer and she stepped back in front of the camera to help raise the profile of MOD.
In her mid-30s, she added Melanoma UK to her charity efforts after having cancerous moles removed from her cheek and left leg.
Then in 2017 came her sixth cancer diagnosis – bowel cancer which left her needing a colostomy bag for six months.
But even that couldn’t keep Angelica down, instead she posed with the bag for a photoshoot. “I didn’t want to do it at first, I cried in the studio, but looking at the image and what it represents, I’m glad I did it,” she explains.
September will see her 12-month remission and Angelica, now 41, is still busy working as a plus-size model and promoting Models of Diversity. And she’s planning one final glamorous shoot to bring her old career to a conclusion.
“I need to do it to take back control of my career, even though I’m really too old,” she laughs. “What I had was ended prematurely by cancer so I want to get it back on my terms, so it’s my choice at last.”
By Dawn Collinson
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