IN JUST three years the GO Girls has gone from a simple idea to national support and campaign group, major fundraiser and a life changing resource for people fighting and recovering from cancer. Rachel Stretton finds out what's in store for them in 2019.

ANGELA Bament was looking forward to a life of retirement and spending more time with her grandchildren.

She wasn’t expecting a cancer diagnosis.

Angela, from Weymouth, said the words were like a ‘huge smog’ descending on her, and after months of gruelling treatment, she felt she had lost any sense of who she was forever.

Then she met the GO Girls.

Founded just three years ago in Dorchester, the support group has grown into a national organisation, praised by celebrities, MPs and health professionals alike, as well as raising £50,000 for the Dorset County Hospital Cancer Appeal.

Jen Barron, a trustee and head of strategy, puts this success down to ‘pure hard graft and focus’ – as well as founders Hilary Maxwell, chairman of the group and Teresa Wolff, former vice chairman.

She said: “It’s about recognising what women want most – support, a safe place to go to share fears and worries and, importantly, laughter.

“But perhaps most significantly this success would not have been possible without the incredible dedication of two amazing women who have led the charity to where it is now. Without their leadership GO Girls would not have achieved such a phenomenal rise. All the Trustees give huge thanks to Hilary and Teresa – they both deserve recognition in creating change in an incredibly difficult area of health.”

For Angela, it was the support of the GO Girls not only when she was battling cancer, but when she was in remission that truly made a difference.

She faced surgery and many cycles of chemotherapy in the fight to get well.

“I felt considerable comfort from being able to share with others my fears, my tears and yes, also laughter. The GO Girls never forgot to remind me of who I was (and am) – I thought I had lost this forever. The GO Girls helped me to re-build, re-strengthen and learn to live again. Cancer creates many shifting sands, some friends rallied, others faded, but the GO Girls were always there, always.”

And, when she finally got good news, the sudden lack of constant hospital appointments was almost jarring.

She said: “One minute I was at the heart of being looked after, cared for and the next, I felt totally alone. Had it not been for the GO Girls and their on-going warmth, this period of transition to my “new normal” (whatever that is really), would have been much harder and incredibly isolating.”

Hilary agrees, adding that a lot of people feel the same way.

“Often when cancer treatment finishes and the cocoon of support from health professionals wanes to a series of follow up appointments, cancer patients can feel particularly isolated and feel ‘abandoned’, fearing the path ahead which feels quite lonely.”

With the GO Girls, Angela knows she has support for life.

“My best support has been drawn from the GO Girls. I cannot underestimate the value offered by support groups – no one understands better than those who have experienced something similar to you. GO Girls have given me Angela back: they are my ‘survivorship' and I can learn to live again.”

Raising awareness

IT’S not just support and empathy that the GO Girls offer.

Gynaecological cancers have a poor profile and unlike breast cancer where many millions have been raised to improve treatment and enhance survival, survival is still poor for many suffering from gynaecological cancers, particularly ovarian cancers. This is where GO Girls has stepped in to help raise the profile of this and all gynaecological cancers. After breast cancer, endometrial and ovarian cancers are the second and third most common female only cancers respectively in the UK, with ovarian cancer being the seventh most common cancer worldwide.

Hilary said: “We are concerned about the very low improvement in one-year and five-year survival rates for older women with ovarian cancer. Whilst overall survival has improved, there has been little or no improvement over the last 20-years in the older age group where ovarian cancer is diagnosed most commonly.

“With an ageing population, we have been working very hard to raise awareness of ovarian cancer, both in Dorset and across the UK. It’s difficult in that symptoms mimic many other complaints and diseases, but we are urgently asking women to be much more in tune with their bodies and recognise what is normal and what is not. Earlier diagnosis will improve survival.”

Art workshops to express and work through emotions, educating the next generation about the importance of smear tests and fundraising have all been a part of the Go Girls’ journey so far.

With more than 800 members across the UK, the group is continuing to grow and looks forward to a fabulous 2019.

Helen Lederer, comedienne and patron of GO Girls is full of praise for the group.

She said: “GO Girls is an incredible charity. I have a huge passion for women’s health and to see such a small team achieve an incredible amount in such a short space of time gives me a warm glow. I feel proud to be supporting their work and look forward to watching their progress in the years ahead. Every woman with a gynaecological cancer deserves to be heard and supported – GO Girls are working hard to achieve this.”

And MP for West Dorset Oliver Letwin said the team should be ‘truly proud of their incredible achievements.

He added: "To have raised £50,000 in just under two years for the Cancer Appeal demonstrates the dedication of an exceptionally effective team. I know how hard Hilary and Teresa and the team have worked in making this become a reality."