Amy's Army is on the march to fight breast cancer
Her trademark pink hair has gone, thanks to 18 gruelling weeks of chemotherapy.
Yet after keeping her breast cancer secret from all but her family and close friends for the past year, young mum Amy Mills is ready to face the world again to help others come to terms with the disease.
Amy, 31, from Penwortham, has started a fund-raiser for the Rosemere Chemotherapy Unit at the Royal Preston Hospital, which she admits has been like a second home to her for the past 12 months.
The mother-of-two has recruited an "Amy's Army" for a sponsored walk with a difference - to collectively cover the length of the Great Wall of China, all 13,171 miles of it.
Amy and her husband Gareth were both teachers in China for two years and visited the wall numerous times.
"We absolutely loved our experience there, so when we were looking for something different for a fundraiser we felt it added a personal touch," she said.
Amy was diagnosed just 12 months ago and had a mastectomy five weeks later. Since then her treatment regime has involved two operations, 18 weeks of chemo and 15 sessions of radiotherapy.
She is now going through 18 sessions of targeted treatment, seven bone infusions and 12 weekly hormone injections, while still being a full-time mum to her two boys Henry, 6, and two-year-old Sammy.
"Rosemere is somewhere that I've spent a lot of time this past year and I can't shout loud enough about how wonderful all the nurses and other members of staff there are," she said.
"In a time during Covid, where I and every other cancer patient have had to face cancer treatment alone, it's the nurses that have been there to reassure me. So I think it’s such a worthy cause.
"I was given my diagnosis just before Covid was officially declared as a pandemic, so I felt grateful that I had my husband by my side when I was given the devastating news that my lump was cancerous.
"I had no idea at that point how difficult cancer treatment would be. My first thought when I was diagnosed was: 'Does this mean I will leave my two young children without a mummy?' That was what scared me the most."
Amy, who was training to become an accountant before her illness, admits her journey over the past year has been arduous. The chemotherapy has left her feeling terribly sick and exhausted.
"I've found that extremely tough," she said. "But as a young woman I found the hair loss another difficult part of my journey.
"I had pink hair and I definitely felt it was a big part of who I was. So when I lost my hair I didn't recognise the person staring back at me in the mirror.
"This past year I've been very private about my journey, only sharing it with close family and friends. I think that was largely because I didn’t want people feeling sorry for me, or bumping into people who knew me and them not knowing what to say.
"But my message is: 'Please don’t feel sorry for me. I'm still me. Cancer doesn’t define me, it’s just a part of my life I hadn’t planned for.'
"I've found strength where I didn’t know I had it and until you're faced with the prospect of death, you don’t realise how much you want to live.
"I can't believe the response that I've had since sharing my story on social media. So many people have reached out and shown their support for me. It really has been heartwarming."
Amy has raised more than £5,000 on her GoFundMe page and the walk still has a long way to go.
She is hoping that not only will the fundraiser give back much-needed funds to the unit which has done so much for her personally, it will also raise awareness that breast cancer can and does affect young women.
Throughout this month Amy is making daily bulletins on her Facebook page detailing her journey over the past year.
"Although this has been a difficult year, we've made so many lovely family memories, going out for daily walks together, playing together every day, family meals together, we've never been apart.
"I've had the most wonderful support from my family and friends these last 12 months, I couldn’t have asked for any more.
"I've been grateful for every text, call, doorstep delivery, flowers, homemade meal, the list is endless.
"But I think the person who has been my absolute rock throughout this is my husband, Gareth. He has held my hand every step of the way and he has shown me the light when I have struggled to see.
"I'm feeling really positive for the year ahead and can’t wait to keep pushing Amy’s Army to raise as many donations and as much awareness of breast cancer as we can.
"My cancer diagnosis completely turned my life upside down. Since then it's been a rollercoaster journey.
"I can't say just how grateful I am to the staff at the Rosemere unit. And if the money raised can provide new equipment, or something to help make a cancer patient's journey an easier experience, then I think that is a really worthy cause."
To help please go to: https://gofund.me/46a79a1d or visit Amy's Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/442231420351659/?ref=share