A split-second decision can be life-changing, as Elaine Atkinson knows only too well.
The mum-of-five, who lives in Longridge, near Preston, had always fluctuated with her weight but had no intention of joining a slimming club.
Elaine, 43, explains: “I have always been up and down with my weight and in clothes sizes, I fluctuated from a size eight to a size 14.
“But I became comfortable in my own skin and it did not really bother me. I think I was in denial.
“I had high blood pressure at the time and really struggled to sleep. When I felt down, I would reach for the chocolate as I felt it would make me feel better.
“I started to put on weight after I had my children and had tried lots of different ways to lose weight but they usually left me feeling hungry or miserable so I decided I was happy as I was.”
Elaine only went along to a Slimming World meeting in Longridge in January this year as moral support for her friend who wanted to join – and inadvertently ended up joining herself.
Little did she realise at the time how crucial for her health that fleeting moment would turn out to be.
Elaine recalls: “My friend desperately wanted to join Slimming World and talked me into going to her first meeting with her.
“While I was there, I stood on the scales out of interest and was horrified. I don’t think I’ve ever weighed as much in my life.
“So I ended up signing up to Slimming World at the same time as my friend.”
Elaine managed to go from 10 stones 3.5lbs to eight stones in less than 23 weeks through Slimming World.
She had actually gone down to a size 10 by the end of week five after losing a stone and decided to treat herself to some new clothes.
Elaine had also gone down a bra size so bought herself a new bra too.
Elaine, who has been a senior full-time carer at a care home for 25 years, was getting ready for a bath before a night shift when she experienced an achy feeling on the inside of her left breast.
She remembers: “I ran my hand down my breast and felt this tiny little lump about the size of a pea.
“I knew straight away I needed to get it looked at.”
Elaine went to see her GP the following morning and at first the doctor struggled to find the lump as it was so small.
But after locating it, she referred Elaine to Chorley Breast Clinic.
Within two weeks, Elaine had undergone mammograms and scans and had a consultation with the surgeon who told he her was 99 per cent sure it was breast cancer.
A biopsy confirmed it was cancer and Elaine underwent surgery to remove it.
She says: “The surgeon said the lump was so tiny, he was amazed I’d found it.
“I told him all about Slimming World and his exact words were ‘Slimming World has saved your life.’
“He explained that the lump had been hiding behind my fat tissues and it would have only become noticeable after I lost the weight.
“He told me that as I was 42 at the time, I would not have been called for my first mammogram screening for another eight years and that by that stage, it would have been a case of prolonging my life rather than saving it.”
The surgeon sent the tumour to America for genetic testing as he was not happy with it. Results showed it was a grade three aggressive breast cancer.
As there was a high chance of occurrence, the decision was made to treat the cancer aggressively.
Elaine is currently four cycles into six cycles of chemotherapy, and after that she will have a month of radiotherapy.
Elaine, who is mum to Lauren, 25, Jamie, 23, Thomas, 17, Millie, 11 and Kaitlynne, six, still goes to her Slimming World meetings every Tuesday evening – and even went to the meeting on the day of her breast cancer diagnosis.
Elaine explains: “I have never missed a Slimming World meeting since I joined and it has got me through my chemotherapy with all the clean living and clean eating.
“Slimming World has been completely different to other ways I had tried in the past to lose weight.
“My family and friends are all amazed by how much I can eat and still lose weight. I still eat many of the same meals that I did before I started losing weight.
“Now I just prepare and cook them differently and they taste so much better.
“Right from the moment I walked into the Slimming World group, I felt comfortable and the support I received has been amazing.
“I look forward to going each week to catch up with all my new friends and share tips, recipes and advice.
“Having lost weight, I have more energy to play with my younger children. I’m sleeping better and my blood pressure has lowered too.”
Elaine has been named Longridge Slimming World Woman of the Year after her life changing two stone 6lbs weight loss.
Slimming World’s Woman of the Year competition recognises the achievements of thousands of women across the country who have made long-term healthy lifestyle changes.
Elaine says: “I feel like a different woman to the one who walked into Slimming World months ago and winning Woman of the Year is a real honour because there are so many amazing women in our group.
“I’ve realised when people believe in you and you believe in yourself, you can do anything you set your mind to.
“But the best thing about joining Slimming World has been how it led to my breast cancer diagnosis at such an early stage.
“I honestly believe Slimming World has saved my life.
“I will now get to see my little girl grow up. If the cancer had not been found when it was, I would have been unlikely to see her leave high school.
“My oncologist laughs when I tell her I am still going to Slimming World through all my treatment. She tells me to keep on doing what I am doing as it is obviously working.
“I will be off work until next year and it has been tough and it is hard financially.
“But I am just so grateful that I found the lump and that I am still here.
“I am now a great believer in everyone checking their boobs. You tend to think breast cancer is an older person’s disease and I had no family history of breast cancer so did not consider myself to be at risk.
“It’s only because I dropped a bra size through losing weight that made the lump noticeable that led to me seeking medical advice.
“My friend jokes that she saved my life by dragging me along to Slimming World – and I suppose she did.
“Fat Club saved my life!”