'Once life has really taken a swing at you and taken your younger sister away, it almost feels like nothing can hurt you in the same way again'
Following her second brush with cancer, Promise Me singer Beverley Craven tells Gabrielle Fagan about the changes in her life which were sparked by the experience
After a double mastectomy and five months of chemotherapy, a long period of rest and recuperation might be in order - but Beverley Craven is defiantly embarking on a tour.
"I got through it last time - and I'm not going to let it beat me this time," the 55-year-old singer declares.
It's the second time mum-of-three Craven - who's still remembered for her mega-hit 1990 debut single, Promise Me - has been diagnosed with breast cancer. The disease also claimed the lives of her sister and cousin.
Craven was first diagnosed in 2005 with a tumour in her left breast, but after a lumpectomy and radiotherapy she was eventually given the all clear. In August 2018 though, a new cancer was found in her right breast.
"My first diagnosis in 2005 hit me very hard psychologically, and it took me two years to stop feeling angry, frightened and sad.
"I honestly thought I was going to die," recalls Craven, talking at her home in Buckinghamshire.
"It's been easier to be brave second time around. The shock of it doesn't touch you in the same way.
"Thankfully, the operation's been a success and my consultant's told me I should be confident about a positive outcome, which is great," she adds.
"I've found it easier to detach myself from what I've had to go through, and see it as a purely physical thing."
Throughout treatment, she's been buoyed up by the 'goal' of resuming the Woman To Woman tour, where she performs with fellow singer/songwriters, Judie Tzuke and Julia Fordham.
It began last year, but the 2019 dates were postponed until June to accommodate Craven.
Here, the singer talks about living for the moment, how her daughters have helped her through cancer, and the positive outcomes the experience has brought...
What does going on tour mean to you?
It's the fun and excitement at the end of the long tunnel of treatment. As well as the mastectomy, I had lymph nodes removed from my right arm.
The chemo has been horrible to go through - I almost gave it up a month in -but throughout it all, I've focused on getting fit enough to be with the girls and perform.
Being on the road with them is like a month-long party.
My hair hasn't grown back yet after the chemo but I'm not going to wear a wig - my boyfriend Mike says I look beautiful without it and silly with it - and so I'll just wear big earrings and high heels.
I'm sure after five minutes, people won't even notice I'm bald.
The show's a really emotional, nostalgic night, with lots of laughter as well as tears. I'm a bit of comedian and joker, which is a nice contrast to some of the music, which is quite sad and poignant.
How did you feel when you got the second cancer diagnosis?
Ever since I had cancer the first time, I've lived for the last 13 years expecting and being in fear of it happening again. It's common in my family - my younger sister, Kathy (44) died of it five years ago, and I've also lost my cousin, Sara (46), and my aunt's had it but survived.
With that history, you're always looking over your shoulder waiting for it.
I don't want reconstructive surgery because it would mean more surgery to go through. Anyway, I don't miss my boobs, if I'm honest. I breastfed all my daughters and they did a great job, but then they became a liability and had to go.
I really hope my being open about my experience can help other women going through this."
How have you stayed positive throughout this ordeal ?
I watched my sister go through this [cancer] and that gave me b***s of steel, really.
Kathy was only 44, with three little boys, and died five years ago. I miss her terribly anyway, but even more when I was going through this because she would have known what I was going through. I think about her every single day. Once life has really taken a swing at you and taken your younger sister away, it almost feels like nothing can hurt you in the same way again, although I don't want to tempt fate by saying that.
Anyway, just sitting around thinking: 'I've had my breasts removed, I haven't got any hair and whatever happened to my femininity?' leads nowhere good. I try to see it as a process I've had to go through, and a transition to being well again.
Are you worried about your daughters - Molly (26), Brenna (23) and Connie (21) - being at risk of cancer?
"My aunt's currently undergoing testing to see if there are other genes which can be identified that make us prone to cancer.
"We know we don't have the BRAC1 or 2 genes (which are strongly associated with cancers).
"My daughters, I'm guessing, have around a 50/50 chance of getting it. But they will always be vigilant and may take action in the future to help reduce their risk.
"My hope is that science progresses and has answers before it becomes an issue for them and, if it happens, that there are more targeted therapies - so hopefully they won't have to endure what I've gone through.
What does your track Promise Me mean to you?
I thank God for that song, which has become a standard. If it wasn't for Promise Me, I might not have a career.
I was living in a tiny bedsit and it only took three days to write.
I didn't even want my record company to release it because I didn't think it was very good! Shows what I know about a successful track!
I've written a new track for the Woman To Woman album and am loving writing again, so who knows if I'll come up with something to equal Promise Me.
What's got you through the tough times?
My fabulous daughters, who I love to bits and have been so supportive and reassured me that I look very trendy with my bald head, my loving boyfriend and amazing friends.
We've all really bonded in this time of adversity and that's an amazing, positive thing which has come out of this experience. It makes you all pull together.
It's also the advice I was once given: Nothing stays the same - it's constantly changing and whatever's happening, it won't be that way forever. When you're going through a lot of s**t, it's helpful to know that it's temporary.
How do you look after your wellbeing?
Having cancer's given me a different, very positive perspective. The first time, I felt I'd been given a second chance at life, and resolved not to waste time and get on with things.
It was in part a catalyst for my ending my marriage and changing all sorts of things. You suddenly realise your life is not open-ended and time may not be stretching ahead of you," she says.
These days, I try to look after myself. I love my bathroom, which I've made like a spa, where I can retreat and think. I go to sleep with a smile on my face and wake up with a spring in my step, because I think my life is about as perfect as it can ever be and I'm properly content.
I consider myself to be incredibly fortunate despite two bouts of cancer. So many people go through cancer and other illnesses and worse.
Beverley Craven tours with Judie Tzuke and Julia Fordham as Woman To Woman from June. For tickets, see wtwlive.com
Following her second brush with cancer,
Promise Me singer Beverley Craven tells
Gabrielle Fagan about the changes in her life which were sparked by the experience