When we meet actress Malandra Burrows, it’s hard to believe she was having major surgery just a week earlier. The former Emmerdale star is feeling positive after having a stage three tumour removed from her left breast and describes being on our shoot as “a breath of fresh air”.
Malandra, 56, was diagnosed in February after finding a lump a month earlier, and has chosen to share her story with OK! to help raise awareness and encourage other women to get checked out. See Malandra's exclusive photo shoot and interview by signing up – for free! – below.
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“You may think you’re super healthy, but that little ‘C’ word can still get you,” she says. “I just happened to catch myself [while exercising] and thought, ‘Good grief, what’s that?’”
At first she didn’t think it was anything to worry about. “I thought it must be a gland, but a few days later it was still there, so I rang my GP and they asked if I could come in the next hour,” she explains.
“A week later I was at the hospital and the first consultant told me it was a cyst. He said, ‘I won’t be seeing you again.’ The relief I felt!”
Malandra pauses for a moment, perhaps to relive that moment of ease. She then explains how a follow-up
scan and ultrasound showed something that was a lot more sinister.
“The consultant said they needed to see me as soon as possible and added, ‘Could you bring someone with you?’” she says.
“But I thought I’ve got to take this on my own. I’m single, and I felt I couldn’t do that to a friend.”
And in the end, she wasn’t alone. “When I went in, I found myself greeted by a Macmillan nurse and I just knew. She nearly broke down telling me, but I just went, ‘Don’t be daft! We’ll get through it and I’m going to ring that bell [to celebrate the end of treatment].’”
Malandra’s reaction to her diagnosis was certainly a positive one – and that has continued throughout her journey so far.
“I’d already galvanised myself before hearing the news, so I’ve never cried about it,” she explains. “In that week my body involuntarily had a breakdown. I didn’t feel like I was breaking down, but I just couldn’t eat or do anything. There was something in the back of my mind that knew what was going on inside my body.”
Now she’s up for the fight. “I’ve kind of gone into combat mode. If I look back, I’ve given it everything I can and that’s all I can do. I hate to say it, but when it’s your life at stake you’re prepared to do everything to get through. That’s helped me focus.”
Doctors explained to Malandra that her type of cancer may have, in fact, been caused by the menopause.
“Davina [McCall] has done a fabulous job of bringing menopause to the forefront, but I have never heard of menopausal cancer before,” she says. “They said because of the oestrogen and the way your hormonal balance changes, it’s one of the most major causes of breast cancer.”
Over the next six months Malandra will undergo a course of chemotherapy, something she knows she will need to remain positive for.
“I’m not very good at being poorly,” she explains. “To feel awful and low worries me. I asked my [medical] team, ‘Do I really need to go through this?’ and they said that if this cancer is allowed to spread around my body, they could do nothing more."
“I’ve got to be brave,” she says, before adding with a smile, “Maybe to pass the time I’ll design something for when I lose my hair, like a new range of beanies?”
And Malandra’s humorous approach continues as we chat about the possibility of a mastectomy.
“There is no point in having wonderful boobs that are your own but you’re pushing up daisies,” she says. “This is saving your life, so if it’s got to be done…”
She smiles once more before adding, “I thought, ‘Ooh maybe I’ll get some nice new boobs out of it, lovely!’ You’ve
got to look on the bright side. When you see what’s happening in Ukraine, I just think I’m really lucky and all the treatment I’m getting, whether I love it or hate it, is there to save my life.”
Revealing that she won’t be given any kind of prognosis until she has completed the chemotherapy course, Malandra says, “It’s always been day by day and I think that’s the best way. The doctors haven’t said to me, ‘Get everything in order.’”
However, she does believe that had she had a routine mammogram in 2020 – an appointment that was cancelled due to the pandemic – the cancer may have been found earlier.
“I have lost friends to breast cancer,” she says. “And look at lovely Sarah Harding [the Girls Aloud singer who died in September 2021, aged 39] – she got caught in the lockdown and everything was delayed.
“Someone asked me, ‘If you’d had a mammogram back in lockdown, how would you have felt knowing you couldn’t have treatment?’ So I felt blessed in a way.”
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Malandra explains she decided to go public with something so personal to raise awareness of the disease and its symptoms.
“Since my diagnosis I tell all ladies to please go and get a mammogram,” she tells us.
“No matter what age you are, if something seems suspicious go to your GP. You won’t regret it. It’s half a day of your life to save your life. When I’ve told people they’ve said, ‘You’re fit and healthy, you can’t have cancer?’ and that was the big shock for me because I didn’t feel poorly.”
The star says that while she “has lost touch with people” during lockdown, she’s sure they will reach out when they read this.
“I know they all know the sort of person I am,” she says. “I think I’m just one of those people you wouldn’t expect it to happen to.”
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Revealing she is still very much a fan of Emmerdale, in which she played Kathy Glover for 16 years, Malandra says “it’s lovely” to see Claire King back on the soap at Kim Tate and that she was emotional as she watched Marlon Dingle actor Mark Charnock’s recent stroke plot play out.
She adds “When I got my diagnosis, I felt like I was back in a soap and in a storyline.”
As our chat draws to a close, we are in awe of how positive and inspiring Malandra has been in telling us her story. And when it comes to her future, she’s equally as pragmatic.
“I had to get a new diary this year as everything in my diary from February onwards became empty after my diagnosis,” she says.
“It’s just day by day. I might have a good day, then five bad days, I just have to take them as they come. You’ve got to make nice moments, they become so precious. Even though they might be so simple, when you’ve got cancer, they become wonderful, momentous ones.”
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