EastEnders star Cheryl Fergison feared 'am I going to die?' after womb cancer diagnosis

Actress Cheryl Fergison arrives at the National Lottery Awards 2010 held at the Camden Roundhouse on September 4, 2010 in London
Cheryl Fergison's womb cancer diagnosis meant she lost the chance to have a child with her husband Yassine -Credit:Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images)

EastEnders' actress Cheryl Fergison was diagnosed with cancer in 2015, and has spoken out for the first time about her experiences battling the devastating disease. The actress, who played Heather Trott in Albert Square, has finally opened up about the eight years she stayed silent about her womb cancer.

In an exclusive interview with the Mirror, Cheryl, 58, said she chose to keep her struggle with cancer private. But she revealed that it was through the support of her husband, son, and friends from EastEnders, that she was able to come out the other side.

Cheryl, 58, said: “The time is right to talk about it. My family and I have been through a lot but we’re still here. Yes, there were some dark moments when I thought: ‘am I going to die?’ Am I going to leave my husband without a wife, my son without a mum? But I am strong and I’d knock those thoughts away. I was determined that it wasn’t going to beat me.”

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Cheryl Fergison is evicted from the Big Brother House at Elstree Studios on August 24, 2012
Cheryl Fergison after being evicted from the Big Brother House in 2012 -Credit: Nat Jag/Getty Images

But not only did Cheryl have to face a diagnosis of womb cancer, she's also been through a hysterectomy, early onset menopause, and coming to terms with not being able to have children with her husband Yassine, who is 20 years younger than her.

Cheryl, who appeared on Celebrity Big Brother in 2012, said: “I’d gone for a regular smear test - which had been clear - but I’d started having a lot of backache and then I began spotting blood, which wasn’t normal for me. I had been fitted with a coil to help with very heavy periods but somehow I just knew something didn’t feel right."

A visit to her GP saw her referred for tests and a biopsy at a local hospital in Kent, and four months after that he received the news she had Stage Two cancer of the womb. Hearing the doctor’s words was, she says, like “an out of body experience”. She added: “I was in absolute shock; stunned to the core. I couldn’t believe the doctor was talking about me.”

According to Cancer Research UK around 75 per cent of women diagnosed with Stage Two cancer of the womb will survive five years or more after diagnosis but all the statistics in the world didn’t prevent her thinking ‘why me?’ She says: "I’d had a new beginning with Yass, everything was perfect. And then this.”

Cheryl Ferguson in character as Heather Trott in EastEnders
Cheryl Ferguson is best known for playing Heather Trott in EastEnders -Credit:BBC

She then underwent MRI scans. “I remember in the scanner having an earpiece in to listen to music and ‘Paradise’ by Coldplay was playing," Cheryl says. "I thought ‘this is about as far from paradise as it’s possible to be’.”

She also had a slew of chest X-rays before medics recommended she had a full hysterectomy. "All I could think was ‘I have to get this thing out of me’ but it was very difficult. It impacted how I felt as a woman," Cheryl says.

“I’d not long married Yassine and suddenly any thought of having a child together had been taken away. We may not have gone down that route, of course, but we’d lost the ability to choose."

The surgery brought on early menopause, which was yet another thing Cheryl had to come to terms with. She said: "In terms of how I saw myself as a woman, it felt as if it had all come to an end. It was a horrendous time.”

At the time, Yassine was in Morocco, dealing with both the death of his grandmother and his father becoming ill. “We Skyped every day and that’s how I had to break the news," Cheryl says.

"Women naturally want to protect others and I wanted to explain that it was all going to be OK, even though I didn’t know if it was. My heart was breaking. I was almost grieving myself, as if I was already gone, but I had to be strong.”

Support from Paul O’Grady, Barbara Windsor, June Brown, Steve McFadden and Julian Clary 'meant the world'

Cheryl confided in a few trusted friends including former EastEnders colleagues Barbara Windsor, June Brown and Steve McFadden as well as Paul O’Grady and Julian Clary. “Their support meant the world to me,” remembers Cheryl.

"When I was in EastEnders, I would go to Barbara’s dressing room and June’s everyday and I loved their stories. Barbara was no nonsense - if she didn’t like something she would let you know - but she was also a great person to tell your problems too.

"She’d say, ‘whatever’s going on in your own four walls, when you go outside, put on a smile - the public don’t want to see you miserable, darling.'"

A few days after they had all attended Paul O’Grady’s 60th birthday, where Cheryl had privately discussed her news, Barbara and husband Scott asked Cheryl to call in on them. “I can hear her now saying ‘come on darling, how are you feeling? You know you can get through this.," she added.

"I popped to the loo and when I came back Barb said, ‘right, darling, how much? How much are your bills and your mortgage because we’d like to support you'. I was in shock and said no but Barbs was insistent - I wasn’t earning. They sat there and wrote a cheque. I was sobbing but Barbara hugged me and said, ‘don’t worry. We’re always going to be here for you.’”

Cheryl Fergison next to Steve McFadden (C) and the cast of EastEnders as they win Most Popular Serial Drama award during the National Television Awards at the O2 Arena on January 26, 2011
Cheryl says EastEnders co-star and friend Steve McFadden has been a huge support to her -Credit:Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

Cheryl also praises Linda Henry, who played Shirley Carter in the soap, for her support while Steve McFadden - “he’s like a big brother to me, I love him to bits” - arranged for her to stay in his Cornish home so she could recuperate after her hysterectomy.

The surgery itself was straightforward. Cheryl was in hospital for three days and then underwent a five week course of radiotherapy. But even with friends rallying round, it took her months to recover.

And her worries continued after doctors told her to monitor any unusual symptoms as there may be ‘some cells’ left within her. Only last year, when Cheryl consulted doctors after suffering further backache which she feared would be a signal that the cancer had returned, did she get the all clear.

“They looked into it. They had trouble getting hold of my notes but, when they did and they looked at them, it turned out the initial treatment had got all the cancer,” she says.

New energy for life

Now recovered and healthy, Cheryl says she is looking forward to life with renewed vigour and energy. She cycles regularly on the prom, has her sights set on losing weight and is eating well - she reveals Yassine is an excellent cook. And, of course, she still watches her favourite soap.

“I love the characters and the storylines. Soaps do an important job of showing people that actually, compared to some, their lives are OK," she said.

Would she like to go back to Albert Square? “I don’t know how possible that would be because I was murdered! Maybe I could return as Heather’s long lost twin?” she laughs. "But Heather was iconic - let’s leave her be. I live up north now - I’d love to play someone else in another soap.”

As for her own drama of the last few years, she is looking forward to putting it behind her with new creative projects on the horizon and a zeal for encouraging other women to take their health seriously.

“Listen to your body," Cheryl says. "Even if it’s the smallest concern - go and get checked because if you haven’t got health, you’ve not got no wealth. I’ve come through it and so can others. It’s all about living life now and I’m ready to fly.”

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