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My friend and I found lumps in our breast at same time ...mine was benign, hers was cancer; DENISE VAN OUTEN ON HEALTH SCARE; EXCLUSIVE.

Byline: JULIE McCAFFREY

After the pain of losing her grandmother to breast cancer, actress Denise van Outen was understandably terrified when she checked herself and discovered a lump.

Much to her relief, test results showed the growth was benign, but the EastEnders star asked for a lumpectomy anyway.

However, her all-clear was bittersweet because her best friend, who by chance had found a lump at the same time, was given the diagnosis they both feared.

"That was a shock," recalls Denise. "We were on a spa break together just over a year ago when we both mentioned we'd found lumps. I am very breast aware because I lost my grandmother to breast cancer so I said, 'Get to a doctor, quickly'. We made a pact to both get checked.

"Within two days my friend was told she had cancer." Denise, mum to sixyear-old Betsy, said waiting for her own results was "horrible". She continues: "Even being in the doctor's surgery getting checked is pretty frightening.

"I had a biopsy and doctors said it was benign. And I said, 'Just take it out'.

"I want to be around to see Betsy grow up. I want to do all the things I can as a parent - even become a grandparent."

Denise's childhood friend is now in remission following chemotherapy.

But the treatment has possibly ruined her chances of becoming a mother.

Denise, 41, says: "She doesn't have kids and because of the treatment I think that means she might not be able to now.

"Treatment has cleared the tumour so hopefully she's cancer-free but she's still undergoing treatment. She's doing great and her hair is growing back. We've known each other since we were 10 and our friendship means we're more like sisters.

"When someone so close to you is affected by breast cancer it's really upsetting."

Denise supported her friend throughout her treatment by making her laugh - even in the darkest times of the gruelling treatment.

She says: "We didn't make light of it but we joked around about things. She said she always enjoyed me coming around because whenever her a family went they'd all sit and cry because it's heartbreaking."

Denise has been a big supporter of cancer charities after losing her gran a few years ago. "She was 83," the actress says.

"She wasn't diagnosed until it was too late. Given that it can be hereditary, it's made me more conscious of my own health because it could happen to me. Once there's a history of it in your family, you need to be aware.

"My mum goes for regular checks and I'm a mother myself now. I want to be around to see my children grow up."

Denise's cheery personality has made her an in-demand TV presenter for the past 20 years and her background in singing, dancing and acting means she is one of theatre's most bankable stars.

She has been dating stockbroker Eddie Boxshall, 41, for almost two years.

But recently the pair have been arguing - over golf.

Denise says: "I took up golf when I turned 40 and Eddie's played for 20-odd years so is obviously much better than me and gives me tips.

"We're quite competitive. If I play a great shot I reckon it's down to me, and if I play a bad one I blame him."

Denise was previously married to Lee Mead, 34. They met in 2007 when she was a judge on talent show Any Dream Will Do, which he won.

They tied the knot in 2009 and their split four years later is one of the most amicable in showbiz.

"What is the secret to a happy divorce? There's no big secret," says Denise.

"It's very simple - we're two adults who have a child together and we love her dearly. We're friends.

"We didn't have to sit down and talk about it, it just worked out that way. We never put any obstacles in the way or set routines. We're very flexible about when he sees Betsy, or when I see her, because of the jobs we do and we help each other out.

"Lee's about to go on tour with Chitty Chitty Bang Bang so doesn't get set days off. So whenever he's off he can come and see his daughter."

Betsy is showing tentative signs of following her parents into showbiz.

Denise says: "My mum is the chaperone for the kids on Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. And when Lee is rehearsing, Betsy likes to join in a little bit and she can sing.

"But she's definitely not like I was at that age because I liked being right at the front and Betsy would rather blend in with the crowd."

Denise, who attended Sylvia Young Theatre School, is keen to ensure her daughter is brought up to have bags of confidence.

She says: "You have to do what you can and you have to make kids confident in their own skin.

"Being able to speak out is the key. So I don't overpraise Betsy. If someone does that to you too much when you're a kid, when you're thrown in to the big bad world you realise life just isn't like that. I'm very real and honest with her - and she is with me. If I'm all dressed up to go out she'll say, 'you look really lovely, mummy'. But in the morning she'll go, 'You don't look your best'.

"The other day she said, 'I love your tummy, mummy - it's so squidgy'. I thought 'thanks very much!" Pictured in her swimsuit on holiday in Dubai recently, it's clear Denise should have zero worries about her looks.

But she admits: "I do have down days - everybody does. Sometimes when all my girlfriends are going out somewhere I ring up and say, 'You know what, I'm just not feeling up to it. I'm exhausted, look a bit rubbish and have PMT'. Same as every other woman.

"But to get through any life-changing situation, depression, a milestone birthday you fear or anything, it's a known fact that exercise lifts you. So I do what I can - even a power walk with friends, talking, walking and laughing makes me feel so much better."

Denise has recently finished filming a Brit flick called Indifferent, in which she plays a domestic violence victim.

Researching the role was a harrowing experience. "Reading and watching documentaries about domestic violence really opened my eyes to it - I wasn't aware of the extent it goes on," she says.

"It made me go home and appreciate my life all the more. And it made me want to do something about it."

Tomorrow she will do exactly that. Denise will lead the Benefit Cosmetics' Bold Is Beautiful march through London in aid of two charities which after her recent experiences are close to her heart - women's cancer charity Look Good Feel Better and domestic violence charity Refuge.

Denise says: "Since she's been through her cancer treatment, my best friend says she doesn't feel quite so confident but she'll be right there with me marching by iconic sights of London.

"We'll be joined by a lot of strong women who have contacted Refuge and come out the other side.

"It's a day for those women to shine."

features@mirror.co.uk

Benefit Cosmetics has pledged to donate 100% of its profits from its brow wax services in May to charity partners Look Good Feel Better and Refuge. Any customer who purchases a brow wax service this month will receive a complimentary full-size Gimme Brow (worth PS18.50). Sign up to tomorrow's march at boldisbeautiful.com/uk

I told the doctors 'Just take it out'. I want to be around to see Betsy grow up DENISE AFTER BEING TOLD LUMP IN HER BREAST WAS BENIGN My friend doesn't have kids. I think she might not be able to due to the treatment

CAPTION(S):

MUM Star with Betsy aged six

COUPLE Denise and boyfriend Eddie at golf event

FRIENDS Denise and ex Lee are still on good terms

SHOWGIRL Denise on stage in Legally Blonde

SHE'S A STAR Denise on red carpet at recent event
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:May 7, 2016
Words:1356
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