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Calverley: Meet the 90-year-old cancer survivor who campaigned for Yorkshire’s first breast cancer unit 

Margaret Stead was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1994, aged 61.

The mother of three and grandmother of two, from Calverley, was referred to Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, and was shocked to discover she would be receiving treatment on a mixed-sex ward. 

As a retired nurse manager, Margaret understood how difficult it was for women being treated on the ward. Despite undergoing extensive treatment and a major operation, Margaret was determined to make a difference and began her campaign to set up Yorkshire’s dedicated breast cancer unit. 

In the same year, Margaret founded Breast Cancer Research Action Group, a non-profit run entirely by volunteers, and was invited to unveil the new Unit at Leeds General Infirmary in April 1995, which has since been relocated to St James’s Hospital. 

Within a few months, Margaret helped raise over £7,500 to help furnish the new breast unit, after canvassing support from the public, local MPs and health bosses. 

Margaret Stead recieving her BEM in 2018

Margaret, who was awarded a British Empire Medal in 2017 in recognition of her fundraising efforts, said: “I was cared for on a mixed sex ward and thought it was dreadful, so I said to my surgeon that when I got out, I was going to campaign for a breast cancer unit, and that’s exactly what I did.

“When I set my mind to something there’s no turning back, I still had my stitches in after the operation when I started a petition and got signatures and after 18 months of hard work, I was invited to officially open the breast unit at LGI. 

“I’m incredibly proud of what our group has gone on to achieve, not only is there a dedicated ward, we’ve also invested in ground-breaking research and supported incredible projects.”

Almost three decades later, Margaret, now 90, has retired from the group, a linked charity of Leeds Hospitals Charity. Thanks to her spearheading the charity’s efforts, over £2 million has now been raised to support breast cancer patients and fund life-saving research. 

One of the latest initiatives the charity has funded is training for staff at the Outpatients Breast Unit to use a new tattoo machine. 

Sue Callum, Advanced Clinical Practitioner on the unit, said: “We’re indebted to the ladies at Breast Cancer Research Action Group for their support over the years. For many of our patients losing the breast impacts significantly on a woman’s psychological well being after undergoing surgery for breast cancer. Thanks to their fundraising, we’ve been able to train additional staff to tattoo an impression of a nipple or areole for those who have had reconstruction or breast altering surgery.

“The funding will expand this service to tattoo eyebrows on for patients who have lost their hair during treatment and are struggling with regrowth. We’ve already seen the hugely positive impact this has on the health and wellbeing of the patients and we are excited to grow and expand our skills and service.”

Although Margaret is no longer a part of the charity’s committee, she continues to support fellow volunteers, and regularly attends events, watching on with pride at the legacy she has created. 

Find out more about Breast Cancer Research Action Group.

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