Emile was breastfeeding her seven-month-old daughter, Lotte, when she noticed a lump in her breast. "I kept prodding it," Emilie says, "checking it was still there and that I wasn't imagining it. I called the GP surgery, because that's what you do when you've got a breast lump, but it sounded so busy in the background that I told the receptionist not to bother, it was probably nothing. Luckily, she insisted I go in."
The GP referred Emilie to a breast cancer specialist who performed a needle biopsy, where they puncture the lump with a needle and take away some cells. "He thought it was probably milk from breastfeeding," Emilie says.
Emilie and her husband, Thomas. 40, went home to Lotte and their other daughter Olivia, then four, and when the results from the biopsy were ready a week later, Emilie went back alone. "I wasn't worried at all," Emilie says. "I felt like apologising to everyone for wasting their time. When the specialist said I had breast cancer, it was a massive shock." Over the next few days, Emilie tried to come to terms with the news and stopped breastfeeding in preparation for what lay ahead.
A few days later she had a bone scan and mammogram to find out how big the tumour was.
Emilie had the lump removed in surgery as well as some lymph nodes from under her arm, which turned out to contain cancer cells. Around six weeks later she had to have a full mastectomy to be sure all the cancer cells had been removed, followed by three months of chemotherapy.
"Losing my hair was horrendous," Emilie says. "I felt incredibly cold all the time even when it wasn't that cold outside, and Olivia got upset at the sight of me with a bald head. I struggled to find scarves that were right, I felt incredibly self-conscious in my wig and woollen beanie hats were too warm and itchy. I hunted high and low for a soft cotton hat like a baby's, but couldn't find anything. I resorted to wearing my husband's fleecy jogging hat in bed." When Emilie started radiotherapy treatment, she had to drive 45 minutes each way to the hospital every day.
"It was during that drive that I really had time to think about life," she says. "Having cancer made me re-assess everything. I knew I didn't want to go back to my old job when the girls were older and I'd always wanted to run my own business. I hit on the idea of producing the kind of hat I'd searched for during chemo, and that way I'd be helping other people with cancer too."
Emilie sourced some soft Jersey fabric, drew some designs and found a seamstress who made some prototypes. The minimal seams in the hats meant they wouldn't irritate the skin of the scalp. Since then the business has rocketed, with orders flooding into her website www.boldbeanies.com and a large manufacturer making most of the orders.
Earlier this year Emile won a Special Achievement Award from The British Female Inventors & Innovators Awards 2009. "It's been amazing," Emilie says. "I'm incredibly busy but it's worth it. The best thing to come out of all of it is the feedback I get. The other day I got an email from a lady who said, "I was diagnosed with breast cancer in June. My friend came this morning with a beanie for me and it's really cheered me up. I've got a wig but like you I don't get on with it... in fact I hate it. My daughter is 11 and she really struggles with me not having anything on my head - so the hat has given me a big lift today."
Emilie is selling specially designed hats to support Cancer Research UK's campaign "Join the fight for women's survival." Ten per cent of sales will be donated to the charity.
For more information about the campaign visit www.jointhefight.org.uk and www.cancerhelp.org.uk for more information about breast cancer visit
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