Special report: the agonising disease affecting millions of women each day

Excruciating pain. Unmanageably heavy periods. Anger and frustration at not being heard or helped. The women who suffer this torment aren’t statistics. These are their stories. These are their lives. Philippa Blakeley reports.

The agonising disease afflicting millions of women each day
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Witness to terror: ‘There was a lot of screaming. I’ll never forget the fear in the eyes of the police’

‘In situations of terror, you get the heroes, the quiet ones, and the people who completely lose their minds’: Paul Millar remembers the terrifying day he was trapped inside Parliament during the 2017 Westminster attack.

One foot in front of the other. He maintains a nervous pace until he reaches his office, writes Will Millar. A helicopter hovers above the building. He can see it clearly on the television in the corner of the room.

Every single office door is bolted shut and a deathly silence starts to emerge. On a normal day, the sound of chatter, laughter, and division bells ring through the palace of Westminster. Today, a policeman has been stabbed to death.

Paul Millar, who was just 24 when the Westminster terror attack took place in 2017, had only been working in Parliament for six months, as a researcher for the late Paul Flynn.

When the job got too chaotic, he’d sit alone in the atrium of Portcullis House, sipping a coffee, amongst the tranquil setting of trees and distant chatter.

That’s where he was when the sound of gunshots rattled through the atrium. That grim afternoon in March, there were six victims. Five innocent adults and a killer shot dead on the grounds of Parliament.

“There was a lot of screaming. The police officers were running, trying to keep everyone away from the entrance,” he says. “The fear in their eyes will always be stuck in my memory.”

Escorted to safety, Paul and his colleague Kathy hid underneath a table in the office. The chaos soon faded and was replaced by a tense stillness, where the slamming of every office door mimicked that of a prison cell.

“The feeling in the building was that this was only going to get worse,” he says. “Rumours were going around that there were bombs in abandoned cars. Even my dad texted me saying there’s a gunman in the building. It was terrifying.”

After a while, Paul was moved to a safer environment. Though, the new location, identified by its single-glazed windows and fragile structure, left him feeling even more anxious.

News channels relentlessly covered the event and started to identify the policeman that had been stabbed – PC Keith Palmer.

“I knew Keith Palmer. He was someone I used to walk past. Someone I used to speak to. A lot of people did,” he says.

With nothing to eat but some Rowntree fruit pastels from a near-empty vending machine, Paul started to observe the odd behaviour of those around him.

“I recall a few people who wouldn’t stop playing with the TV sets. They were obsessed with changing the channel,” he says.

“In situations of terror, you get the heroes, the quiet ones, and the people who completely lose their minds.”

Five hours had passed, and Paul could leave, he shuffled through a cowshed of journalists and reporters. On his long walk home, he passed Huw Edwards, setting up scene on Westminster bridge. Ready to deliver a united 10 o’clock news.

The following morning was eerily quiet in Westminster. Abandoned cars. Police tape. The palace had been choked of its personality. No bells. No laughter. No Chatter. Security no longer greeted Paul but grilled him on arrival.

Just a couple months later, a snap general election was called, and Paul was plunged into the chaos of campaigning. He tried to come to terms with the attacks, but he was restless and so were his colleagues.

One night, whilst campaigning in his MP´s constituency. Paul was sat in the back of a car driven by a colleague, when they crashed at a road junction and the car was sent spiralling out of control. “Inches more and we would have died,” he says.

That election campaign was littered with traumatic events and Paul vividly remembers these months being the hardest. Hearing about the Manchester Arena bombing, and the London Bridge attacks forced Paul to relive that horrible day inside Westminster.

Upon returning to London, Paul started to notice his mental health deteriorate. He recalls arming himself with a tennis racket on the tubes, in case he was attacked.  In Parliament, he started to experience symptoms of Post-traumatic stress-disorder (PTSD).

The sound of a hoover echoed the screams in the atrium. The cleaners in the corridor slowly morphed into police running up and down the building. Paul realised these triggers were sinking deeper into his conscious.

One day, after settling into a new role, he fell ill.

“I felt faint and my body was taken over with adrenaline. My face was bloated and pale. I thought I was having a heart attack,” he says.

What Paul experienced, was the beginnings of a panic attack. A very severe panic attack. He recalls the security guards. Fully grown men. Weeping as they watched on. His vulnerable mind started to play tricks on him, and he was cast back to the events of the attack.

“What happened during that panic attack proved that I’d completely lost my mind,” he says. “I thought the Russians had poisoned the water in the Parliamentary estate. That was my only explanation.”

Paul scrunches his face, as he explains the horrors, he felt during the panic attack. He remembers feeling that his death was certain. He even started to prepare his final wishes.

After being taken to hospital, Paul was diagnosed with PTSD and a severe anxiety disorder. He soon left Parliament and moved back in with his parents. For him, this was a safer, more secure place.

His overall health had been chipped away at but months of cognitive behaviour therapy helped him get back to his feet. Though, the effects were still long lasting and sleep became his only medication.

It has been more than four years since the Westminster attack. He no longer visits the city. Paul now works as a councillor for East Devon District Council, 200 miles from London.

Recovery is slow and he often laments that afternoon. That grim afternoon in March, where five innocent lives were taken.

Paul may never look past his own trauma, but he is insistent that each person, affected by the attack, should look after oneself.

“I like to remind myself of the instructions from cabin crew to air travellers. Put your own oxygen mask on, before helping others,” he said.

‘I’m breastless, kidless and in the menopause at 36’

Lottie Rennie tells Philippa Blakeley about the trauma of being diagnosed with cancer – and her long journey to recovery.

Lottie Rennie and her husband, Tim, sat on the sofa in a dreary, sun-starved side room at the hospital – no windows, plain walls, nothing.

The only thing to look at was the empty box of tissues which sat on the table.

For Lottie, this was only the start of her long and often isolating journey navigating the foreign world of being a cancer patient.

Four weeks earlier in September 2017, Lottie had been going about her life as a 33-year-old, nothing out of the ordinary.

It was a Sunday when she first felt a shooting pain in her left breast. After feeling around, felt what everyone dreads.  A lump.  

After going to the doctors, Lottie was sent for core biopsies in both the right and left breast.

“This was first part which affected me the most, I wasn’t expecting it at all. Because I went to a private hospital, they were done there and then,

“My husband, Tim, said that after I just didn’t speak the rest of the day,” said Lottie.

Throughout her whole journey, she did all the procedural appointments on her own.

“I don’t know why I did them alone, I felt impulsed too, I think for protection really,” said Lottie.

At this first appointment, she was sat in the waiting room with another lady who said “you won’t have it, you’re too young.”

But cancer does not discriminate. Not on age, nor anything else for that matter.

Lottie was to find this out for herself when on Friday, October 13, she got told she had a two-centimetre tumour in her left breast.

However, she was told by the consultant it would likely be a small surgery and most likely she would just need chemo tablets.

An MRI scan later and she was sent to a breast cancer clinic. “The nurse took us into the side room, there was just a sofa, just an empty box of tissues and a sofa. Sat in that room made us feel like it was bad news. We’d already decided it was Stage 4,

“That when I was told the tumour was actually 8.7cm. That evening I felt like I’d been given a death sentence,” said Lottie, from Leicestershire.

After doing lots of research, she discovered tumours from lobular cancer can often be very large which meant while 8.7cm was bigger than expected, it wasn’t necessarily the “death sentence” she initially thought.

It was at this point Lottie was told she would need six months of chemotherapy and could possibly lose her hair.

Rather than taking the risk of losing her hair further down the line, she got on the front foot and had it shaved off.

“I wanted to take control. I enjoyed trying different wigs and hair colours. My hair did continue to grow throughout, but I never regretted shaving it off,” she said.

Then came the day, December 5, 2017, the first day of chemotherapy.

“The first two rounds, I was really emotional. I was always the youngest in the room and people would be staring. They were probably thinking who had it out of me and my husband,” said Lottie.

Three months in and Lottie, went for a mid-chemo scan. Despite the oncologist being adamant the lump wouldn’t shrink; Lottie was convinced it felt different.

Results day came. The oncologist was almost crying. “It had shrunk, she didn’t know why, she didn’t know how,” said Lottie.

After a further three months of chemo, discussions then started about the next steps. The discovery of Lottie having the BRCA2 gene meant that she was much more susceptible to the cancer returning.

She was given various options, a wide local excision, a single mastectomy or a double mastectomy.

“I remember as clear as day, I just said to the oncologist ‘you’re taking them both off, both off at the same time’,” said Lottie.

On June 14, 2018, Lottie had both her breasts removed.

She then began a three-week course of radiotherapy, which went fairly smoothly.

For the first four to five months post-surgery, Lottie wouldn’t look or touch her scars and her husband, Tim, did all the aftercare.

“I was happy with my decision, I found it easy because I am very much all or nothing,

“If I’d just had the wide local excision, I would have always been questioning if it was gone, I couldn’t have lived with not having it done,” she said.

Her team at the hospital knew this, so one time they were draining her wounds, they said it had started bleeding and asked her to put her hand over it.

From that point onwards, she gradually began touching them more and more.

Then in February 2019, Lottie decided to have a full hysterectomy due to the risks of having the BRCA2 gene.

“So now I’m breastless, kid-less and in the menopause at 36,” she said.

As time went on, Lottie realised she had less control over her emotions than she initially thought.

“We call them Lottie meltdowns

“I have this overwhelming feeling of hurt. People presume I’ve got a family, now people wouldn’t even know I’d been ill,” she said.

Lottie’s problems all came to a head last June.

“I had a really bad one, I smashed something and gashed my arm. I needed six stitches, I had flesh hanging out,

“It made me realise, even though I felt suicidal, I didn’t actually want to die,” said Lottie.

Since this, Lottie has made a conscious effort to turn her life around by going to the gym and continuing her cold-water swimming, something which she had loved doing prior to her cancer journey.

“It made me realise it’s not all about the breasts, but I’ve got an ass too,” said Lottie.

In the last three years since her diagnosis, Lottie has even swum in the Arctic circle – something which most of us could only ever dream of doing.

“There is more to me than cancer and being breastless,” said Lottie, her strength shining through.

Revealed: the front runners in magazine cover prize showdown

These are the gorgeous glossies making a splash in the clash of the covers contest for journalism students at De Montfort University, Leicester.
Six striking designs have made the shortlist in the university’s annual cover prize competition, which is being judged this year by Joe Brewin, deputy editor of FourFourTwo, the world’s biggest football magazine.
Students on DMU’s Journalism degree create print and digital magazines in a final-year project which puts the writing and design skills they have gained during their studies to the test. Each year, the best covers go head to head for a cash prize.
The page-ones to watch in this year’s crop are:

MMXX, a defiantly upbeat magazine showcasing inspiring stories amid the gloom of lockdown, created by Khrista Davis, Mary De-Wind, Beatriz Ferreira, Luke Pawley and Rean Rehman.

Horizon, a contemporary lifestyle magazine telling tales of hope and trauma created by Maryia Lall, Claudia Montague, Temba Ncube, Sonia Raju and Millie Steptoe, which includes a powerful story of a survivor of so-called conversion therapy.


Escape, a socially-aware health and wellbeing magazine with a keen interest in environmental and mental health issues, created by Matthew Childs, Izzi Rix and Abbie Wilkinson, and featuring an in-depth report on women with endometriosis and their long struggles to get diagnosed.


Blood.Sweat.Tears, a modern sports magazine with a focus on football, wrestling, boxing, basketball and tennis, created by Samuel Gill, Adam Rear, Harry Shellard, Oliver Taylor and James Wynn.


Spotlight, an entertainment/culture magazine aimed at Gen Z and millennials created by Savannah Duncan, Samuel Hornsby, Salma Ouaguira Abir and Khadisha Thomas, which boasts an interview with the I May Destroy You star Weruche Opia.


Rivo, an arts and culture magazine created by Rhys Bailey, Victoria Kingsley, Isatou Ndure and Omar Qavi, featuring an in-depth interview with Sex Education star Rakhee Thakrar.

The winning magazine is due to be announced next month, with a £200 prize up for grabs. Journalism programme leader Brian Dodds said: “Each year, I’m struck by the impressively high standard of the magazines produced by our talented students at DMU and this is yet another very strong shortlist of contenders. Well done to them all.”

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Vote for your favourite cover

Dog groomer painting puppy portraits during lockdown in Braunstone

By Jessica Smith

A Leicestershire dog groomer has combined passion with art this lockdown, creating personalised key rings to sell alongside her business.

Sarah Streeter, 26, owns Boutique Blues, a successful dog groomer in Braunstone, Leicester, and has began combining a passion for painting with her love of being a groomer, creating personalised dog portraits on keyrings as a side income to her grooming company.

“Personalised paintings are a hobby I hope I can make work, but dog grooming is my passion,” said Essex-born Stacey, who made the move to Leicester two years ago.

“I’ve had a very busy lockdown, recently having a baby, a new puppy, my partner having a serious operation and starting two businesses. But all those things won’t stop you if you’re positive.”

Whilst lockdown delayed the opening of Stacey’s salon much longer than she had planned, so far she has only a tale of success to tell.

She told how: “I love painting and thought the key rings are something safe I can do and still keep making money, as I have a newborn and disabled husband to support.

“A lot of money had to go into making the salon safe for my family and clients. But one thing I’ve learnt is Covid should be everyone’s wakeup call – home is where you should be.”

Boutique Blues is open seven days a week, and appointments can be made via email, or phone, accessible on the Facebook page.