Samantha Womack said she would have delayed her own cancer treatment to strike with NHS doctors and nurses “fighting” for better pay because they “shouldn’t be eating from food banks”.
The 50-year-old actress described herself as a “huge advocate” and “very passionate” about the NHS, having announced last year that she had been diagnosed with “brutal” breast cancer.
She told the PA news agency: “I am so aware that often they get used as scapegoats for getting things wrong, when in fact, this is one of the best gifts that we have in this country.
“But when you’ve got the people who are working as hard as they are doing the hours they are, not being supported, even if it would have delayed my own personal treatment, I would have been out there fighting with them, because I’m absolutely desperate for them to be paid properly and appropriately for what they do.
“They certainly shouldn’t be eating from food banks.”
Womack recently announced that she had overcome breast cancer five months after revealing her diagnosis last August, following the death of Grease star Dame Olivia Newton-John from the disease.
Speaking of her relationship with Dame Olivia, she told PA: “We weren’t close, we only spent one evening together but it was just quite poignant that when we met and had a pretty magical evening she had just been recently diagnosed.
“It was very poignant for me when I got my diagnosis that she had lost her battle and they happened within the same timeframe.
“So it just felt quite moving and that made me want to share the story because I thought everyone knows someone that’s got cancer, and I just suddenly felt the need to share it.”
Womack is now supporting a campaign for more women to be able to access AI breast cancer diagnostic tool Digistain to help people understand their cancer and the treatment that will benefit them, reducing the need for “over-prescribed and expensive” chemotherapy.
She told PA: “I was really anxious to not have chemotherapy if I didn’t need it because chemotherapy as we are understanding is very essential in some cases, but it can be a brutal treatment, because it kills not just the cancer cells, but other cells as well.
“I actually at that time didn’t know about Digistain, I knew that there was a test called the Oncotype test, which is very similar….(but) it’s incredibly expensive so it’s just not available to most people.”
Womack said the test gives a ratio of how beneficial chemotherapy would be and she was “on the fence” so had two rounds before making the decision to stop.
“I thought I’d try it, I’ll do a couple, and for me personally, it was a real quick understanding of how strong that medication is,” she said.
“Lots of side effects immediately and so after two (rounds), because I didn’t need it so much and mine was as a prevention, I had the information I needed which enabled me to stop.
“I’m really pleased about that because I’m still having side effects from that treatment and if I hadn’t needed it at all, that would have been a bitter pill to swallow.”
Womack, who played Ronnie Mitchell on BBC soap opera EastEnders until 2017, also spoke about her perspective on life after being given the all-clear.
She said: “You immediately focus on the diagnosis, the treatment, and then once that’s gone, and you’re not really prepared, that’s really when the big changes happen.
“What you’re having to understand is that you’ve been confronted with death, possibly, and you have to understand what that’s meant to you, and how that has changed your perspective not just on your life, but actually, it’s more profound than that.
“It’s apparent in every little thing that you think. It’s a bit like learning to think and speak in a different language and it’s quite exhausting, because you’re not quite the same person that you were so everything is just slightly shaded in a different colour.”
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