LESS than 12 months ago, eight East Lancashire women were at their lowest ebb — after cancer diagnosis and operations.

Now the ‘friends for life’ are committed to supporting the organisation which brought them together.

Kathryn Gallagher, Carol Allenger and Jan Taylor, plus Carol Wright from Bacup, Teresa Cole from Darwen, Sharon Musa from Blackburn, and Heather Bickford and Eileen Marsh from Helmshore, all met in cancer recovery support and therapy sessions as Rossendale Hospice.

Getting together each Wednesday, the women enjoyed massage, exercise and beauty treatments, eventually developing their friendships over lunch at the Rawtenstall centre.

Carol, from Bacup, said: “They used to put out four tables but it wasn't long before we were pushing them together.”

The safety of the hospice environment allowed the women — all diagnosed with breast cancer, except Carol who has an incurable form of bowel cancer — to open up about their fears.

Jan, from Haslingden, said: “We were able to talk freely, to empathise with one another, to laugh and to cry.

“When you are on your own, yes the feelings do come back of isolation and worry but you can ring one of the others and chat through it.”

Kathryn, from Whalley, added: “We were away from our families, who we didn't want to worry. It was a safe environment; whatever gets said in the hospice stays in the hospice.”

With three of the group's seven breast cancer cases being among women under the age of 50 — the age at which women are called for mammograms — the group is committed to increasing awareness of the disease. Kathryn, who found out she had cancer 'by accident' after a last minute mention during a visit to her GP for another matter, said: “You think of a hospice as giving end of life care but there are so many women here who were my age and younger.

We want to encourage women to check themselves and be checked. Everybody I talk to among my friends grabbed their breasts as I told them about cancer because they don't think about checking.”

And Jan added: “My daughter's only 25 but she would like to have a mammogram. A cancer diagnosis worries your family too.”

To pay back the hospice for bringing them together and getting them through the early days of the disease, the group has taken inspiration from Carol's Jamaican roots to host as Caribbean Spectacular on Saturday.

“We were talking over lunch and said 'they've done so much for us, why don't we do something back',” Carol said. “And I'd opened my big mouth about Caribbean food, sharing recipes with the others.”

Music for the party night, at the Poplar Social Club, Accrington, will come from Jan's DJ son Andy Taylor as well as Bacup and Rawtenstall Grammar School, with dancers from Dansworks in Bacup.

Carol will be cooking up jerk chicken, rice and peas, and rum punch will be the drink of the night.

Tickets for the party cost £5 from Carol on 01706 870406 or 07989 588802.