Michele France was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1997.
Thankfully, 21 years later – after a recurrence, a mastectomy, reconstructive surgery that left her in intensive care and countless other treatments – she is still here.
The 60-year-old Sheffield Hallam University caterer puts that down entirely to the ‘fabulous’ National Health Service.
“I can’t praise them enough for what they did for me - they treated me like a human being not just someone who had cancer,” she says.
“It has now been 21 years and that is what they have given me – 21 years. I would never have known my grandkids.”
When she was first diagnosed, Michele says she had recently started going to the gym and thought she had pulled a muscle.
They treated me like a human being not just someone who had cancer.Michele France
The doctor who gave her that devastating news, Malcolm Reed, has since become a great friend.
“When he told me I had cancer he put his hand on me – that bonded us something special,” she said.
“It is not all about medical stuff – it is about how your doctor treats you.
“You can be the brainiest person in the world but if you haven’t got that human touch and that interaction with your patients you might as well stop in your office and let someone else do it.”
Such was their bond that when Michele was awarded a British Empire Medal five years ago for services to charity work, Dr Reed came to the university to give a speech.
Since recovering from her illness, Michele has devoted herself to helping those who helped her. Along with her sister-in-law Barbara, she has now raised getting on for £90,000 for breast cancer research.
The now legendary fancy dress balls are in their 18th year and have grown so big they recently moved to Sheffield’s cavernous O2 Arena.
The money raised is used in part to fund scholarships for students at the Hallamshire.
The students who win the France scholarship as it is fittingly called always say ‘thank you’ to her as if she has given the money.
“You feel humbled but you don’t do it for that,” says Michele.
“You do it because you hope that women in the future will not have to go through what I went through.”
As well as the scholarship, Michele also gives talks to students at the hospital about her experience of cancer.
She originally thought the sessions would be with small groups of students but it ended up being a lecture theatre full.
Nevertheless, she has now done it four times.
Asked why she still does all this, she says she just wants to ‘give something back’ to the people who saved her life.
“You see what it is like in America where they have to pay,” she says.
“It saddens me to think what it would be like if we were to lose it.”