At last… a welcome for my cancer: One woman’s journey to find a spa that would admit her despite industry wide health fear MYTHS

Last year I became someone that terrifies the beauty industry. No longer could I book a spa appointment for a facial or massage without the likely possibility I’d be turned away at the door, left utterly humiliated.

My best medicine has always been a day of pampering.

Until, that is, December 2016, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer and my body suddenly became unworthy.

My best medicine has always been a day of pampering. Until, that is, December 2016, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer and my body suddenly became unworthy (Rudding Park Spa)

Before my illness, I’d breeze through the obligatory pre-treatment questionnaire and tick the ‘No’ box that asked about medications or a history of cancer.

Now I, along with two million other Britons, must answer Yes. And that – according to beauty therapist organisation TPOT – makes me unwelcome in 70 per cent of UK spas.

The myth that massage can spread cancer cells or flush essential medications from the body is nonsensical.

Even oncology centres such as St Bartholomew’s in London offer complimentary massage therapies from specially trained staff. Fortunately, I recently moved to Yorkshire and found a luxury retreat in Harrogate that welcomes cancer patients.


I was diagnosed with stage one, oestrogen- receptive breast cancer after a mammogram. The tumour – less than 1cm – was removed along with two lymph nodes under my right arm. I didn’t need chemotherapy as it hadn’t yet spread, but had three weeks of radiotherapy to kill off any stray cells. I now have annual mammograms and take Tamoxifen to block oestrogen from encouraging the growth of breast cancer cells. The emotional scars have been the toughest to bear, so taking regular time out for myself has become increasingly important.


SET IN 300 acres of Yorkshire countryside is Rudding Park, named Best New Spa in the UK by the Good Spa Guide 2017. There are indoor and outdoor heated pools, a rooftop Jacuzzi, foot spas, steam and sauna rooms. Restaurant food is inspired by a kitchen garden.


Jennifer Young is a microbiologist and nutritional therapist who in 2009 created Defiant Beauty, a skincare range for those with cancer. She worked with chemo nurses for two years to develop products.

She says: ‘I get cross when I hear people are turned away from spas because they’ve had cancer. It’s a time when maintaining a sense of normality is so important.’

Ingredients in Defiant Beauty products are kept to a minimum, with oils such as evening primrose avoided in order to escape the potentially harmful effect of plant oestrogen.

I opted for a 50-minute Blissful Facial (£80), using products from the Beyond Beauty range, and a manicure (£50) designed for nails damaged by chemo and radiotherapy. Massages and pedicures are also available.

Speak to one of the spa’s six specialists about your stage of cancer care before booking.

I left relaxed, rejuvenated and hopeful that more UK spas may learn from Jennifer’s approach so that therapists needn’t be scared of me any more. 

  • Spa breaks from £185 per person, Jennifer Young treatments from £50. Visit for Jennifer’s products.


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