Having delayed getting a lump checked out because of being scared to visit hospital in lockdown, Sarah eventually received the diagnosis early last summer after the lump became so painful that she was having difficulty sleeping. Following her diagnosis, Sarah revealed that she then nearly died of sepsis and had to be put in a coma for two weeks that left her struggling to speak. And while she has since had a mastectomy and chemotherapy, at the weekend she revealed in an extract from her new book Hear Me Out in The Times, that doctors had told her in December that Christmas 2020 was likely to be her last. Her cancer has now spread to her spine and may well be in her brain, and Sarah is being cared for by her mother, Marie.
Here in an exclusive extract for GLAMOUR from her new book Hear Me Out, which is published on 18th March, not only does Sarah recount a bittersweet secret Girls Aloud reunion at Soho Farmhouse following her diagnosis, but Sarah’s former bandmate, Cheryl, also relays the impact her friend’s devastating news has had on her and the girls.
Hearing from all the girls again really lifted my spirits.
I was so happy when Peter (Loraine) suggested organising a couple of days away so that all of us could be together. I guess you could call it a Girls Aloud reunion. The plan was for us to go to Soho Farmhouse, which is a private members club and hotel on 100 acres of farmland near the Cotswolds – part of the Soho House Group. We knew it would be low-key and private there, and besides that, it was only two hours from my mum’s house, where I’d been living during my cancer treatment.
I did have my reservations and fears about the reunion get-together, though. It was going to be the first time we’d all seen one another in about eight years. That in itself was nerve-wracking enough, but the fact that I felt and looked the way I did made it worse. Going through cancer is bad enough, but the side effects of all the stuff that’s supposed to make you better can sometimes be as difficult to deal with as the disease itself. The steroids I’d been taking made me look bloated, and I’d lost my eyelashes due to the chemo. As the time for the reunion drew closer, I was picturing them all turning up looking fabulous and glamorous, while I looked … well, like I did. Not myself. Not my best. It’s not that I thought they wouldn’t understand or be judgemental, of course; it’s just that when we were together as a group, part of our thing was the glamour. As a band, we all had our own styles and looks, but there was a sexiness and glamorousness about Girls Aloud that I just wasn’t able to rise to then. Still, I wasn’t going to let that stop me, so a few days before the trip I went shopping to get some new outfits. A friend of mine has a boutique near Mum’s place, and she was happy to help me out, finding some new gear.
On the day, I arrived at Soho Farmhouse just as Nicola, Nadine and Kimberley pulled up, so actually, the reunion moment was mainly in the car park. We all stayed in the same big house, and we had the most amazing Japanese dinner delivered in from Pen Yen, which is one of the beautiful restaurants within the farm.
By then, I’d loosened up and started to enjoy myself. There was much reminiscing. We decided to watch all the episodes of Girls Aloud: Off the Record, which was the documentary-style behind-the-scenes TV show we’d made for E4 in 2006.
We were all so different then; there was a sort of sweet naivety about us. I remember Cheryl in particular almost watching her old self through fingers over her eyes, mortified at some of her comments and antics. There was a difference in how the girls were then to the sophisticated women they’d since become.
Nadine was particularly funny during the watching of the show. ‘I’ve never seen this,’ she said. ‘I don’t remember doing any of this.’
Watching Off the Record provoked lots of laughing and even more cringing, but I have to say, I looked on fondly. ‘You only miss this when it’s gone,’ I told the girls.
The news of Sarah’s illness hit me so hard. Since that day, she’s been on my brain every waking hour – so much so that I feel like I want to be with her. Of course, that’s not possible. Sometimes, she and I FaceTime, she sounds strong, and we can chat away happily for hours. Other times she’s just wiped out. I suppose that’s the nature of it; it seems so unpredictable. Initially, I felt helpless. I struggled to find the right words to say when I spoke to her, and I didn’t know what to do or how to be.
Now I just want to be there for her in any way I can. She might want to cry or rant or even have a laugh, but wherever it is, just be there.
To hear her talk about what might have been in her life, and what should have been, destroys me. It’s broken me now, just thinking about it.
I don’t want Sarah to have regrets, and I don’t want her kicking herself for things she’s done in the past. This illness would have happened to her regardless of how she chose to live her life. It is not, as some might suggest, a result of the person she is or has been. It’s just one of those awful things that life deals a person sometimes. That’s it.
When we all got together at Soho Farmhouse, there were no tears. Actually, that’s not entirely true; there were tears, but they were from laughter rather than sadness. It was a lovely trip away for us all, and Sarah was at her best. She’s always been funny and sharp-witted, but somehow, in all this, she’s even funnier. God knows how!
HEAR ME OUT by Sarah Harding is published on 18 March (Ebury Press, £20 hardback plus ebook and audio)