Authors Posts by Helen O'Brien

Helen O'Brien


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Amy sold her story to Thats Life!
Amy sold her story to Thats Life!
I wanted to look good at a wedding, but my crash diet came with a devastating cost…
By Amy Laidlaw, 34, living in Malaga, Spain

As a stranger wrapped swathes of pink satin around my hips, I squirmed with discomfort.

“Don’t you like the dress, Amy?” Lourdes, my step-brother Dany’s wife-to-be asked.

I had been over the moon when they asked me to be their bridesmaid, just a few weeks before.

But now the reality had hit me. I would be standing there in front of a room of strangers, in a stupid dress I really hated.

All eyes would be on me. At 14 it was my worst nightmare. I just wanted to disappear.


“It’s okay,” I grimaced, turning a brave twirl.

Amy as bridesmaid
Amy as bridesmaid

I hadn’t felt comfortable in my body since puberty. I’d been wearing a bra since the age of 11, and my first period came just a few months later.

None of my friends were as developed as me, so I felt like an outsider.

When my breasts first started growing, I even resorted wearing a tight belt strapped around my chest to try to flatten them down.

And now, I’d be posing in a silky, curve hugging dress with every lump and bump showing.

It was too much to bear.

“Mum, I want to start a diet,” I announced one evening at home.

“Really Amy? I don’t think you need to,” my mum, Susanne, replied.


At 9st 12lbs, I wasn’t exactly fat for my 5ft 6in frame. I could only see my flaws though.

“I just want to look my best for the wedding,” I explained.

After a bit of persistence, I persuaded my mum that it would be good for the whole family to adopt a healthier lifestyle in the run up to the big day.

So she stocked up the cupboards with weight loss shakes instead of our favourite unhealthy snacks.

It wasn’t long before my mum and step-dad had given up on our grand diet plans though.

I was the only one sticking to the shakes.

Over the next few weeks I relished my jeans fitting just a little bit looser.

As I ran my hand over my belly, I was sure my tummy was getting flatter and flatter too. It felt great.


But when I remembered the upcoming wedding, and that hideous pink dress, my smile faded.

What if I look awful and let everyone down? I thought.

With just weeks to go, it was time to step up my weight loss.

That’s when I found an old diet book of my mum’s from the 1980s, just lying around on a bookshelf at home.

It became my bible. I devoured the tips about filling up on high fibre food to stave off hunger.

The author had recommended porridge, so I decided to cut out my normal meals and fill up on oats instead.

I didn’t see it as a crash diet. I told myself it was a healthier way of living.

By the day of the wedding, my plan had worked. I’d lost two stone and I finally felt ready to slip into that awful dress.

“You look beautiful, Amy,” my mum said, brushing my long blonde hair down my back.

I blushed. I still didn’t feel beautiful, but at least I was slimmer.

But that day, the compliments kept coming and I kept brushing them off.

I don’t deserve that, a little voice nagged away in my head whenever a guest said something nice.

So, after the wedding I decided to carry on with my diet. Just a few more pounds off wouldn’t hurt.

Soon I was counting calories, never exceeding the 1,500 recommended in mum’s old diet book.

And if I felt hungry, I’d swig down some diet coke to fill myself up.


I felt great, but my mum was worried.

“You need to stop losing weight, it’s going too far,” she said one day. “You’re disappearing in front of me.”

Amy very thin
Amy very thin

“Perhaps you’re right. I promise I’ll stop,” I replied.

I knew I wasn’t going to stop though, and in secret I carried on cutting out calories wherever I could.  

And every single day I’d don my leggings and headband to follow along with a Jane Fonda high energy aerobics VHS tape. Every single calorie counted.

It was an obsession, I even did the workout on the day of my grandad’s funeral while the rest of the family were at the pub down the road for the wake.

I didn’t like upsetting my mum, but I was hooked on the buzz of seeing the pounds carry on dropping from my skinny frame.


The scales sank lower, and soon I was a tiny 6st 10lbs.

Somehow, I got through the next few years, and qualified to study for a psychology degree at the Southampton Solent university.

I told myself this was my chance to focus on my future, instead of losing weight. But, with the stress of exams and assignments, the pressure became too much.

I developed bulimia as a release when things got on top of me. In the end, I was forced to admit defeat. I was physically too weak to drag myself into class.

So, I dropped out of university, and packed up for Spain where my mum was living. I got an office job and, under the watchful eye of my mother, I settled down.

For the first time in years I was taking care of myself, eating regular meals and socialising instead of exercising obsessively.

I even fell in love, but when that relationship ended and my father died I was plunged back into a deeper depression than ever before.



Soon I was back to my self-destructive old ways, surviving on diet coke and tiny portions of low fat foods. My weight plummeted to just 4st 3lbs.

Amy thin
Amy thin

My mum became my carer, pushing me to go to the doctors for anti-depressants when I felt too low to see the point in getting help.

A lot of the time I couldn’t get out because I didn’t have the strength to climb the slope onto the street in Mijas, the village where we lived.

I was on so much medication that I was like a zombie. But still, I couldn’t force myself to eat.

In desperation, I even contacted the Swiss assisted suicide clinic Dignitas after several attempts to take an overdose at home failed.

They couldn’t help me though, as I didn’t have a terminal illness.

My mum was horrified when I confessed that I was so determined to end my life.


“I don’t want to be a burden on you, Mum,” I sobbed.

“I’m not going to help you kill yourself, I want you to get better,” she replied.

“I can’t though,” I said. “I’ll never get better.” I had completely given up on myself.

My mum refused to give up on me though. She started making plans to help me, deciding that doctors back in England would have the right expertise.

In June 2009 I was taken to a psychiatrist, to assess my mental state.

“We’ll be sectioning you under the Mental Health Act,” he said.

I was sent to Woodhaven Hospital, a mental health unit near Southampton. But there I was so frail that my pelvis cracked, just through everyday wear and wear.

For the next six months I recovered from the break in Southampton General Hospital and a specialist bone unit in Oxford.

I had surgery on my pelvis to secure it with a metal plate, but the break became infected. I was pumped with drugs but, too weak to fight the infection, I was in danger of losing my life.

Doctors even discussed amputating my leg. In my depressed state, I couldn’t bring myself to care.

When I was well enough, in May 2010 I was transferred to the Capio Nightingale Hospital in London for specialist anorexia treatment.

I was weighed on admission, tipping the scales at just 4st 11lbs.

Amy thin
Amy thin

So immediately, I was put on a strict diet of six meals a day, crammed with thousands of calories.

Carbonara, four cheese pizzas, and creamy desserts were regularly on the menu.


We were given half an hour to finish the meal, and there were always nurses on hand to make sure we finished every last mouthful.

At first I tried to refuse, instead just pushing the food around my plate.

“I didn’t ask for this food,” I’d insist, panic rising in my stomach as I realised I’d have to consume the whole lot.

“You need it to get better,” the nurses would say, pushing the plate back towards me.

But I soon realised that resistance was useless. I would never be allowed to go home, unless I played by the rules.

When I wasn’t eating, I was pushed in a wheelchair between eight hours of therapy classes every day. I wasn’t even allowed to walk, to allow my body to savour every single calorie I ate.

And, bit by bit, the treatment began to work.


The dark fog of depression gradually faded, and I began to imagine that I could have a future.

For the first time I allowed myself to daydream. I drifted away to relaxing in the sunshine back in Spain, I imagined falling in love again, and most of all I looked forward to being reunited with my mum.

That gave me the motivation I needed to fight against anorexia, instead of letting the disease rule me.

After ten months I was released from the Capio Nightingale, and sessions at a day patient unit helped me to prepare for a normal life again.

In group therapy we were encouraged to relax around food, and eat in a regular routine.

We would even go through restaurant menus, imagining what we would pick if we were ever invited out for dinner.

I managed to maintain my target weight of 8st 5lbs, putting me in the healthy BMI bracket for my height.

And eventually, I was released from the mental health section and allowed to fly back to Spain with my mum.

Now, I’ve managed to keep the weight on, and I’m determined to never fall into the trap of anorexia again.

For the first time as an adult, I’m happy and healthy.

Amy - healthier weight
Amy – healthier weight

The eating disorder left me with osteoporosis and a metal plate in my hip, but thankfully that’s the only physical reminder of my years of torment.

My periods have even come back, so it’s possible I’ll be able to have a child one day too.

I look back on those 15 years of anorexic hell with horror. I can’t believe I wasted so much of my life just so I could be a slim bridesmaid.

Amy decided to share her story to warn other young women about the dangers of eating disorders. We helped her sell her story to That’s Life! magazine, reaching a wide audience. If you have a health story you’d like to tell, why not fill in the details on the form on the right and we’ll be in touch to explain how it works.

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Sarah on night out
Sarah on night out
When I hailed a taxi after a night out I had no idea of the horror that lay in store…
By Sarah Thompson, 21, from Northamptonshire

Like most young girls in their early twenties, Sarah Thompson had been warned of the dangers of walking home in the dead of night.

So when she jumped into a taxi after a birthday party, the 21-year-old knew she would be transported to safety.

Except she wasn’t.

Instead, Sarah was driven to a secluded road and sexually attacked in the passenger seat of the car.

The carer from Northamptonshire says: “It just didn’t occur to me that a bogus taxi driver would be out on the prowl that night – nor that I would be his victim.

“Whenever you get into a taxi, there is an element of trust there – one that most people take for granted.


“I heard the same sorts of warnings about getting into licensed taxis, but you don’t really take it in when you are a teenager.

“You never really think that something like this is going to happen to you, but it has to me.

“I want to get the message across that it’s just not worth it for the sake of a night out.’

Sarah and a group of close friends had been partying in Birmingham’s city centre in March 2013 when she decided to call it a night in the small hours of the morning.

Sarah on a night out
Sarah on a night out

She explains: “I was working the next day and I’d had quite a lot to drink so I left the girls in the club and headed outside in search for a taxi.

“I wanted a proper night’s sleep ahead of my shift. I didn’t want to have to call in sick.”

Sarah stumbled out of the Gatecrasher club on Broad Street and clambered into the passenger seat of a vehicle parked in the taxi bay.

She told the driver to take her to the Quality Hotel – the group’s accommodation for the weekend – and the driver started up the engine.


Sarah says: “I didn’t know the city well so didn’t notice that the driver had set off in the opposite direction of our hotel.

“I didn’t even realise anything was wrong when he pulled over at the side of the road – until he leant over the passenger seat and started kissing me aggressively.”

Panic-stricken, Sarah kept as still as she could, willing him to change his mind and stop.

She adds: “I froze with fear. I was terrified that if I fought back he might kill me.

Shakeel Ahmed
Shakeel Ahmed

“I closed my eyes but could feel the driver’s heavy weight pinning me to the seat.

“I blacked out at that point but when I came round, he was still on top of me.”

After the horrifying attack, the driver climbed off Sarah and unlocked the car doors. Seizing her chance to escape, she fled barefoot, not even stopping to put on her shoes she’d left in the cab.

Sarah says: “I didn’t know what he’d done to me, I just knew I needed to get out of the car – fast.

“I opened the door and ran for my life, screaming and crying. I could barely see for the tears.

“A taxi slowed down beside me but I thought my attacker had reappeared to finish the job and carried on running.”

In fact the cab belonged to a legitimate driver, who on seeing the young woman in distress, sent his two female passengers out to investigate.

The concerned girls alerted police after catching up with Sarah, who was inconsolable.

She says: “I was so hysterical I couldn’t get any words out.

“The girls had no idea what had happened to me, all they knew was that something dreadful had occurred.

“I was taken to the nearby Mailbox shopping centre where we awaited for the authorities to arrive.

“Paramedics also showed up, but on seeing that I didn’t need hospital treatment, the police drove me to the station for an interview and examination.”

Sarah’s mum Mags, 46, was contacted and she arrived in the early hours of the morning to comfort her traumatised daughter.

Sarah says: “As soon as Mum hugged me, I burst into tears.

“While the police officers tried to piece together the night’s events I went to the bathroom.

“I felt sore and tender. I had no idea what he’d done to me.

“By the morning, I’d been swabbed and examined and my clothes taken away for evidence.

“It all felt surreal, calling to cancel my work shift.


“I just wanted the nightmare to be over and for my life to return to what it was before.”

Back home, Sarah tried her best to carry on as normal, but it was hard to escape the shadow of her nightmare night out.

She says: “Gradually, though, the horror of the incident hit me.

“Initially, I was angry at myself for being a bit drunk. Then I realised, tipsy or not, I didn’t deserve what had happened.”

Police were eventually able to identify the sexual predator from DNA found on her clothing and tracked him down using CCTV footage.

Security cameras captured Ahmed prowling Broad Street in his car throughout the early hours.

The phoney cabbie, Shakeel Ahmed, 31, was arrested in April 2013.

Sarah says: “I was advised to attend a sexual health clinic where a pregnancy test came back negative but I faced an agonising wait to find out if I had contracted an STD.


“When they told me he was a drug user I was beside myself with worry that I might be HIV positive.”

Sarah breathed a huge sigh of relief when her HIV test eventually came back negative. But she still had a trial to face.

She says: “As if I hadn’t been through enough.

“I gave evidence from behind a screen and it was awful having to relive it all. It was horrible hearing how he had set out to find a victim that night.

“I’d always wondered why I had sat in the passenger’s seat that night but police are convinced he locked the backdoors so I had no choice.”

Following an eight-day trial in December 2013, Sarah’s sick attacker was jailed for five years for sexual assault by penetration. He was also ordered to sign the sex offenders register for life.

Detective Constable Sarah Little, from the force public protection unit, said: “Sarah’s life has completely changed since this horrific attack took place.

“Many of these offences are committed by people falsely purporting to be taxi drivers. They are sexual predators and it can be easy pickings for them because there are females of all ages, often intoxicated and occasionally alone.”

Although the sentence has provided some sort of closure for Sarah, she still struggles to grasp what happened to her.

Sarah sold her story to a newspaper and magazine
Sarah sold her story to a newspaper and magazine

She says: “I had too much to drink and because we’d not booked a taxi back to our hotel I found myself on the street looking for a lift.

“In hindsight I shouldn’t have left the club alone and should have made plans to get back to the hotel safely.

“Girls are going to want to party and have a drink – but I’d urge them to book taxis in advance and never get into an unlicensed vehicle. I don’t want anyone else to go through what I did.”

Sarah has been so affected by the assault her nights out haven’t been the same since.

She takes her car everywhere and will ferry her friends home at the end of the evening.


Sarah says: “I have panic attacks and struggle with physical contact.

“I haven’t been drunk since the terrifying attack and I won’t even let my friends get in taxis alone.

“Now, I’m always the designated driver on nights out – I always take my car to parties.

“Out of all the ‘taxis’ to get into that night, I can’t believe I was unlucky enough to pick that one. I just assumed I’d be fine because it was parked in the correct bay.

She adds: “I’m speaking out to warn others – never get in an unlicensed cab. It simply isn’t worth the risk.”

After Sarah’s harrowing ordeal she bravely decided to speak out to warn other women of hailing unlicensed taxis. The team here at Sell My Story helped negotiate deals for Sarah with both Pick Me Up magazine and The Sun newspaper, reaching a wide range of women. If you have a crime story you would like to share, fill in the form on the right and we’ll call you for a gentle, confidential chat to explain the process.

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Jane sold her story to Take a Break
Jane sold her story to Take a Break


I couldn’t wait to meet Danny for the first time at the airport. But what would he think of my excess baggage?
By Jane Davidson, 32, Billericay, Essex

As I logged into Facebook I felt a familiar thrill of excitement as I noticed the red icon in the top right-hand corner of my screen.

1 message from Danny.

I beamed as I clicked into it and began reading his cheeky chat. I’d come to look forward to our virtual banter and I couldn’t help but wonder… was he flirting with me?

I’d become Facebook friends with Danny through his sister, Kelly, who I knew well. We quickly got chatting about travel, work and music but because I was living in Cyprus we couldn’t meet in person.


I’d moved out to Cyprus when my mum, Jo, and sister, Sarah, emigrated there. I loved being close to my family but when Mum died in 2010 after a battle with lung cancer, I was devastated.

Lost in grief, I turned to food for comfort. I’d always been a yo-yo dieter but had never ballooned any bigger than 12 stone.

Jane before her weight loss
Jane before her weight loss

But now, I didn’t hold back. Desperate to fill the gaping hole that my lovely mum had left, I ate anything I could get my hands on.

I’d gorge on sandwiches or big portions of pie and chips. And I’d have a takeaway at least five times a week, treating myself to a greasy kebab.

On my own, I didn’t bother cooking healthy meals for myself and a couple of years later, by 2012, I’d eaten my way to 20 stone and a hulking dress size 24.

‘You look gorgeous,’ Danny typed. ‘I’ll have to come over to Cyprus for a holiday – and to see you.’

I felt my cheeks flush red with excitement. True, all the photos on my Facebook profile were older snaps, taken when I was much thinner. But I was hardly going to post unflattering pictures.


Besides, Danny and I had a great laugh during our Facebook and Skype chats. We shared a special connection, I knew it wouldn’t matter.

I typed back: ‘I’m planning on coming back to the UK but I’m stopping off in Barcelona on the way, to catch up with friends.’

Danny’s reply was almost instant. ‘What dates are you going? I’ll fly to Barcelona instead. I really want to see you.’

After that, we excitedly began planning our long weekend in the Spanish city. My friends pulled out of the trip at the last minute, so it was just going to be me and Danny.

I could barely contain my excitement. I told him: ‘I’ve booked us into the same room… but it’s a twin room!’

I didn’t want to seem too forward but deep down, I didn’t expect us to be in separate beds for long. I thought the date would go brilliantly and fully expected thing to heat up in the sizzling Spanish sun.

Danny said: ‘I’ve hired a car. I’ll be there at the airport waiting for you when your flight gets in.’


I excitedly picked out a pretty white, summer maxi dress to wear when we first met. As I smoothed the floaty folds of fabric over my size 24 curves, I felt pretty.

I wanted to make a good impression.

Danny in Barcelona
Danny in Barcelona

I spotted Danny as soon as I came into arrivals at Barcelona. Over six foot tall and chunky, he was all man. Gorgeous.

‘Hi there,’ I flashed him an excited grin. I watched in horror as Danny met my gaze and his face fell in shock.

He tried his best, but there was no disguising his disappointment. He obviously didn’t fancy me in the flesh – my considerable folds of flesh.

‘Oh… hello,’ he stuttered, before turning away. ‘Let’s get to the car shall we?’

As I waddled behind him, dragging my case through the airport, I wanted the ground to swallow me up.

Danny didn’t fancy me. It was mortifying. This is going to be an awkward four days, I thought, as I heaved my case into the boot of Danny’s hire car.

Our date in one of the most romantic cities in the world was excruciating. We still managed to have a laugh and had a few nice chats but Danny and I spent the whole time awkwardly avoiding the huge elephant in the room… me.

My cousin, Becky, agreed to pick the pair of us up as our plane landed back in the UK.

Danny said: ‘I’ll, er, give you a ring then,’ as we dropped him off at his. Not even a goodbye kiss.

As we pulled away Becky turned to me and grinned: ‘Come on then, spill – how did it go?’

I grimaced. ‘Oh Becky, it wasn’t good. We had a few nice chats but it was like I was one of the lads. The fact is, he just doesn’t fancy me.’

Danny couldn’t get out of the car fast enough and we certainly didn’t arrange a second date.


I was mortified and a couple of weeks later, I found out through Kelly and Facebook that Danny was seeing someone else. That was it. My humiliation was complete.

I was devastated… but determined. Danny’s rejection was the jolt I needed to change my life and just a couple of months later, in October 2012, I booked myself in for a gastric sleeve operation in a clinic in Prague.

I’d inherited a bit of money after Mum died and I knew she’d have wanted me to use it for something for myself – and my health.

Jane after her op
Jane after her op

I booked the surgery on a Friday and flew out the following Monday. I didn’t even tell anyone I was going and a week later, I was home.

I felt awful for the first couple of weeks. I couldn’t keep anything down and didn’t have the energy to get out of bed.

But as my body adjusted to the sleeve, I watched with delight as the weight started to fall away. Within three months, the change was unbelievable. The op had been worth every penny.

Eight months later, in July 2013, Kelly gave me a call. She said: ‘Why don’t you come over for a catch up?’


I’d kept in touch with Kelly and her family despite what had happened – although I hadn’t seen Danny since our disastrous date.

‘The weather’s great, we’ll fire up the barbecue,’ Kelly went on.

It sounded good, so I slipped my new 10 stone frame into a pair of skinny jeans and a strappy top and headed over to her place.

‘So how have you been? You look amazing,’ Kelly said, admiring my slinky size 14 outfit.

I stretched out in the sunshine and was about to reply, when… Danny walked in. Kelly hadn’t said he would be here.

As he clocked me, his jaw nearly hit the floor, but this time, it was for all the right reasons.

He exclaimed: ‘Oh my God, Jane! You look so… different.’ I’d lost ten stone, I was literally half the woman he’d met that weekend in Barcelona.


I felt a feeling of smugness creep over me.

‘We should meet up some time,’ Danny said as we got chatting over the hotdogs and burgers. ‘Go for a drink or something.’

But I was still smarting from being stung in Spain. ‘Yeah maybe,’ I replied vaguely, refusing to commit to any definite plans.

Besides, I had another date lined up with a guy who lived in Loughborough. Danny had his chance and he blew it.

But the date turned out to be a disaster and I found myself thinking of Danny. I pulled out my mobile and sent him a quick text.

Jane and Danny now
Jane and Danny now

‘I’m coming to get you,’ he typed back. ‘I’m getting in the car now.’


Danny drove all the way up to Loughborough from Brentwood in Essex to pick me up. Maybe he does really like me, after all, I thought as I got into his car and he whisked me home.

We didn’t waste any time after that and quickly, our relationship became serious. Just a month later, on New Year’s Eve 2013, Danny proposed and in November last year I had our first baby, Dan Edward.

I’m still trying to shift the baby weight but I know now that Danny loves me whatever my size. Still, I’ll never forget that excruciating Barcelona blind date!

Danny, 40, says: “I was expecting Jane to be attractive and I was very surprised to see how big she was when she turned up in Barcelona. I couldn’t hide it. I’m a terrible liar. When I saw her the second time I was stunned. She looked so different but she was the same girl inside and we’d got on so well.”

Jane was mortified when Danny ditched her – and her excess baggage. So when she lost 10 stone to win back her man, she decided to share her happy story with the readers of Take a Break. We helped Jane reach a wide readership – Take a Break is the biggest selling magazine in the UK – and also get the best price. If you have a relationship story you’d like to tell, complete the form on the right and we’ll call you for a no-obligation chat.


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Jackie sold her story to Woman
Jackie sold her story to Woman


When I posted a no make-up selfie online to raise awareness of breast cancer, I had no idea it would be the most important picture I would ever take…
By Jackie Nicholas, 35, from Derby

I lowered myself into the hot water and sighed in contentment. Every night I looked forward to my evening bubble bath at the end of a hard day at my job as a business studies lecturer. As I plonked myself down, I grabbed my phone to have a browse through Facebook.

My news feed was full of make-up free faces, all in aid of breast cancer charities. I smiled as I realised my friend Nicola had nominated me – it was the perfect time to take a shot as my face was completely bare.

I jumped out the bath and quickly put on my dressing gown, before taking the snap and uploading it. I commented on my own selfie, reminding my friends to check their boobs, then I scrolled through the comments on the other pictures and noticed that one woman had posted a link to a video which gave instructions on how to check your breasts properly.

Jackies no makeup selfie
Jackies no makeup selfie

Curious, I clicked into the link and followed the advice. Seeing as I was in the bath, I decided to check myself there and then, but when I ran my hand over my left breast, I froze in horror. I felt a pea-sized lump which hadn’t been there before.

I pushed it to the back of my mind. Naively, I thought I was far too young to have cancer – so I assumed the lump would go on its own accord. I even managed to convince myself that I imagined the whole thing, and got on with my busy lifestyle, until a few weeks later when I noticed it had become more prominent and the surrounding skin started dimpling.

My husband Tom, 31, and I had booked a holiday to Paris, and I swallowed my worry over the lump and told myself I would get it checked out on my return.

But one night, I couldn’t stop obsessing about it, and asked Tom to check if he could feel anything.

‘I can’t feel anything at all,’ he said, looking concerned. ‘But if you can feel a lump you need to get it seen to Jackie.’

I took his advice and went to my doctor when we got home.

‘We’ll need to run some tests,’ said my GP. ‘We’ll let you know the results in a couple of weeks.’

In May 2014 I was referred to the breast unit at the local hospital. My eyes widened as I saw the number of women sitting waiting to be seen. Some of them looked a similar age to me – some of them were even younger. I had always thought that breast cancer only affected women aged 45 and above.

An hour later, the consultant delivered a devastating bombshell.


‘I’m sorry Mrs Nicholas, but there is no doubt you have a tumour. You have grade two breast cancer,’ he said. ‘We’ll need to start your treatment straight away.’

Nothing could have ever prepared me for hearing those words. Tom squeezed my hand tightly as I drew in a sharp breath.

‘What are the chances of me dying?’ I blurted out. Suddenly, my life felt completely out of my control.

‘Your chances will be greatly improved if you have a mastectomy straight away.’ he said.

I nodded. ‘I’ll do whatever needs to be done,’

A month later, in June 2014, my left breast was removed and the month after that all my lymph nodes were also taken away to prevent the cancer from spreading.

After that, I’d need six cycles of intense chemotherapy, which I started in September 2014.

mastectomy selfie
mastectomy selfie

‘We can get through this together,’ Tom said. I was so grateful that he was by my side.

I was devastated but determined to get through the chemotherapy and beat the cancer. That’s when I had a thought – I would tackle my illness in exactly the way it had been diagnosed – with selfies.

Every time I went to hospital, I took a snap of me in my hospital bed. And as I started losing my hair, I uploaded pictures of my bald head and proudly modelled headscarves and wigs.

I had never been one for taking selfies before, but now I was taking them all the time. I wanted to document my fight in a way I knew people would take notice of.

Soon, I started receiving all sorts of supportive comments. Some people commented about how brave I was being, or wished me luck during my cancer battle.

Others simply said that despite all the treatment I was still beautiful. I was delighted – not only at the kind remarks, but at the fact that I was raising some very important awareness.

It spurred me on, and I uploaded even more ‘survivor selfies’ during my treatment. I even took pics of myself having chemotherapy. In each picture I smiled, despite feeling tired and sick.


I had my last gruelling session in December and it was the best Christmas present I could have hoped for.

Now, I’m in remission and on the road to recovery. I’ll need to take anti-cancer drugs for the next five years and I plan to have reconstructive surgery to rebuild my breast.

chemo selfie
chemo selfie

Tom and I would also like children one day, but unfortunately I may not be able to conceive. In that case, we’ll explore other options.

The most important thing is that my future is looking more secure than it did last year – and I am so grateful. I owe my survival and my fighting spirit to my online supporters.

Whoever came up with the idea of the no-make-up selfie is an absolute genius and a complete life-saver. I never thought I would be saying this, but a selfie really did save my life!

When a selfie saved Jackie’s life she decided to share her story with other women as a warning for them to be more vigilant against the signs of cancer. We helped her sell her story to Woman magazine, raising awareness of the issue and also negotiating the best price for Jackie. If you’d like to share a story with the national press, complete the form on the right and we’ll call you to tell you how it works.

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Chanell sold her story to Thats Life!
Chanell sold her story to Thats Life!
When I went into labour early, I thought my premature twins were in safe hands…
By Chanell Miller, 31, from St. Leonard’s on Sea, East Sussex

The tears rolled down my cheeks as my eyes traced the outline of their impossibly tiny faces.

‘Well you’re definitely having twins,’ the sonographer smiled. ‘Congratulations!’

‘Are they boys or are they girls?’ I asked eagerly, secretly praying for a girl. ‘I’d really love to know!’

She moved the ultrasound device over my swollen belly. ‘You’re having a boy and a girl,’ she said.

I clasped my hands over my mouth in disbelief.

I already had three little boys Ty’rell, now 13, Shaun, 10, and La’kye, 3, and I was desperate to add a little girl to our growing family.

My sons were my world, but I pictured myself enjoying shopping sprees and girly days with a daughter.


Despite carrying two little lives, I felt like I was walking on air as I left the hospital. I rubbed my tummy in delight.

I can’t wait to introduce you both to your brothers.

However 28 weeks into my pregnancy, in May 2012, I began to experience my first contractions.

I was distraught at the thought of an early birth – my babies weren’t ready.

I was blue-lighted to Newham University Hospital where medics rushed me to the delivery room.

With my little boy breeching and my little girl facing backwards, there was no time to waste. My babies

were in serious trouble.

I was prepped for an emergency C-section immediately as doctors rushed to save my twins. They got to work so quickly that the anaesthetic hadn’t even kicked in when surgeons sliced open my stomach.

To this day, I’ll never forget the unpleasant sensation of the pulling and the tugging.

I was screaming blue murder when, four minutes later, my daughter Ka’Leah, was delivered.

However it was four hours before they managed to free her brother Kaleem.

Both were dashed to the antenatal unit for immediate life-saving care.


I was cut to shreds and in agony on the inside and outside while I fretted over the welfare of my newborns.

Unable to walk, it was three days before I was allowed to visit them in their incubators.

My stomach wrenched at the sight of them, lying there so small and helpless.

They were both being fed by a long line – a tube used to feed babies that don’t yet have working intestines.

I touched my palm to the glass separating me from my children.

Hang in there little ones – Mummy’s here.


They seemed to hear my rallying cry and the little fighters began to pull through. Both were breathing on their own and the doctors seemed positive that they were out of the woods.

‘They’ve got fighting spirit,’ I told myself. ‘And they’re in safe hands.’

I, however, was still in a lot of pain and it didn’t seem to be shifting. I was told I had a low pain threshold and sent home the following day.

But my condition deteriorated and after my stomach went hard I was readmitted for intravenous antibiotics.

Doctors informed me I had developed an infection following the emergency surgery.

It was horrific being unable to be by my babies’ sides. I felt like they needed me but I was basically bedbound.

Despite being severely unwell, the news from upstairs in the baby ward continued to lift my spirits.


Even though Kaleem weighed just 2lbs and Ka’Leah was even smaller, they were both responding well to treatment.


I thanked my lucky stars that everything seemed to be looking up.

Then nine days after their traumatic birth, I was nodding off in the bed when a nurse jolted me awake on May 26 – a date I’ll never forget.

‘You have to get upstairs to the baby unit,’ she said. ‘And you need to get there fast.’

I heaved myself out of the bed and hobbled as quick as I could up to the ward in nothing but my hospital gown.

Please let everything be OK.

I got the shock of my life when I closed in on Ka’Leah’s bedside.

I knew that something was seriously wrong as I saw a swarm of doctors working frantically on her little body. That was when I was told that I could no longer stay, and ushered out of the way.


The moments that followed felt like a lifetime. I tried to remain positive but my mother’s instinct was in overdrive.

My racing thoughts were finally stymied by a doctor, who delivered the devastating bombshell.

‘We are really sorry,’ he said. I knew what was coming.

‘Your daughter stopped breathing and died.’

I went numb. I’d never experienced death in my family before.

I felt empty and my legs buckled under my weight as a nurse tried to help me back to my bed.

Lying there, it hit me. I’d lost my only daughter.

My mum Donna, 47, arrived at the hospital as soon as she could to support me. I felt like a child again, as she cradled me weeping in her arms.


‘What am I going to do mum?’ I sobbed. ‘I can’t believe she’s gone.’

‘It’s OK,’ she said, tightening her embrace. ‘We’ll get through this Chanell. You have Ka’Leah’s brothers to think about – you have to remain strong for them.’

KaLeah scan and hand and footprints
KaLeah scan and hand and footprints

Later on, a nurse mentioned to my mum that my daughter’s death had been attributed to a heart attack.

‘What did the doctor tell you after Ka’Leah died?’ she asked me.

‘I was told that she’d stopped breathing,’ I explained.

‘Then why are they now talking about a heart attack?’ she said, confused.

The alarm bells started to ring.  This doesn’t stack up.

Desperate for answers, we pushed for a postmortem to try and get to the bottom of what really happened to Ka’Leah.

‘She was doing so well,’ I said to my mum. ‘It doesn’t make sense that she was improving one day, and then gone the next. I want answers.’

‘Don’t worry,’ she replied, squeezing my hand. ‘We’ll get them.’

The findings of the postmortem turned our worlds upside down.

Doctors had wrongly inserted a feeding tube into Ka’Leah’s heart cavity.

I was stunned. I couldn’t believe that an oversight of this magnitude could happen on a baby ward.

An inquest was opened which concluded, in June, that the line was incorrectly inserted into her heart by a doctor in his first year of training.

The misplaced line caused cardiac tamponade, a rare condition where fluid builds up around the heart.


It was found that this, along with her prematurity, caused her early death.

What traumatises me the most is that no senior doctor had picked up on the mistake for over five days. Severe negligence had cost me my little girl.  

The hospital issued an apology but as far as I’m concerned saying sorry isn’t enough.

I have to live with the consequences of their actions every day of my life.

Kaleem was allowed home eight weeks after he was born – the day after his sister’s funeral.  

I count my blessings that I still have him but some days he looks so much like his twin sister it breaks my heart. He’s a constant reminder of what we lost.

I dread the day that I have to explain to him why he’s missing a twin.

Even now, at age two, I’m terrified to let him sleep in case he doesn’t wake up again.

Chanell and Kaleem
Chanell and Kaleem

What if I lost him too?

I appreciate that lessons have been learned by the hospital and that they have implemented measures to stop this ever happening again. But this won’t bring back my daughter.

No mother should ever have to go through what I did that tragic day.

Four months ago, I was overjoyed to give birth to another little boy Kahlil. He’s absolutely beautiful and his brothers all dote on him.

Now my sons keep me looking to the future – but we’ll always have the memory of our little girl. She may have only survived nine days – but she’ll live on forever in our hearts.

Chanell was crushed when her baby girl was killed by carelessness, but decided to share her story as a special tribute. The team at Sell My Story helped her sell her story to That’s Life! magazine. If you want to find out more about how the process works, have a look at our ‘how to’ guides.

Debbi sold her story around the world
Debbi sold her story around the world


I made my Steve take a daily cheat test to prove he’d been faithful. But could I get him up the aisle before he cracked?
By Debbi Wood, 43, from Leicestershire

My fiance Steve wrapped his arms around me as we settled down in front of the telly, but soon my smile had turned to a grimace.

We were watching a football game and the camera had fixed on a pretty blonde woman in the crowd.

“Do you find her attractive?” I blurted out, before I could stop myself.

“No, sweetheart,” he said, on cue. “I only have eyes for you.”


I didn’t believe him but I’d had a brainwave. Reaching for my mobile, I began scrolling furiously.

I told him: “I’ve downloaded a lie detector app. Put your hand on my phone.”

Steve groaned, but he did as I said.

“Do you find the girl on the screen attractive?” I repeated.

“No!” Steve said again. I could see a bead of sweat glistening on his forehead as we waited for the result. After a few seconds, there was beep.

Debbi lie detector test
Debbi lie detector test

True, the screen read, and Steve breathed a huge sigh of relief.

I said: “You’ve passed – this time.”

There’s a reason I’m so scared my man will stray.



You see, I suffer from an extremely rare illness called Othello Syndrome. It causes morbid jealousy and means I’m always worried Steve is eyeing up other women.

My paranoia began when I discovered Steve had been seeing another girl around the time we’d got together.

Although he’d called things off as soon as we became exclusive, the seed of doubt had been sown in my mind.

In time, we moved in together and I was glad I could keep an eye on him but every time he went out, I came out in a cold sweat.

What if he sees a girl he fancies more than me? I’d think, my heart hammering.

Before I knew it, I was checking his emails and bank statements every day for evidence of cheating.

I put child proof filters on his phone and laptop so there was no way he could download any racy pictures.

But there were scantily clad women everywhere. One night, we were flicking through the channels when an advert for a women’s razor flashed up.

Anger tore through me as the model grinned seductively and flaunted her long, slim legs.

“You’re enjoying that advert a bit too much,” I thundered. “From now on, you can’t watch any programmes with women in them.”

Debbi with remote control
Debbi with remote control

But even then I wasn’t convinced my handsome hunk only had eyes for me, so I bought an old fashioned lie detector.

Bless him, Steve rarely complained, even though I interrogated him every time he popped to the shop for a pint of milk.

Hooking him up to the machine, I’d ask: “Did you fancy the shop assistant?”

“No,” he’d reply, trying to stifle a sigh.


Soon, my condition had got so bad the doctors prescribed anti anxiety medication and told me I needed therapy.

But he counted out all my tablets and came with me to my appointments. One day, we were messing around on the computer when he dropped to one knee.

“Will you marry me?” he grinned.

“Yes!” I squealed.

I began planning. I picked out a gorgeous, floor length white dress with thick straps and Steve chose a grey suit.

We booked the local registry office and planned a big meal at a local hotel for afterwards. Then, we sent out texts to friends and family and told them to save the date.

Soon, though, we had a problem. We’d been told we had to move out of our house and we didn’t have the money for the wedding and the move.


I’ll get Steve down the aisle somehow, I promised myself.

I realised I could cut costs by trimming down the guest list and having the reception at home. Plus, fewer guests meant fewer women for Steve to eye up.

Sadly, my old lie detector got lost in the move but my new mobile phone app meant it was easy to keep track of Steve, wherever we went.

By now, he’d started to shun nights out with his mates in favour of cosy evenings in with me, so he was rarely out of my sight – but there was one thing I had to make clear.

There’s no way I’m letting him down the pub the night before the big day, I thought. What if his friends get him a stripper?

“You can have a best man,” I said. “But definitely not a stag do.”

Steve shifted nervously, his eyes fixed on the ground.


Finally, he said: “Actually, there’s something I want to ask you.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“I don’t mind about the stag do,” he said. “But I wondered if I could have a best woman instead of a best man.”

My jaw nearly hit the floor as I glared at him.

“It’s not what you think,” he went on. “I’d like to ask Sian.”

I felt my expression soften. Sian was a lesbian, so at least she wouldn’t be trying to get her claws into my groom.

“Okay,” I agreed.

I asked my mates Kerry, 36, and Joan, 59, to be bridesmaids and in the weeks before the wedding, I had extra therapy to help me trust them around Steve.

Debbi and Steve wedding
Debbi and Steve wedding

The night before the big day, they came round to the house and we painted our nails while I sent Steve off to watch telly with his parents.

Not quite the stag do he’d imagined, but he took it on the chin.

“As long as you’re happy,” he told me, kissing me goodbye.

The next day, Kerry and Joan helped me into my dress before we headed to the registry office.

“Beautiful,” Kerry smiled, handing me my flowers.

As the wedding march started up, I caught sight of Steve standing at the end of the aisle, all dressed up in his suit and I almost started drooling.

My heart skipped a beat as I thought: I’m so glad I hung onto my hottie.

As the registrar asked if we promised to be faithful to each other, a grin spread across Steve’s face, but I wasn’t smiling.


I said: “You’d better not be lying!”

We were pronounced man and wife and the registrar presented us with our marriage certificate.

I snatched it off her and said: “I’ll keep a hold of that.”

Back home, we mingled with our guests and posed for photos but there was something I still had to do.

Wedding day lie detector
Wedding day lie detector

Stealing Steve away, I took him into another room where I whipped out my phone and logged onto my lie detector.

“Just because we’re married doesn’t mean your eyes won’t wander,” I said.

I grabbed his hand and placed it on top of my mobile and tried to come up with the name of the most beautiful celebrity I could think of.

“Do you find Holly Willoughby attractive?” I asked him. “She looks like your type.”

“No,” Steve replied.


We both stared at the screen for a few seconds before we heard the familiar beep.

“True!” I exclaimed, planting a huge smacker on his lips. “Maybe you do only have eyes for me after all.”

Now, I’m slowly learning to relax as Steve and I settle into married life.

I still consult the lie detector when I have the odd wobble, but I’m beginning to realise just how devoted Steve is.

After all, not many blokes would have survived my interrogations!

But Steve’s not just a hunk – he’s all heart, too. Is it any wonder I want him all to myself?

Steve, 31, said: “I can say with one million percent certainty that I’ll be faithful to Debbi for the rest of my life. I love her to bits. Despite everything we’ve gone through, it’s the best relationship I’ve ever had.

“I was happy not to have a stag do because I knew how anxious it would have made Debbi and it just wasn’t worth it. Instead, I watched TV with my mum and dad but I didn’t mind.

“I had to try not to look smug when I passed the lie detector test on our wedding day. Debbi thought I’d fancy Holly Willoughby but she’s not my type. I only have eyes for my beautiful wife.

“Debbi goes through so much – I actually think she’s an inspiration because she hasn’t let Othello Syndrome beat her. Standing by her is the best thing I’ve ever done. We’re perfect for each other.”

Debbi hit the headlines when she admitted she made her man take a daily lie detector test to prove his fidelity. We helped her share her story with an even wider readership, negotiating television rights around the world as well as pieces for The Sun and Take a Break. If you have a weird and wonderful relationship story to tell, why not fill in the form on the right and we’ll be in touch to discuss your options.

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Beth sold her story to the Sun and Real People
Beth sold her story to the Sun and Real People


I never thought my quest for my dream body would leave me like a gummy granny…
By Beth Piddington, 29, from Cradley Heath, West Midlands

Applying a final coat of mascara and a slick of lip gloss, Beth Piddington, smiles at her reflection in the mirror.

Smoothing her slinky size 8 outfit over her slim nine stone frame, she looks good.

But what people don’t know is that Beth’s dream body hides a dark secret. A battle with bulimia as a teenager has left Beth, 29, with the body of a granny.

Years of abusing laxatives and purging have left her toothless, incontinent and with fertility issues.


Beth, unemployed, from Cradley Heath, West Midlands says: “What started as trying to lose a few pounds soon became a dangerous obsession.

“I just wanted to fit in as a teenager but my pursuit of the perfect body became like an addiction.

“Now, I’ve been left like this. I feel so old. I’ve got no teeth and I can’t control my bowels and bladder properly.

Beth as a teenager
Beth as a teenager

“I have to wear dentures and pads like a pensioner. I’ve wasted the best years of my life to an eating disorder. It’s just not worth the risk.”

Beth’s battle with bulimia started at school. Aged 13 she was already a size 16 and when cruel classmates dubbed her the ‘Honey Monster’ it was enough to set Beth on the path to bulimia.

She remembers: “I used to spend my school dinner money at the chip shop.

“But while my friends seemed to be able to eat whatever they wanted and stay the same size, I only had to look at a chip to put on weight.”


As she got bigger Beth became a target for school bullies who used to tease her.

She says: “They made fun of me for being fat and used to force me to eat playing cards at break times. The worst thing was, the bullies were twice my size!”

Unhappy at school, Beth began to play truant and when she acted up at home and started taking her anger out on her family, she was put into foster care aged 14.

“It wasn’t my family’s fault,” Beth says. “They just couldn’t cope with my behaviour. Between the ages of 14 and 16 I was in 32 different foster homes.

“It was really unstable but it meant I could be secretive with my eating habits. I was never in one place long enough for anyone to work out what I was and wasn’t eating.”

Desperately self-conscious and longing to fit in, Beth stopped eating at 15.

She explains: “My life was so manic. I was flitting between foster homes and being bullied at school. My weight was the only thing I could control.


“But starving myself didn’t stop me craving my favourite junk foods. That’s when I discovered bingeing.”

Beth would consume 4,000 calories in one sitting, bingeing on junk food like chocolate, cakes and crisps – and then simply make herself sick.

She says: “I hated being sick but I just put my fingers down my throat and got on with it. Eventually, after about a year, my stomach muscles would automatically contract and I would bring everything back up without even trying.

“Bingeing made me feel better. I felt full but as soon as the food hit my stomach I’d feel guilty. But then I simply made myself sick. It seemed like the perfect solution.

Beth aged 15
Beth aged 15

“I remember getting my school uniform in a size 16 in September, but by the December I was a size 8. It worked.”

It wasn’t long before Beth discovered laxatives. She had been learning about bulimia in a PSHE lesson at school but instead of hearing the dangers, Beth only learned tips.


She remembers: “I was popping 13 or 14 laxatives a day at my worst. I was on the toilet all the time and the painful stomach cramps were awful but I didn’t care.

“Finally, I had the slim, sexy body I’d dreamed of. I could wear the cool clothes my mates were kitted out in and I was getting attention from boys for the first time.

“Even when I was abusing laxatives, I didn’t stop purging. I just got clever about it. I’d run the taps in the bathroom so no one could hear me being sick or turn the music up in my bedroom if I was throwing up in my wastepaper bin.

“The other girls at school made sure they had their books and pencil cases in their school bag. I always checked I’d packed my toothpaste and mouthwash.”

But Beth’s quest for the dream body became a dangerous obsession.

She says: “It was like an addiction and like an addict, I needed my fix. I couldn’t break the habit.”


By the time she reached 19, Beth’s bulimia had developed into anorexia and she was surviving on just a slice of apple a day.

“It was either that or a blob of tomato ketchup or a spoonful of sugar,” she says. “It’s ridiculous to think I believed that was enough to sustain me but I was obsessed.

“Besides, I’d left home by them – I couldn’t afford to buy junk food to binge on.

“I had the skinny figure I wanted but I was so malnourished I got spots and my hair became dry, thin and limp.

“I couldn’t even go out and flaunt my body because by then I was struggling to control my bowels after taking so many laxatives.”

Beths teeth
Beths teeth

Beth’s sister, Ruth Piddington, 27, became worried when she saw Beth collapse with exhaustion at the gym and told their mum, Julie Piddington, 54.

Julie contacted social services who demanded that Beth get hospital treatment.

Beth says: “All these people turned up at my house – a doctor, social worker, psychiatrist and mental health worker – I didn’t know what was going on.

“I was just under six stone and they explained that I was to either come willingly with them to hospital or they’d take the decision out of my hands and section me.

“I didn’t have much choice, so I was admitted to Sandwell Hospital in West Bromwich. It was the worst experience of my life.

“I was in a ward with lots of other people suffering with mental health conditions – schizophrenia, psychosis, depression – I felt so out of place.

“I was terrified but it was the wake-up call I needed. When a doctor sat down and told me that unless I started eating my body was going to shut down and I would die, I sat up and took notice.

“It’s one thing hearing your family and friends telling you they’re worried about you but when a medical professional tells you you’re going to die, it’s really powerful.


“That’s when I decided I was determined to get better. I didn’t want to die and I was fed up of feeling rubbish.”

Beth was tube-fed and gained over a stone in six weeks before she was discharged from hospital. It wasn’t long afterwards that she met her boyfriend, Liam O’Brien, 34, when she was having a drink with a friend in a pub.

She says: “Liam wasn’t precious around me. He knew about my battle with bulimia and anorexia but he ate everything in sight and told me I was being silly when I needed to hear it.

“He was so supportive and his love gave me a reason to recover, I slowly gained weight as I reintroduced foods back into my diet and went for cognitive behavioural therapy sessions.”

But Beth was devastated as she discovered that despite her determination to turn her life around, the damage had already been done. It was too little, too late.

“The laxatives had made me incontinent,” she says. “I’d had an embarrassing accident as a teenager when I’d wet myself in bed with a boyfriend.

“I hoped that things would right themselves after I ditched the laxatives, but of course they didn’t. I was still unable to control my bladder and bowels and was convinced that I’d have an accident when I was with Liam.

“It was a whole year before I could have sex with him, I was so nervous. It caused huge rows between us.

“Even now, I don’t like staying away from home unless I have to and I always have to be near a toilet. My bowels are really weak.”

Beth thought things were looking up after her periods restarted age 23 but doctors explained that the lasting damage means it’s likely she’ll have difficulty conceiving.

She was struggling to come to terms with that bombshell when, in 2007, she began experiencing problems with her teeth.

She says: “I’d get dreadful toothaches and my teeth became almost see-through where they were so brittle. When they began crumbling and I got painful abscesses I was forced to go to the dentist.

Beth teeth
Beth teeth

“She ground down 28 of my teeth, leaving just my four front lower teeth. The plan was to put crowns on them but the acid from my vomit after years of bingeing and purging had left them too weak.

“Now, I wear dentures. They’re really ill-fitting and I feel ridiculous. I’m hoping for dental implants later this month, organised through Philip Oag, Head of Operations at United Smile Centres, London.

“I’m toothless, incontinent, possibly infertile and have lifeless, wrinkly skin. I’ve been left with the body of a granny and I’m not even 30.

“Now, I want to scream at young girls following the latest fad diet. The ‘dream body’ is just that – a dream. It’s not worth the risk. I’ve paid the ultimate price for mine.”

Beth wanted to use her ordeal to warn young girls about the dangers of extreme diets and eating disorders, so we sold her story to The Sun and Real People. reaching a wide range of women. If you have an extreme health story you want to share, complete the form on the right and we’ll get in touch to discuss the process.

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Zara and Mark
Zara and Mark
I was excitedly planning a future with my fiance Mark when the unthinkable happened…
By Zara Powell, 28, from Weston-Super-Mare

I’ll never forget the moment my entire life changed. It was during the night on October 12 2013, and I was about to clock off from my job manning the phones at a local taxi firm. It was about 3am when my phone rang, from a withheld number.

‘Hello? Who is this?’ I asked, glancing at the time.

‘It’s the police,’ a female voice replied. ‘You need to come to Weston General Hospital as soon as possible. It’s your partner, Mark. I’m afraid he’s hurt.’

Mark and I first met in July 2010. I was instantly attracted to him – and I was thrilled when we swapped numbers and arranged to meet up. We dated for a few blissful months, but in December 2010 Mark broke it off. I was devastated when he insisted he wasn’t ready for commitment.

It wasn’t long before I started a new relationship with Simon*, completely on the rebound. Within months I was pregnant, and in May 2012 I married Simon.

But even on my wedding day I knew I was with the wrong man – Mark was the one for me. It’s no surprise that my marriage didn’t last long, and we separated in August 2012.

I was still in touch with Mark, so when he popped into the taxi firm office where I worked, I made a point of telling him I was single again.

Zara and Mark
Zara and Mark

‘Really?’ he said with a grin. ‘Well in that case I’ll have to take you out for a drink. I should have never let you go, and I’m not missing out on another chance now.’

From then, we were inseparable. Mark treated me like a princess, and my two kids from

my previous relationship absolutely adored him. He lived about 10 minutes away, but spent all his time at my house.

In many ways, Mark and I were like chalk and cheese.

He loved his footy and cricket, while I liked my soaps and shopping. He was into heavy metal like Gun’s and Roses, while I loved singers like Adele.

But they say opposites attract – and for us, it was true. We were head over heels in love.


In July 2013, Mark got down on one knee during a holiday to Devon and proposed. We picked a wedding venue, planning to tie the knot in 2015, and even chose names for the children we’d have. My heart soared. I had my man back for good.

We excitedly booked another holiday to Devon for the following spring, and Mark was planning to move in with me and the kids. Everything was perfect – I’d never felt happier.

That Friday night in October 2013, I knew I probably wouldn’t hear from Mark. He had planned to meet his friends at the local pub for a few beers and to watch the football on television, while I had to work a busy night shift.

So when I got the call from the policewoman, I asked one of the taxi drivers to give me a lift to the hospital. As we raced there, I thought perhaps Mark had gotten drunk and fallen over. Silly man, I thought. It wasn’t like Mark to get into any trouble.

Only when we got there, the doctor ushered me into a private room, along with a policeman.

‘Mark’s been attacked,’ he said. ‘He has severe swelling on the brain, internal bleeding and has already had a massive heart attack.’

I was stunned. Looking at the doctor’s face, I knew it was really bad.


Mark was unconscious, his chest was covered in tubes and wires, his head in a brace.

I started shaking violently the second I saw him. Those few hours were pure torture.

Mark was in a critical condition, and while the police carried out their investigation into his attack, I anxiously waited with Mark’s parents by his bedside.

Twenty-four hours later, the doctor came back to see us.

‘I’m so sorry,’ he said. ‘Mark is brain-dead. We need to turn off his life-support machine.’

I let out a giant sob.

‘Please,’ I begged. ‘He’ll come around.’


But the doctor shook his head sadly. All we could do is say goodbye. Tears streamed down my face as I bent down to hug him.

My Mark, the love of my life, was gone. His skin was icy cold.

I don’t know how I got through the next few days. Mark’s family helped me to stay strong and we decided to donate his organs, which was some comfort.

But there were so many unanswered questions. Who had done this to him? And why?

I cancelled our upcoming holiday and had to explain to my kids that Mark was gone. It was heartbreaking.

Within days, the police had made arrests. And slowly, a picture was emerging.

They explain that Mark was on his way home from the pub when he was followed by a gang of drunk teenagers.

He had been seen on CCTV walking through a park near his home, when the group approached him. Mark and one of the teenagers, who was aged 17, walked and talked briefly. Then, out of nowhere, the youth punched Mark and knocked him to the ground.

As Mark fell, the boy kept punching and kicking him, even stamping on his head, as Mark lay there defenceless.


Worse still, while Mark was being beaten to death, another teenager – a 15-year-old girl – had been filming the attack on her mobile phone. It was utterly sickening.

She was just a child, so for legal reasons, couldn’t be named. But Mark’s 17-year-old attacker was named as Ryan Sheppard.

Though he wouldn’t say why he had launched such a vicious and savage attack, detectives thought it’s because he had asked Mark for a cigarette, but he refused.

Mark had been attacked and left to die, just streets from home, for no reason. It made my blood boil and made me feel desperately sad.

Six months on, we held Mark’s funeral. Apart from the day we switched off his life support machine, it was the saddest day of my life.

As he was cremated, we played Paradise City by Guns n’ Roses, and Make You Feel My Love by Adele.

He had promised that we could have that song as our first dance at our wedding. Now, that picture of us, happily exchanging vows, was fading fast.

In August 2014 Sheppard was sentenced at Bristol Crown Court to a minimum of 12 years in prison for murdering Mark, while the girl who admitted filming the attack was acquitted of all charges.

She claimed that she had been forced to film the horrific attack. She said she hadn’t wanted to do it, but Sheppard had threatened her.

As I faced my fiance’s killer in court, he could barely meet my gaze. As I read an impact statement out to the courtroom, I felt really nervous. But I wanted that monster to know what he had done, and how I felt.

‘He will always be my one and only,’ I said. ‘Mark was my whole life.’

I wanted Sheppard to know that when he took Mark’s life that night, he took mine too. I’ve struggled without him,  but I know Mark would want me to be brave.

Soon after the trial, an engagement card in a shop caught my eye. It read: ‘As every year passes by, in my heart you’ll always stay, ‘cos I’ll love you forever, just like I do today.’

Zara tattoo
Zara tattoo

I had the words tattooed onto the left side of my chest, close to my heart, to remember him. It’s exactly how I felt about Mark – I will always love him.

Mark and I were only together a short time, but during that year he made me happier than I ever thought possible. I’ll never understand why I lost him.

Zara lost a piece of her heart the night Mark was killed in a senseless attack and although she’ll never understand why she lost him she wanted to share her story as a tribute to her fiance. We helped her sell her story to Chat and New magazines, reaching a wide readership. If you have a crime story to sell, complete the form here on the right and we’ll call you for a no-obligation chat to explain how it works.


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Rachel and Sercan
Rachel and Sercan
I was undergoing fertility treatment, I needed my fiance – so where was he…
By Rachel Egley, 26, from Chesterfield

I flicked my towel free of sand and stretched out under the blistering Spanish sun. I drew in a deep breath of salty sea air and was about to drift off when I heard a deep voice.

A tall, dark, handsome stranger was towering above me.


My friend Ben, who was lying beside me, introduced us. ‘This is Sercan,’ he said. I sat up and said hi, hoping my suntan would conceal my red cheeks. I was blushing!

‘How long have you been here?’ He asked me. It was 2010 and I had moved to Malaga the previous year to work in a bar.

The last thing I was looking for was a serious relationship but there was something special about Sercan.

He explained that he was Dutch and worked in a hotel that just happened to be on the same street as my work.

‘I’ll see you soon,’ he said to me with a twinkle in his eye as walked away, but I didn’t expect to. I didn’t even have a mobile so there was no way I could give him my number.

Rachel and Sercan
Rachel and Sercan

But fate had different plans and later on that evening we bumped into each other again.

‘Why don’t you come out to a club with me?’ He smiled.


My tummy flipped. ‘Sure,’ I said, pretending to be calm. ‘I don’t have any other plans.’

We spent the rest of the night talking and laughing together. Time flew by. It felt like we’d known each other for years.

‘I will be taking you back to Holland with me,’ he joked at the end of the night.

I giggled nervously but was silenced when he leant over and kissed me passionately goodbye.

From that moment on we became inseparable. I’d not just found a lover I’d discovered a new best friend.

Sercan and I did everything together. This included partying and we would often spend a night dancing away at one of the glitzy, promenade clubs.

So I thought nothing of it when he asked me out to Club TMF one balmy night in June, 2010.


We were jumping around to some heavy beats when suddenly the DJ cut the tune.

I looked around, bewildered. ‘Was something wrong?’ I asked myself.

When I turned back, Sercan was down on one knee.

In his hand was a shiny, silver ring. The diamantes glistened underneath the discoballs.

‘Will you marry me?’ He asked with a Cheshire Cat grin.

The proposal
The proposal

I clasped my hands around my mouth in shock.

When the meaning of his words finally dawned on me, I wrapped my arms around him.

‘Yes! Yes! Yes!’ I replied, three times, unable to stop myself. It seemed like the most important word I’d ever said.  

The crowd around us erupted into cheers. It was like a scene from a movie and we were the romantic leads.

We were so happy and now that we were engaged, we began to discuss the future.

‘I’ve always wanted kids,’ Sercan told me one day. ‘I want a football team!’

I gasped. ‘Two is the maximum,’ I reasoned. ‘But we can start trying now.’

Sercan beamed. I knew he would make a great father and I couldn’t wait to start a family with him.

Our relationship grew from strength to strength but by 2012, I was pining for my home in England.

‘Why don’t we move back?’ he suggested.

‘Are you sure?’ I asked in disbelief. Sercan loved Spain and I knew it would be hard for him to readjust.

‘I’d do anything for you,’ he said. ‘I’ll find a job and we can look at settling down there.’

I was over-the-moon. I felt like the luckiest girl alive to have such an understanding man and in December 2012 we moved back to the UK.

Everything seemed to be falling into place – but there was still something missing.

We’d been trying for a baby for over two years and I still hadn’t fallen pregnant.

Rachel and Sercan
Rachel and Sercan

Doctors ran a series of tests and diagnosed me with endometriosis. I already knew I had polycystic ovarian syndrome so this was a double blow.

‘We’re going to have to remove the blockage,’ the consultant told me. ‘Your chances of conceiving depend on it.’

I was devastated. I didn’t want to go under the knife but I knew I had to if Sercan and I were to ever have a family of our own.

Our hopes of a baby hinged on the success of the procedure and we were beside ourselves with worry.


I was scheduled for the procedure in September 2013.

Sercan was, as ever, his usual supportive self.

‘You’re going to be fine,’ he soothed. ‘I’ll be there to hold your hand every step of the way.’

‘I’m terrified of needles,’ I told him. ‘They give me panic attacks.’

But Sercan wrapped me in a reassuring hug. ‘I’ll be there when you close your eyes and I’ll be there when you open them.’ he assured me. ‘We’ll get you better in no time.’

But in June of that year the manager of the restaurant where Sercan had worked in Spain got in touch, offering him a job over the summer.


‘What about my operation?’ I asked him.

‘It’s just for the summer season,’ he said.

I didn’t want him to go but I understood that it was a fantastic opportunity for him. We’d both lost our jobs the previous month and we really needed the money.

‘I’ll be back for your surgery,’ he whispered as he kissed me goodbye. ‘I promise.’

I cried when I waved Sercan off at the airport. ‘It’s not permanent,’ I told myself. But in reality I was miserable. I wasn’t going to see my fiance for three months.

We kept in touch but when the day of my operation finally arrived, my knight in shining armour was nowhere to be seen.

I was terrified.


I wept in the passenger street as my mum drove me to the hospital.

As I was wheeled into theatre alone, tears streamed down my face. I was going through surgery in a bid to start a family with him and he couldn’t even be bothered to show up!

This wasn’t the Sercan I knew. He’d always been my rock.

The day after my operation I finally had the strength to check Facebook. What I saw shocked me to the core.

My fiance was photographed smiling… with another girl!

When I confronted Sercan on the phone he didn’t even deny there was something going on.

‘I’ve been seeing her since I moved back,’ my groom-to-be confessed. ‘I love her.’

I slammed down the phone in a rage. How could he be so callous?

I’d been on the operating table having surgery in a bid to have a baby with him and he’d been falling in love with another girl in the sun! I was livid.

Not only did my scars need to heal, I had to mend my broken heart.

But a month later Sercan contacted me out of the blue begging me to take him back.

I was having none of it. That was until he returned to the UK over Christmas to save our engagement.

‘This is your last chance,’ I warned him.

He nodded sheepishly. I hoped he’d learned his lesson.

Rachel now
Rachel now

But when he came home from a night out in December last year smelling of perfume I knew it was over and dumped him for good.

‘This isn’t working,’ I bristled. ‘I want you to leave.’ He looked hurt. ‘But I love you,’ he protested.


He pleaded with me to let him stay but I’d had enough of his lies. Sercan’s apologies were as empty as his promises.

A leopard never changes its spots.

I wasn’t going to spend my life waiting for him to grow up.  He may have broken my heart, but not my spirit.

I’m just glad Sercan showed his true colours before we started a family together.

Sercan says: “The story is unfortunately very true. I feel sorry for how things went between me and Rachel. I hope Rachel will be okay and happy.”

Rachel was devastated when she discovered Sercan cheating when she needed him most, so we helped her get her revenge when she sold her story to Pick Me Up magazine and The Sun. If you’ve been through a similar experience to Rachel, we can help you get the best price for your story. Fill in the form on the right and one of our team will give you a call.

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Laura sold her story to a newspaper and a magazine
Laura sold her story to a newspaper and a magazine
I vowed to nurse my boyfriend Gary when he was struck down by a deadly disease. But was he hiding something from me?
By Laura King, 28, from Dundee

I opened my eyes wearily as I heard a thumping noise at my front door. Pulling my dressing gown round me, I nervously made my way downstairs.

“Laura!” my boyfriend, Gary Montana, shouted, from behind the door. “Let me in!”

“Gary, what are you doing here?” I asked, yawning, as I turned the key. “It’s 2am!”

We’d only been together a few months and Gary hadn’t planned to stay the night. I was annoyed he had woken me up but I didn’t have time to protest.

“Hurry up and let me in!” he barked. “Or I’m going to get a gun and shoot you!”

I trembled as he barged through the hallway and into the living room.


How had my life become like this?

I’d met Gary through friends a few years previously but in the last few months we’d got close and romance had blossomed.


At first, things had been great. Gary would come round most nights and we’d snuggle on the sofa watching a film.

But, while I fancied a rom com, Gary always wanted to watch films about gangsters.

“This one’s my favourite,” he grinned one day. “It’s called Scarface and it’s got Al Pacino in it.”

“You’re mad,” I teased. “You’re obsessed with gangsters!”

Soon, though, Gary started acting strangely. He would go on benders for days and then turn up in the middle of the night, plastered.

If I asked him to leave, he’d call me horrible names and threaten to hurt me. He always made me feel like it was my fault.


“If we’re going to be together you have to do as I say,” he told me. “You’re my property now.”

Maybe this is his way of showing he cares, I thought.

But, as he paced my floor like a madman, I suddenly realised it wasn’t working out. Still, I didn’t want to wake the neighbours so I told him he could sleep on the sofa.

“When you’ve sobered up we have to chat,” I said. “I don’t think I can do this anymore.”

I went back to bed and tried to doze off, but I could hear Gary’s footsteps. It sounded like he was walking in circles around my living room.

He was talking to himself, too. I couldn’t make out exactly what he was saying – but it sounded like he was talking about killing someone.

Remembering his earlier threat to shoot me, I jumped out of bed, my heart hammering in my throat.

“Gary -” I began.


“Laura,” he said. His face had turned white. “I’m so sorry for the way I’ve been acting. I’ve just had some awful news.”

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“I’ve got cancer,” he sobbed, head in his hands. “It’s not looking good.”

I felt my anger melt away as I rushed to his side and placed my arms around him. He looked so pale and sick, it made perfect sense.

“You poor thing!” I exclaimed. “I’m here for you. We’ll fight this together.”

I consoled Gary as he told me he’d been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer earlier that week. Doctors were performing tests to see what treatment he’d need.


But weeks passed and he never appeared to attend any hospital appointments.

“You need to call your doctor,” I said. “You have to start treatment or the cancer will spread.”


But Gary wasn’t interested. All he wanted to do was go out drinking with his mates, then turn up blind drunk at my house in the early hours.

Eventually, I’d had enough.

“I’ll support you through this as a friend,” I told him. “But I don’t think we should be together.”

Gary burst into tears, again.

“I’m so sorry,” he wept. “I haven’t got long left. The cancer has spread to my lungs. I haven’t been going to the hospital because there’s nothing more they can do.”


I clapped my hand to my mouth in shock. I’d had no idea Gary’s illness was so bad.

“Oh, Gary,” I sobbed. “We’ll try and make the most of the time you have.”

We went to bed and the next morning, I decided to cook Gary a slap up meal to take his mind off things. We went to the supermarket and I bought mince and loads of veg for a big spag bol.

Then, we went back to Gary’s so we could let his Rottweiler, Tyson, out.

When I opened the front door, though, I was disgusted. The place was a state and Tyson had made a horrendous mess everywhere. It looked like he hadn’t been out for days.

“Sorry about the mess,” Gary mumbled. “I’ve just had things on my mind.”



“I understand,” I replied. I let Tyson out and cleaned up as best I could before I started to chop the veg. I’d just begun to stir the mince, when I heard a deafening yelp.

I ran into the living room and fear coursed through me as I caught sight of Gary thumping poor Tyson with his metal dog lead.

Still, instinct told me not to let Gary show how scared I was, so I calmly asked him to stop. But he had a crazed look in his eyes.

“Shut up or you’ll be next!” he bellowed.

I could feel panic rising in my throat but I hoped it didn’t show.

“Okay, I’m just popping to the shops,” I said. “I’ll be back soon.”


Gary said nothing as I left. As soon as I closed the back door, I began running and didn’t stop until I got home.

All I could think about was poor Tyson, whimpering in pain as Gary attacked him. Sweat trickling down my back, I logged onto Facebook and I began to type.

Does anyone know the number for the RSPCA? I know an animal in danger…

Thankfully, one of my friends replied within seconds. My hands shook as I gave the operator all the information I had about Gary and Tyson.


“Please hurry,” I said.

Days passed and I heard nothing from Gary. Despite everything, it was hard to stop caring and I wondered if I’d soon hear that he had passed away.


But soon, I got a knock at the door and I was stunned to see two police officers on my doorstep. They told me they’d got my details from the RSPCA.

“We’re here to ask you a few questions,” the first officer said. “It’s in connection with your ex partner, Gary Hill.”

“I don’t know a Gary Hill,” I replied. “My ex is called Gary Montana.”

“I’m afraid Gary Montana isn’t his real name,” the second officer explained. “It’s a fake name he’s been giving to women.”

Suddenly, everything fell into place. Gary’s favourite film was Scarface and the main character was called Tony Montana. Perhaps his obsession with gangsters hadn’t been so harmless after all…

I wept as I told the officers how Gary often turned up in the middle of the night and how he’d even threatened to shoot me.


“I only stayed because he’s dying of cancer,” I sobbed.

The officers exchanged a look.

“Gary’s not dying of cancer,” the first officer said, gently. “He’s been lying to you.”

“What?” I replied, stunned. “What kind of sick person lies about having cancer?”

The officers explained that Gary had also been accused of abusing another ex girlfriend, Lori. In time, he was charged with stalking, breach of the peace and acting in a threatening and abusive manner.

In January 2015, he appeared at Dundee Sheriff Court. The police had so much evidence against him that he had no choice but to admit everything.

I watched from the public gallery as the court heard he’d also lied to Lori about having cancer when she tried to dump him.

When that didn’t work, he bombarded her with dozens of voicemails in which he did nothing but play gangster rap music.

He was jailed for 22 months and banned from contacting Lori and me for five years.

I’m glad he’s behind bars but I don’t think he’ll ever stop lying and I worry that he’ll prey on other women when he gets out.

I can’t believe I fell for Gary’s cruel cancer con, but at least I know I’m not alone. That monster wasn’t dying – he was lying.

Laura was horrified when she uncovered Gary’s cruel con and decided to name and shame him in the press. We helped her to sell her story to the Daily Record and Real People magazine, reaching a wide cross-section of readers. If you have been betrayed and you feel you’d like to share your story, read one of our ‘how to’ guides and find out how it works.