FIGHTING breast cancer robbed Rachel Burns of her right breast, her long dark hair and her body confidence.
Diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of breast cancer in her early 40s, Rachel endured six rounds of chemo, a mastectomy and three weeks of daily radiotherapy in an effort to kick the disease into touch.
There were many challenges on the way, not least telling her two young children, Joe and Emily, about her illness. Among the hardest to cope with, though, was the aftermath and how the treatment had left her feeling about her body.
She said: "I felt so down. When I caught myself in the mirror on a morning, or when I was putting on my bra, looking down at my scar and where my breast used to me, was really hard."
Happily, Rachel, now 46, has undergone reconstructive surgery, opting for a natural procedure rather than an implant. Surgeons at York have taken skin from her back, muscle from her arm and fat from her tummy to rebuild her breast.
Rachel, who lives in the South Bank area of York with her husband Matt, had a year off work during her treatment. When she returned to her part-time post as a business analyst at City of York Council, she felt like she wanted to move her career into a new gear – starting off with a new look.
Rachel said: "I am wearing the same clothes to work now that I wore before I had cancer – black trousers, grey trousers, brown trousers, and just rotating them. In summer, I wear linen skirts in similar colours. I want to reflect the fact I have come through this. I want to look brighter, more noticeable rather than just fade into the background."
We arranged an appointment with the personal stylist at John Lewis, Rajshree Thompson, for a complimentary two-hour makeover session.
Over coffee, Rachel told Rajshree that she was looking to update her work wardrobe, and wanted brighter clothes, with the emphasis on smart, casual and taking into account that she travelled to work by bike.
Rajshree took Rachel into the "personal styling suite", a huge dressing room with wall-to-wall mirrors and hanging rails for clothes. Ten minutes later, Rajshree returned with armfuls of items for Rachel to try, all sporting distinctive blue, green and purple hues.
Rachel gasped at all the colours. "It's a surprise. It's bright, there is lots of green, and turquoise, which is good."
It was a stark contrast with her staple wardrobe of white tops and dark trousers or jeans.
Rajshree said: "Bright colours suit you, they will make you look vivacious and young."
Rachel wasn't too sure, but as soon as she began trying on the clothes, she had to concede that Rajshree was right. She was also persuaded to ditch her flats for a pair of heels and experiment with accessories, such as scarves and chunky, silver jewellery.
Finally, Rachel had her make-up done by Laura Jones at the Liz Early counter. Rachel normally doesn't wear much make-up, but could see that some cosmetics really finished off her new look.
After her two-hour session, she was beaming. Rachel said: "I've learned about the colours that suit me and tried on clothes I would never have picked for myself. I know now that I can even wear heels comfortably!
"And I know that in the future, I won't be buying any more black."
John Lewis offers a range of personal styling services, including one and two hour sessions that are free. For more information, or to make a booking, telephone 01904 557950.