Browsing the Archives: British Beauty Council interview with Jenny Halpern Prince, Co-Founder & Chair of The Lady Garden Foundation

Jenny Halpern, co-founder & chair, The Lady Garden Foundation

This is one of my absolute favourite interviews that I led while volunteering for British Beauty Council, not just because of the amazing cause, but also because of the impact Covid has had on charities and on cancer diagnosis and treatment since its arrival.

As highlighted by the brilliant Bowel Babe, AKA Deborah James, it’s estimated that around 350,000 fewer cancer referrals were made between March and November 2020, compared with the same period in 2019, owing to patients putting off consultation to avoid “strain” on the NHS and ‘Stay at Home’ messaging. In the case of gynaecological health, screening was paused and postponed across the UK having knock-on effects.

The mission of British Beauty Council’s affiliate, The Lady Garden Foundation is to raise funding for gynaecological health and drastically reduce the diagnoses and devastating outcomes of the five Silent Killers. The gynaecological cancers: Ovarian, Cervical, Uterine (womb), Vaginal and Vulval are so-called not only because of the complicated symptoms that can be missed by healthcare professionals, but also due to the lack of awareness surrounding them.

Since speaking with the charity’s co-founder and chair, Jenny, the team has gone on to raise a further incredible £122,000 and counting, and launch the Love Your Lady Garden partnership with Superdrug and actress, comedienne and TV presenter Emily Atack, training Superdrug nurses & pharmacists running health clinics, in what symptoms to look for.

The piece has been edited for length and clarity. You can find the full article at British Beauty Council’s Beauty Bytes.

The Lady Garden Foundation is a national women’s health charity, raising awareness and funding for gynaecological health. Launched in 2014, Jenny and the team have funded groundbreaking research into the treatment of the various gynae cancers. On top of creating and driving this incredible initiative, Jenny is Founder & CEO of Halpern PR. We discussed life in lockdown, how to address gynaecological concerns, how The Lady Garden Foundation is coping during the pandemic and what inspires Jenny to keep driving its important mission forwards.

Amanda: How are you coping with isolation and what have you been doing to keep your body and mind feeling healthy during lockdown?

Jenny: I’m doing well, it’s been a Corona coaster for sure, but my family and I are all good. We have three children including a four-year-old and a golden retriever so a very full house with a hectic schedule for two full-time working parents and three school agendas, but magically we’re making it work. Physically running around after them keeps me active, but daily classes give me a welcome respite from the rest of the madness. Add dog walks in and I’ve definitely made the most of the outdoor exercise rules too!

Mentally I think that lockdown has taught me to really understand my own brain a little deeper. It’s okay to have days where you feel off-track mentally for no obvious reason, and to take that pressure off by understanding that has made such a difference. This period of down time in the sense of events and social activities has given me time to really allow myself to slow down in a mental sense.

Amanda: As a result of the NHS having to prioritise resources during the pandemic, cervical screening has been paused in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and in many cases postponed in England. What do you advise for those worried about being unable to schedule their screening, or potentially overdue one?

Jenny: Having your screening postponed can be very daunting. In England it varies from clinic to clinic and the resources they have available. Keep in touch with your local GP with regard to when they may be able to see you if they haven’t updated you automatically. The good news is there seems to be no delay in receiving your results once you have had your screening.

The smear test is to check the health of your cervix. Women from 25 and up are advised to have a screening every three years and the cells taken during the smear, using a small brush, will be tested for HPV. This is the name for a very common group of viruses and some types of HPV in the cervix can cause abnormal changes in the cells that can sometimes turn into cancer.

However, the majority of people have clear results. For those that do not, HPV at a “high risk” level can take years to develop into cervical abnormalities, so try not to worry if your screening has been delayed by a few months. It would be rare for this to cause any dangerous issues and most cases of HPV go away by themselves. Keep in touch with your doctor and know that they will get you in as soon as they are able and it is safe to do so.

Image credit: Lady Garden Foundation

Amanda: Given that there are five gynaecological cancers, it can be quite overwhelming to know where to begin when it comes to keeping oneself in check. What does Lady Garden recommend to women to maintain their gynaecological self-care routines?

Jenny: Each of the five gynaecological cancers can have different symptoms, so it’s not easy to remember them all. It’s about knowing your own body and having faith when something doesn’t feel right. There is also a lot of false information about what women should do to look after our vulvas and vaginas. Should you remove hair, should you wash yourself internally, should you spray deodorant down there? The answer invariably is no to most of those.

Hair removal is not necessary for gynae health but down to personal preference. The vagina is self-cleaning, maintaining its own natural pH levels, so you shouldn’t mess with that by washing unnecessarily. Don’t get me started on the myths about sticking parsley or jade eggs up there. So much of this preys on the lack of understanding of women and is part of the reason we started The Lady Garden Foundation, to get women talking about their intimate areas and to dispel the taboo. ‘Vagina’ is not a dirty word and we shouldn’t be embarrassed!

This is something I really try to instil in my two young daughters. Talking to friends, family, and colleagues means that we find others who have had similar experiences and may be able to put our minds at ease. For centuries, women have been made to believe that periods are not to be discussed and we shouldn’t talk about the vulva and vagina. Penises are almost revered, why shouldn’t vaginas be the same? Arguably, they go through a lot more and should be praised in the same way! I always think of that famous quote from Betty White:

“Why do people say ‘grow some balls’? Balls are weak and sensitive. If you wanna be tough, grow a vagina. Those things can take a pounding.” She’s right, vaginas are amazing!

Going back to gynae health and cancer specifically, if you are worried about anything then look at our website for the five gynae cancers and the symptoms to look out for. Understanding them can save lives. If you have any concern then book an appointment with your GP. Many can offer a virtual appointment if you are worried about travel. It is far better to get reassurance and find out if there is anything more serious at play than to avoid and risk something developing.

Amanda: Sadly right now, charities are suffering losses of income in the wake of the virus, but the work that Lady Garden does is so crucial. How is the charity managing the impact and in what ways can businesses and individuals who are keen to help, support your efforts at this time?

Jenny: Like so many charities, we have seen a huge decrease in our fundraising. Everyone across the country is donating to the NHS and causes directly linked to the front line and we completely understand that. However, we have been able to donate money to two front line-related causes.

Firstly, we donated to the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity’s emergency appeal. We have a long-standing relationship with The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity and have to date donated over £1m to potentially life-saving research there. Their emergency appeal was set up to support front line staff and enable remote patient consultations. The Fighting Fund will ensure the hospital has the flexibility to respond to the crisis. To fund this and make a difference is incredibly rewarding and is thanks to the generosity of our very loyal Lady Gardeners out there!

Secondly, we have funded a project by a very special lady called Dr Susana Banerjee. She is the oncologist who led the trials that we funded at The Royal Marsden. Dr Banerjee is leading a critical research study, calling on NHS staff to answer surveys about their wellbeing during the COVID-19 crisis, to establish a better understanding of how the pandemic has impacted on resilience and burnout of NHS staff working in a cancer healthcare setting.

In terms of active fundraising, key events in our fundraising calendar have had to be cancelled or postponed which has had a massive effect on our plans, but what we can do at this time is keep up our awareness efforts. We want to get women everywhere talking about their gynae health, ensure that everyone is aware of their own bodies and keep the conversation going in order to help with earlier diagnoses, and ultimately save lives.

This goes for men too! Everyone has a mother, daughter, sister, aunt and so on. Gynae cancers affect everyone and cancer doesn’t stop in lockdown. Brand partnerships are key for us to increase awareness further to those who haven’t heard about us. We’ve been very lucky to work with some incredible brands including Gucci, Cult Beauty, and Monsoon and always keen to talk to more people. So, if you want to know more and why our mission is so important, get in touch!

Tamara Beckwith and Jenny Halpern Prince, Lady Garden Gala 2019. Credit: Dave Benett

Amanda: What inspired you to create Lady Garden and what do you enjoy most from championing its mission?

Jenny: A group of friends and I were talking in 2014 about the ways we had all directly or indirectly been affected by gynaecological cancer and we realised that there just wasn’t enough information out there. This sparked the creation of the Lady Garden Foundation with the aim of raising £750k to fund a research project of Dr Banarjee’s, looking at personalised treatments for women with gynae cancer. The research supported the discovery that a personalised treatment successful in other cancers could work for gynaecological patients and the potential of immunotherapy.

Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

As part of this funding we invested in the gynaecological cancer experts of the future by supporting four research fellows and also obtained consent from over 700 patients to use their blood and tumour samples, creating a precious resource for future research. The research findings are shared with the global cancer research community meaning to make a difference worldwide.

Our first campaign with Topshop, fronted by Cara Delevingne really thrust us into the arena. After we hit that initial funding target, we knew there was value in what we were doing, so we all agreed we had to keep going. Cancer is a scary word and a daunting prospect, so we deliberately went with an irreverent name to take some of this fear away. Let’s find humour in an otherwise concerning topic and show it’s okay to laugh and most importantly, talk without fear.

I’m so proud of everything that we as co-founders have achieved and can’t wait to see what the future may bring. Knowing that we have already made such a difference spurs me on and when we speak with patients especially, it only cements my ambition. Along with an expert team of powerful trustees including Dame Helena Morrissey, Annalisa Jenkins, Dr John Butler and Jennifer Emanuel, we are all incredibly determined to make the Lady Garden Foundation bigger and better and to change the face of women’s health not only for us but for future generations.

Cancer can do one as far as I am concerned, so join us and help us raise awareness and funding to fight it.`

About the Author:

Amanda O’Shaughnessy is a Communications Manager and Writer based in London. She writes and produces editorial and social content for companies such as British Beauty Council, M&C Saatchi Talk & SERMO Communications.

Communications Manager and Writer based in London. Tackling womanhood, empowerment and mental health with a background in beauty and wellness.