Elize du Toit

The Angel Appeal

SOURCE: CancerBACUP Scotland – The Angel Appeal, August 18th 2002

YOU CAN’T HIDE YOUR HEAD IN THE SAND. THE WAY TO BEAT CANCER IS TO KNOW WHAT LIES AHEAD. EXCLUSIVE: How a family tragedy inspired Hollyoaks star Elize du Toit to back our £1m campaign to fund extra nurses.

IN two years, Elize du Toit has gone from Edinburgh student to a soap star rated in the top 50 most beautiful women in the world. But the Hollyoaks stunner reckons her achievements pale next to her own family’s battles against cancer. Breast cancer has been a cloud hanging over her family for generations. Her great, great grandmother and grandmother were both victims, her mother needed tests for lumps in her breast and a cousin had a mastectomy aged 29.
It was her gran’s inspirational victory against cancer that led to Elize, 22, backing the Sunday Mail’s Angel Appeal to raise £1million for more cancer nurses in Scotland. The South African-born actress said: “My grandmother Elise had breast cancer when she was 35 and had to have a mastectomy. After she recovered, she set up a local support group for women with breast cancer in Pretoria. Every time someone got breast cancer, she’d go to visit them in hospital and explain the treatment procedures and what changes their body might go through.”

Elize’s grandmother, now 81, has drummed into her family the importance of being well-informed about cancer and its treatments. That’s why the star is throwing her support behind the Angel Appeal – a joint campaign with CancerBACUP – which aims to raise funds for five specialist cancer information nurses at a new contact centre in Glasgow.

CancerBACUP provides a unique service through a freephone line staffed entirely by nurses, who can offer practical information and emotional support to anyone affected by cancer. Elize said: “The Angel Appeal is so important. People might try to bury their heads in the sand, but the best way to fight cancer is to know what lies ahead.”

Her family emigrated from South Africa to Britain eight years ago. Her parents Susanne, 47, and Peter, an orthodontist, thought there would be better career opportunites here for Elize, sister Helene, 20, and brothers Peter, 24, and Wessie, 11.

That certainly proved true for Elize, who was studying history at Edinburgh University when she was selected from 40,000 other young hopefuls for the part of dizzy barmaid Izzy Cornwell in the Chester-based soap. She made her debut in September 2000 and has proved such a hit that FHM this year ranked her 46th in their list of the world’s 100 most beautiful women, ahead of Hollywood stunners Penelope Cruz and Liv Tyler.

But while she has a figure admired by men across Britain, she knows how important it is to look after herself – and particularly to check her breasts regularly for signs of any lumps. It is essential, both for Elize and student sister Helene, since their family history puts them at high risk of getting breast cancer. “It all started with my grandmother’s grandmother,” said Elize. “And my mother’s cousin also had it at the age of 29, and had to have a mastectomy, just like my gran. So it’s very much in the family line.”

Ten years ago Elize’s mother had a scare after she found a lump in her breast. “It was a terrifying time,” she said. “I remember mum telling us at home one day, and we just all hugged each other and cried. We had to wait for results to come in and went through a few weeks when we were convinced it was going to be bad news. Of course, I knew my gran had got through it, but at the time you are filled with paranoia. I was terrified I was going to lose my mum.” The lump turned out to be a cyst, which Susanne had drained in hospital. “She’s had lots of them since, and she’s now on tablets, but she still checks herself regularly, and goes into hospital every year for a full check-up.”

Although her grandmother’s illness happened before she was born, Elize has always been able to speak openly with her about the experience. But the actress is ashamed to admit that it wasn’t until recently she learned the proper way to examine her breasts for lumps.

“I was invited on to a programme that Kate Thornton was doing for Channel 4, all about breast cancer and how to check yourself. Kate showed me how to do it, and I’ve been careful to examine myself ever since, but I think it’s something teenage girls should be taught at school – just as boys should learn how to check for testicular cancer.”

The gorgeous blonde is now being wooed by movie chiefs and she is said to be hoping to follow ex-Brooksider Anna Friel by walking out of Brit soaps and into the flicks. But for now she remains coy on the subject, insisting she is happy at Hollyoaks, which attracts five million viewers a week. It is also where she met boyfriend Ben Hull, who played troubled Lewis in the soap but has since crossed over to Brookside as dishy doctor Gary Parr.

Yet only two years ago she was planning to spend the summer working as a Red Bull promotions girl at the Edinburgh Fringe, to make ends meet before going back to university.

Elize’s acting career started when she was a child. After appearing in school plays, she kept up her acting skills when she reached university by joining the Bedlam Theatre Company, the launch pad for Greg Wise and Angus MacFadyen. But she still can’t believe her luck in landing the Hollyoaks role.

She said: “I didn’t think I’d get the part. I just went along to the auditions for experience. It all came as such as a shock, but now I’m in the show, I’m so glad that I went along.”

But Elize admits she’s left a little bit of her heart in Edinburgh and is still a frequent visitor north of the border. She said: “I’ve still got loads of friends in Edinburgh though I no longer get up there as often as I would like to. I love it. I think it’s an amazing city, one of the most beautiful in the world, and I had such a good time there.

“Scots are such friendly people. Which is why I’m glad to have this opportunity to support The Angel Appeal. My granny was just one woman, but she made such a difference to those battling cancer in Pretoria. These nurses will make a huge difference to Scotland. And I’m backing them all the way.”

9:16pm on 18th August 2002

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