She was given the choice of having the lump removed or having one breast removed – so she chose to lose the breast. After surgery and chemotherapy she was declared cancer-free and tried to get on with her life, pushing any thoughts that the cancer might return to the back of her mind.
Chas hugs her mum in the show (Photo: ITV)
But last year she was given the bombshell news that she had developed cancer in her other breast – and a mastectomy was her only option. Brigitte was devastated as she had convinced herself cancer was no longer part of her life.
“I was frightened, angry, disappointed, let down,” she says. “After 21 years in remission I was convinced that I was fine, but I am a carrier of the faulty BRCA1 gene and had a higher risk of developing cancer in my other breast. After my second diagnosis, the cancer was disseminated in my breast so a mastectomy was the only option.
“My first mastectomy and chemotherapy was less traumatic than I had feared, so I was confident before the second operation.
“But the second diagnosis of breast cancer affected me much more than the first one. I am still struggling to come to terms with it.”
Emmerdale producers found Brigitte after asking a breast cancer support group in Leeds if they had any members with a similar build and body shape to actress Sally who would be willing to show their scars to the nation.
And Brigitte was more than happy to oblige.
She explains: “I wanted to help people to be less frightened about cancer, to show them there is life after breast cancer.
“I felt perfectly relaxed and found it an interesting experience. It wasn’t a big deal for me to take my clothes off – it was essential for the storyline. There was no fuss about it. It was a very relaxed atmosphere and I really enjoyed working with Sally. The cast were supportive and very respectful. “I am open about my surgery. I am even boring people with my story.
“After my first mastectomy I wrote a diary and gave it to people to read. For me, the more I know about breast cancer, the less impact it has on me.”
Brigitte’s husband Michael, 77, was fully supportive of her decision, as were her family back in Switzerland.
And her brave TV appearance has made a huge impact on Sally who rates the scenes as among her proudest moments in her career.
It made a big impact on viewers too as they went online to praise the hard-hitting mastectomy storyline on Twitter.
Ruth George wrote: “Brilliant Emmerdale! Highlighting breast cancer #mastectomy #survivors #Strong women”, and Steve Williams said: “@emmerdale is still pushing the boundaries in soapland with the Faith storyline and the continuing Ashley scenes.”
And Chrissie Clements added: “I would like to congratulate Emmerdale on the way that Faith’s story about her double mastectomy has been told.
“It just goes to show Emmerdale for me will always be the best soap.”
Other fans voiced hopes that the soap would go on to highlight the BRCA1 breast cancer gene with Chas and Sarah and their fears of inheriting it.
Sally has high hopes the storyline will help breast cancer sufferers.
She says: “I think it is something that needs to be talked about and we don’t really hear that much about the aftermath of a mastectomy, somebody surviving it and thriving despite it.
“Brigitte has a story which she intends to share and feels no shame in sharing, and nor should she. I hope that is something that can give comfort and inspiration to other women and men.
“She was certainly inspiring to me – I left there feeling quite buoyed up. It made me realise this is something that, although it ain’t easy, you can get through and survive.