The Duchess of York also tells PEOPLE her grandchildren are "spectacular healers"
Last week, The V Foundation for Cancer Research announced the Sarah Ferguson V Scholar Grant for Breast Cancer Research in honor of the Duchess of York, who is popularly known as Fergie. The Duchess, 63, will help select a research grant recipient by the end of 2024 in partnership with the V Foundation Scientific Advisory Committee. The new initiative aligns with her longtime advocacy for cancer patients, survivors and research as patron of the Teenage Cancer Trust and the work of her foundation Sarah’s Trust.
“I am looking forward to working with the V Foundation’s Scientific Advisory Committee in selecting the recipient of the grant and continuing great work together. Just last week we raised over $500,000 for cancer research at their annual event in Napa,” the Duchess of York exclusively tells PEOPLE.
It hits close to home for Fergie, who had a successful single mastectomy over the summer after being diagnosed with breast cancer during a routine screening.
Sharing how her daughters, Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie, have supported her since her diagnosis, she says, “My two wonderful daughters are my wholehearted cheerleaders, my devoted champions and my soulmates, and they have been as supportive as can be, as they always are.”
The Tea Talks with the Duchess and Sarah podcast host added that she’s feeling the love from her grandchildren. The Duchess of York and her ex-husband Prince Andrew are grandparents to Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank’s sons — August, 2, and Ernest, 5 months — and Beatrice and Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi’s 2-year-old daughter Sienna plus Edo’s young son Christopher Woolf, whom he shares with his ex-girlfriend Dara Huang
“My grandchildren have also been spectacular healers. Joy and laughter can be powerful tools when it comes to healing,” the Duchess tells PEOPLE.
Fergie has credited early detection as critical in her story and tells PEOPLE she is grateful to advocate today.
“Early detection is absolutely key and might have saved my life. It [is] easy to forget to prioritize our health and proactive care. Had my dear sister not urged me to keep the appointment I almost canceled, I might not have caught my cancer early enough to be able to treat it as effectively,” she says.
In late June, a representative for the Duchess of York told PEOPLE she was diagnosed with an early form of breast cancer at a prescheduled mammogram and underwent surgery. Fergie later thanked her sister Jane for urging her to attend the appointment.
The Duchess kept fans updated through the summer about her recovery and says that she is thrilled to feel well today.
“I am so very grateful to report I am feeling very well!” she tells PEOPLE. “I am hugely thankful to the brilliant doctors and nurses who took wonderful care of me as well as the staff involved in the mammogram that identified my illness, which was otherwise symptom-free.”
On Thursday, Fergie spoke about the harrowing experience for the first time on television while appearing on the ITV talk show Loose Women. She made the appearance to help kick off the show’s Don't Skip Your Screening campaign, an inaugural initiative to tackle the 1.2 million mammograms missed by women in England, and revealed the fear that she would not see her grandchildren grow up after being diagnosed with breast cancer over the summer.
“Sarah, you were one of these women that nearly didn't go for the screening appointment. It was just one of those things that you thought, ‘I'll put it off,’ and it was a conversation with your sister that made you go?” co-host Christine Lampard asked.
"It was after a bank holiday and it was a Tuesday morning. And I thought ‘No, it's a hot day,' and ‘Nah, no, I don't need to go, I'm sure it'll all be fine,” Fergie replied. “I had no symptoms. I was completely fine.”
Thanking her “bossy” older sister for insisting she make the trip, the author of A Most Intriguing Lady said the cancer was caught “so early, just in time.”
“That's why I really want to shout about this. Don’t skip your screening appointment because I wouldn't be sitting here if I hadn't have gone,” Fergie urged, as the audience applauded.
Voicing her gratitude to the Royal Free Hospital and the National Health Service, she also referred to an “extraordinary dye” that can detect shadows.
“It wasn't a lump, I had a shadow, it was like a splat. Eighteen months before it wasn't there. So, it had come on from the last mammogram to this mammogram,” she said.
"The drive from the Royal Free Hospital, I'll never forget because of course your mind goes into, 'Oh my goodness, I've got to have a mastectomy,' and you look it up and it's all terrifying and 'This is what's going to happen' and then, 'I'm not going to see my grandchildren grow up.' That's what goes through your head,” she continued. “It's that feeling of demise... your mind goes.”
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The Duchess of York added that the surgery was "very quick" after the diagnosis and that she was grateful to advocate today.
“If there's one person that is going to have a fabulous life and see their grandchildren because of us speaking about it, then good for it!” she later said on Loose Women.
Like the United States, Breast Cancer Awareness Month is observed in the U.K. each October.
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