CHOIR singing can be fun, entertaining and often enriching for anyone taking part — but for members of Bolton cancer choir, it can be life-affirming.

Bolton Cancer Voices is the only group of its kind just for cancer patients, survivors and their friends and family in the North West.

The choir was set up just 21 months ago by Karen Elliott, who wanted to start an inspiring group for people at any stage in their cancer journey.

People who go are not obliged to share their cancer story or have any experience of singing in a choir. They are simply encouraged to turn up and join in.

It is this calm and welcoming approach that choir members seem to love.

They say they have found comfort in the often unsaid understanding between members who know what it’s like to be diagnosed with cancer.

Maggie Fretwell is recovering from breast cancer and has been coming to the choir for three months.

Mrs Fretwell, aged 70, from Little Lever, said: “I was at a stage where I was trying to get my life back on track and I thought I would give this a go. You make friends with people who have similar problems to yourself. We all understand each other.

“When you go through your treatment, it’s all based on things you can’t do. You can’t eat this, you can’t do that. I have found that the choir was something that I could do and enjoy.

“Sometimes you come and you’ll say to someone: ‘I’m not feeling too good today’, and they just understand because they’re going through it, especially the other women who have had breast cancer. You don’t need to go into details or explain, they just know.

“Even if you can’t sing it doesn’t matter. By the end of choir practice, you find that you’re smiling. It’s been wonderful for me.”

Dave Ball had to have a lung removed after doctors discovered a malignant tumour in 2003.

Not only has singing allowed Mr Ball to pursue his love of music, it has improved his lung capacity and breathing. Mr Ball, aged 62, from Ladybridge, said: “Singing helps people like me because it increases your lung capacity.

“I have difficulty breathing after losing one of my lungs to a tumour. Not only has singing in the choir built up my lung capacity but it’s also help me make the most of my life.”

In a recent survey, 80 per cent of people involved said they felt they had benefited physically, mentally or emotionally from being in the choir, and 60 per cent a physical boost.

Karen Elliot, chairman of Bolton Cancer Voices, says that even though everyone in the choir has been affected by cancer, the disease does not define what they do.

Ms Elliot added: “When people receive a cancer diagnosis it can feel that life is spinning out of control and even after their treatment is complete the consequences may continue to be felt.

“Singing can be powerful, empowering and energising and I believe it can play a role in a helping boost confidence and self-esteem — both of which some find to be undermined when they receive a cancer diagnosis.

“Once people join it doesn’t matter what stage they are at in their cancer journey, the emphasis is on singing and enjoying themselves and that becomes the focus.

“Though cancer brings us together and some allowances are made in recognition of this it doesn’t define who we are or what we do.”

Kath Walker has been cancer free for five years now and says that music has played a big part of her recovery.

Miss Walker, aged 47, from Lever Edge, said: “I have always loved singing and music but after I had cancer it took on a whole new meaning for me.

“It helps take my mind off all the negative stuff. I’ve had cancer fatigue, which is something you don’t really hear much about.

“It’s the physical impact of all the treatment you’re given and unlike anything I’d had before.

“Other people in the choir have suffered with it themselves so they know what it’s like.

“But what I love most of all about the choir is the entertainment and the singing. It’s challenging in the best way and has really helped my confidence.”

The choir is always looking for new members of all singing abilities.

For more information, call Karen Elliott on 01204 595562 or 07773164235.

l To watch a video of the choir in action go to