Faced breast cancer
"This extraordinary year began with my husband and I agreeing for our estate agency to feature in an ITV docu-soap, The Estate Agents. Then in May, the day before a long-awaited holiday, I went for a routine breast examination but the consultant wanted further tests. My elder sister Sonia died of breast cancer five years ago. My husband and younger sister were with me when the consultant broke the news. `It could be cancerous,' he said, and I went to pieces.
Ian and I cancelled our trip to Lanzarote. I had a core biopsy and we arranged to come back after the weekend for the removal of two lumps. My legs felt like jelly, I was in a state of shock, faced with my own mortality. What had I done with my life? Money seemed a meaningless reward.
I became aware of things in a new way. I saw with clarity what really mattered: family, friendships, love. I saw sunsets and trees in a way I never knew existed. I used to think eco-activists were extreme - now I identified with their concern for our precious planet.
Savannah, my sister, gave me Reiki healing and we spent quiet evenings burning candles. But I'd wake in the night with terrible fear in my stomach. I'd look at Ian and think, `I don't want to leave you. I don't want you to replace me.' I felt I didn't have much fight.
Savannah, Ian and I drove to the hospital in silence. My sister has been clairvoyant since we were children and suddenly she said, `Thank God, thank God!' She felt sure I was going to be all right. A warmth seemed to envelop us and we both cried. A song came into my mind, "You knock me down, I get up again", and the lyrics kept me going as the three of us walked, arms linked, into the hospital.
I was prepared for a mastectomy. I used to be a page-three model but now I felt appearances were hollow. My sister and I said a prayer on the ward. Something happens when you ask for help and I experienced a deep, physical calm in response.
We had to interrupt filming of the soap but we didn't tell the crew why at the time - I was still coming to terms with it myself. Then after a week of sleepless nights, the tests came back clear. I felt elated but also changed for ever.
Ian and I finally made it to Lanzarote - only to receive a phone call that his mother had died. We were both plunged in grief. It is hard - there is a lot of healing to do.
I am a nicer person. I used not to rest till I had vented my anger; now it does not seem to matter. I savour simple things like dew on a flower or a quiet evening at home with Ian. Death is part of me now and strangely that is enriching. There is grief but also deep joy. This terrible year has taught me how precious life is."
Rosalind Mitchell, 44
"After living my life as a man, this is the first year I've spent as a woman. I was elected as David Spry to Bristol City Council and then the Labour Party backed me staying on as Rosalind Mitchell - the first person in elected public office to change sex. I was very nervous about my first appearance in a skirt - as I came into work I saw one of my women friends and clung to her for support!
In a way it doesn't feel a big change because I have felt like a girl since I was four. I tried hard to be a man and live up to expectations. But I have always hated traditional male activities and always preferred women's company. I have been married twice and have a daughter from my first marriage but sadly I walked out on her when she was a baby. My daughter (now 18) has been very supportive, as has my second wife, but my mother has found it hard to accept.
I started hormone treatment, voice training and electrolysis. Male to female changes are gradual and take time. Although I could have kept out of sight until the transition was complete, I think it's important that I have been upfront from the start. It's amazing how tolerant people can be if you are honest with them.
My constituents have been marvellous - one guy gave me a bunch of flowers. In the school where I am a governor, a colleague and father gave me a kiss on the lips in front of everybody. Acceptance means so much to me.
But hostility has come from unexpected quarters. Early in the year my local Labour women's group voted in my presence to exclude me from their meetings. I went into quite a deep depression after that, a combination of hormonal changes and the rejection. But although it was hell - real isolation - I never once doubted my decision. After that I slowly built back my confidence as a woman.
The turning point came in May when I went to see my consultant and we talked about surgery (now scheduled for next spring). Afterwards I walked past this young man, hoping not to attract the usual stares, but to my surprise he called out, `Cheer up, gorgeous.' Another time, I was standing at a bus stop and a tall transsexual shambled past. A woman asked me, `Is that a man or a woman?' These moments of inclusion are so very important.
In the beginning I tended to overplay my wardrobe, always making a point of wearing a skirt. But as I feel more confident about my sexuality, I can feel comfortable wearing jeans.
I have almost forgotten my past existence as David. For the first time I feel happy and at one with myself. My only regret is that I did not do this 20 years ago."
Roy Gibney, 44
"Last July I won pounds 7.5m on the lottery. It was brilliant the way it happened. I was working as a foreman on a building site with my mate and brother and we were all together in the hotel watching the World Cup on TV. At half-time I was getting myself something to eat when suddenly my mate started shouting out the winning numbers. I got back just in time to see the last ball rolling in. I felt so good, I couldn't believe it.
We all went for a drink and let the reality sink in. Camelot rang me on my mobile to confirm that I was a multi-millionaire. All we could talk about was my win and how it would affect things. My mates are a good lot and it's important that nothing has changed in the way we get on.
We haven't discussed things directly but I would understand if anyone had mixed feelings. I know I would. But my mates are protective and care about me. One of my friends set up my investments for nothing and gave me back the commission. I am lucky that I had trust and friendship before the win.
I also want to say a big thank you to the people in Grimsby for being happy for me. I made a point of spending most of my money in Grimsby and I support local charities.
People say to me, `you don't dress like a millionaire'. I am still me.
But my lifestyle has changed beyond recognition. I used to live in a semi - now I've got a new house and I am putting in an indoor pool, a gym, a snooker room and a steam room.
I can make other people's lives easier too. I have helped out my daughters from my previous marriage and my mother, who has struggled all her life, can now have her dream country cottage - we've christened her Pegasus because she's discovered she loves air travel.
She used to go on at me for investing so much money in the lottery. But I was convinced that one day I would win.
The downside has been the tabloid press doorstepping me. I miss working too. I used to love getting the drawings and seeing a big building project through from start to finish.
It's also strange being able to buy anything you want - I don't want as much as I thought I did when I didn't have it. Making a will is quite a burden because it is important to get it right.
But I have the freedom to do what I want and money worries are a thing of the past. This morning I woke early and fed the swans in my lake. Later I will go and play golf with my friends. Winning came at the right time. I am old enough and wise enough to enjoy it."
Andrea Needham, 33
Busted Iraqi sanctions
"This summer I went on a sanctions-breaking trip to Iraq, the first time I have delivered aid in person. Although I have been against sanctions since they started, I could not imagine the horror and suffering - seeing it for myself has made everything more real.
We flew to Jordan (I hate flying!) and drove 600 miles across the desert to Baghdad in a hired car. Power cuts dominate daily life there and result in pools of untreated sewage - signs of a modern city in collapse.
We visited hospitals. I am a nurse but I have never seen suffering like that before. The children lay on plastic mattresses (sheets have been vetoed) in the sweltering Baghdad heat. There were flies everywhere and a terrible smell - disinfectants are also banned. I was with women giving birth in total darkness during 18-hour power cuts and saw children dying from lack of clean water.
In the marketplace at Fallujah, which had been hit by an RAF bomb, everyone was desperate to tell their story. Abdullah, aged 13, was on crutches - his legs had been blown off in the attack. `First bombs, then sanctions,' said his uncle. `Our children are dying - but what is their crime?' According to Unicef, 4,500 Iraqi children under five are dying every month as a result of sanctions.
Now when I hear threats against the Iraqi people, I am deeply upset. I feel things with a degree of passion and commitment that I never had before. Since coming back to Britain, the faces of the sick children haunt me - I will never be the same again."
Andrea's trip was organised by Voices in the Wilderness, tel: 0181-444 1605.
Matt Stephens, 17
Rebuilt his life
"Last year I thought my life was finished. Now it feels like it has just begun. I have been in care since I was 10-years-old, living in different foster homes. My mother tries hard to cope but she has five children (I am the eldest) and I couldn't take the rows.
Christmas 1997 was terrible. My foster home was very strict and I used to have to go to bed in the dark without any supper. To make it worse I was only a few doors away from my mum - we were getting closer but I was only allowed to visit for an hour on Christmas day. I was hurting so much I wanted to kill myself.
It all built to a crisis last March. I had a job, I was trying to look after my mum and study for my GCSEs. I felt so isolated, trapped and in despair. I was moved to two other foster homes and nearly ended up on the streets.
The turning point came when my social worker arranged an interview with the National Children's Home who offered me a place in a shared house.
I was nervous about moving here but George, the resident adult, made me welcome right from the start. She's the best lady in the world. She gives us love, a shoulder to cry on and she keeps us in order.
There are five of us here and we are like family. You can speak your mind without starting a row and people listen to you and understand. Now I have got the freedom to make my own choices and the stability of a loving home. Last year I felt worthless - now I have the confidence to make my life better.
The second major turning point came when I joined a Prince's Trust volunteer course. We have refurbished a run-down room in a local school and are working with physically disabled adults.
We are also fundraising to go to Romania sometime in the new year to help with orphaned children. It is great to feel I can help others.
My outlook has totally changed. Last year I thought I would end up homeless, or on benefits at 16 with a wife and a kid watching TV all day.
Now I am living life to the full and I know that there is so much more out there. Life is so wonderful and it just gets better."Reuse content