From the Mirror Online, 30 June 2019


Meet the choir where every member really is singing from the same hymn sheet – after a life affected by ovarian cancer.

Together they make up the Ovacome Choir, the brainchild of Craig McMurrough, who lost his younger sister Cheryl to the disease three years ago.

Craig says: “I grew up in Dublin and singing is in my blood. I wanted to create a safe space where people could sing to their hearts’ content and, if they felt like it, discuss their cancer stories without any pressure.”

Since starting the fortnightly sessions last October, the choir has attracted over 20 members.



Craig goes on: “Having lost my sister, I know it’s not just those women who have experienced ovarian cancer who need support, but close friends and family too.

“There are no auditions, you don’t have to read music – all that matters is you like singing, want to improve your wellbeing and perhaps support others too.”

Victoria Clare, CEO of Ovacome, says ovarian cancer can be incredibly isolating because it is less common – with just 7,000 new cases reported each year compared to over 50,000 for breast cancer.

She says: “Creating communities through choirs can have an incredible, positive impact on wellbeing for cancer patients and their families.”

The charity has plans to roll out similar choirs to other UK cities in the near future. Here, seven choir members tell their story:


Retired nurse Ruth Payne, 64, from Wanstead, East London, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at 41.

She has run support lines for Ovacome for 16 years.

She says: “The Ovacome choir is a joy. Everyone there knows how you feel, but without having to explain yourself.

“Stepping outside your cancer story for a few hours every other Saturday is such a relief.

“Many members have never sung, so for them it’s a revelation. For cancer survivors and sufferers, singing is more life-affirming than I could begin to describe.”


Volunteer Cathy Selford, from Maida Vale, north-west London, is a choir volunteer and supports musical director Naveen Arles.

She says: “I’ve lost so many friends through cancer, but never ovarian cancer, so saw it as a great way to learn what these women and families had experienced, how I could help.

“With two other ­volunteers, Clare and Viv, I sing to help build confidence and bring them together as a group.

“Singing next to women with incurable cancer with a smile on their face is so humbling and inspirational.”


Jane Hatfield, 51, from Honor Oak Park in south-east London, was diagnosed with stage three ovarian cancer in January.

After major surgery, she has finished chemo and is waiting for the final scan to see if she is cancer-free.

She says: “I thought singing through my treatment would be a great way to distract myself and to find some joy in life when there was so much uncertainty.

“What I found particularly buoying was meeting other women who’d survived, to give me hope I might get through this.

“Seeing them alive and well and belting out tunes with gusto put a smile on my face at a difficult time. We don’t take ourselves too seriously and laugh all the time.”




It was seven months after first going to her GP that Samixa Shah, 56, from Edgware, North London, was diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer in June 2012.

She says: “I’ve always believed in a holistic approach to health, I know the mind can help the body heal if you give it a chance, so Ovacome’s health and wellbeing events are perfect – be it yoga, belly dancing, or singing.

“My husband Bakul and I have been involved in Indian karaoke since 2008. If I’m happy or sad, singing is the answer. I really can’t overstate the value of the Ovacome Choir.

“When you sing, you really listen to the lyrics, which can lift you and give you a sense of purpose and meaning.

“When I met choir founder Craig, I gave him the biggest hug to let him know how I felt about what he’d created.

“I just hope it spreads so more women and loved ones can share its positivity.”


After two years of symptoms, Sandra Lee, 62, from Farningham in Kent, was diagnosed in November 2011.

Now living with incurable ovarian cancer, she is a regular at the Ovacome choir along with her daughter ­Genevieve.

Sandra says: “I heard about the Ovacome Choir after attending a health and wellbeing workshop.

“It never fails to give us a high. It’s probably the only time I can escape myself and forget I’ve got cancer. Every day really does feel precious. It’s not about being good at singing – like me, many of the ladies there have ‘chemo-brain’, so remembering the lyrics is an uphill struggle. But we just laugh about it and sing our hearts out.

“I count down the days when I can sing with my new family of friends, my daughter digging her elbow into my ribs smiling when I forget the words again!”


Aged 42, Genevieve Lee lives with her mum and says: “I’ve always loved singing and know how ­therapeutic it can be, the blood pumping through your veins, opening your airways and belting out a tune.

“I can just about sing, but Mum’s got a shocking voice, so it took 
some convincing.

“Now every other Saturday is like Christmas for her.

“She just lights up when she’s there. The laughter is infectious and she has made friends for life.

“I seriously have to remind myself she has incurable cancer – she looks so happy and carefree.

“The choir is the single best thing that’s happened to us in years.”

The choir is directed by Naveen Arles, 41, who is also artistic director of the London International Gospel Choir.

Last year he was awarded a British Citizens Award for his work in the arts and ­creative healing.

Nav says: “The original plan was for me to be a medic to help people, then I realised I could make more impact with singing.

"The Ovacome Choir encapsulates everything I believe in, to make the world a better, brighter place.

“Seeing people who’ve never sung before light up in the darkest of circumstances is incredible.”