A NATIONAL football star and Doncaster Belles legend has spoken of her fight against breast cancer - with the hope of raising awareness of the condition among younger women.

Former England and Belles captain Gill Coultard, who holds the record for the most outfield appearances for her country, is currently receiving chemotherapy for the illness after having an operation to remove a lump.

"The 'C' word is every woman's worst nightmare," she said. "And it was quite frightening when they told me that the lump was cancerous. It was a shock, but at the same time I was expecting it."

Since the diagnosis Gill has remained amazingly positive, facing the condition head-on with the support of friends, family and colleagues. And she wants her experience to help raise awareness of the disease among other women.

She said: "It can happen to anyone - women of all ages - and I want people to be aware of that. Yes, the likelihood is more in women over 50, but all women should be checking themselves regularly."

Gill, who now lives in Castleford and works as a coach at the National Women's Football Academy, first noticed the lump at the end of May and it was diagnosed as cancer at the Wakefield Cancer Clinic just days later. One month on and she was booked into hospital for the surgery.

"It was a weird feeling going into theatre - there was a bit of the fear of the unknown. But the doctors were fantastic."

The operation was judged a success - the lump was removed and the cancer had not spread anywhere else. "It was fantastic news," she said.

The next step is a six session course of chemotherapy, followed by a six week break, and then a course of radium therapy. It is hoped that by February or March the process will be completed and Gill can go on a well-deserved holiday before returning to work.

Gill said she feels lucky that the treatment, which she began last week, has not caused her any side effects so far. "It's a bit surreal really," she said, "Everyone was warning about the tough ride ahead but everything seems to have gone so well."

Gill hopes that her positive attitude could help and inspire other sufferers through the difficult times. She said: "Staying positive is at least 85 per cent of the battle - I surround myself with positive people and think positive thoughts. I have got through my operation and I know that I am not out of the woods yet, but it looks 100 per cent better than two months ago."

John Buckley, Doncaster Belles' current manager, paid tribute to her skills as a player and a coach and said: "I was absolutely gutted when I found out the news, but I would not expect anything other than the positive way she has handled it all - she digs her heels in and keeps on going. And I am delighted that the treatment has been going so well."