Becca Drake had only one thought when she was diagnosed with a rare form of bowel cancer… the welfare of her beloved dogs.
The former beautician-turned-animal rescuer was terrified for the 32 pugs and three French bulldogs she cares for.
Becca, 42, said: “The bottom fell out of my world. Dying wasn’t an option because my dogs needed me. Pugs are my passion.
“They are the most amazing characters and I’ve devoted my life to their care and happiness.
“I was scared but I had to face cancer head on and beat it, whatever it took.”
Becca developed a passion for pugs after her parents gave her a pup called Fatima for her 30th birthday.
Fatima had a litter and Becca started to show her dogs at Crufts.
But she was dismayed by the attitudes of “win at all costs” breeders and in 2009 turned her attention to taking in homeless, disabled and mistreated pugs.
She moved house to be able to accommodate the growing tribe and now runs the Bubblebecca pug sanctuary full-time at home in Sandbach, Cheshire.
And her love for the dogs has been key in maintaining her spirits. After her cancer diagnosis in February 2017, Becca had surgery to remove a growth, followed by two months of radiotherapy and two rounds of chemo.
Her dogs – who all live inside her adapted house – kept her going. One, named Uncle Max, sat at a doorway waiting for nine days while she was in hospital.
Becca said: “I was in a lot of pain but my dogs gave me a reason to get out of bed and a focus.
“They were subdued when I arrived home – they could sense I wasn’t well.”
Becca finished her treatment in August 2017 and celebrated by having a tattoo on her leg of a pug in an ice cream cone.
She has been cancer-free for a year but her elation at surviving has been tempered by grief for Fatima, who died in April after her own five-year cancer fight.
Becca said: “My heart aches for her but her legacy keeps me going. I’m now passionate about fundraising to find a cure for this disease – for humans and animals.”
Becca’s work is supported by donations of money and essential items from her 367,000 Instagram followers around the world.
She also sells pug-themed calendars and merchandise to cover the €25,000 annual care bill for her animals – as well as running a pug holiday service.
While Becca has found homes for many pugs, the older and more infirm dogs became permanent residents who she affectionately nicknames The Grumble.
Becca also helps other charities and is swimming 22 miles – the width of the English Channel – over a number of weeks in aid of spinal cord injury charity Aspire.