Former Loose Women star Carol McGiffin has revealed her ordeal at being diagnosed with breast cancer and said NHS staff who treated her “deserve a medal”.

She told the Sunday People newspaper she had found a lump on her breast while on holiday in February last year and was diagnosed with a tumour in April before undergoing a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy to overcome it.

And she told how her friend Lynda Bellingham, who died in October from colon cancer at 66, had said “f***ing hell, not you an’ all”, when she told her of her own fight.

McGiffin, 54, who sported short hair in photos for the paper, said: “I don’t want to pretend any more. I kept it a secret because I didn’t want anyone feeling sorry for me.

“I feel it is over now and I’ve got through it. I just want to be able to go out without my hat on and for people not to be bothered. I just want my life to get back to normal.”

She said her fiance Mark Cassidy, who is 22 years younger than her, had helped shave her hair off and that he had not been “fazed” by her ordeal.

In her regular column for the newspaper she added it had been “nothing more than a bad dream” and praised the NHS staff at the Royal Free Hospital in London, where she said she had at one point been placed in the isolation unit next to the Ebola ward.

“I felt as if I should keep in touch with the people who cared for me but like all NHS staff they’re too busy looking after the next patient. But my gratitude knows no bounds and I’m sure they know that,” she wrote.

Of Bellingham she told the paper: “She was a bit annoyed I hadn’t told her before but that was Lynda all over – worrying about others.”

McGiffin is best known as a regular panellist on the ITV daytime talk show. She married Chris Evans in 1991 and the couple separated in 1994 and divorced in 1998.

She began her broadcasting career in 1988 as co-host of the Chris Evans show on GLR and in 1995 became the founding member of the Talk Radio UK team.