As part of the Cancer Focus Think Pink breast cancer awareness campaign, which runs during October, cancer survivor Roberta Carlisle, from Ballyclare, has shared her personal experiences.
Roberta, who is a midwife, was diagnosed with breast cancer the day before her 43rd birthday.
She said: “I found a thickening in my breast at the end of May 2006. I had been experiencing symptoms of an early menopause and I thought that this was another side-effect, so I put it to the back of my mind.
“While on holiday I noticed that my breast changed shape quite dramatically when I raised my arm. Alarm bells started ringing.
“My GP referred me for a mammogram followed by a needle aspiration. That same day I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a massive shock.
“Soon after my diagnosis I had a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. The tumour was large at 5cm and grade 3, which is very aggressive. Two of my lymph nodes were also affected. I had six cycles of chemotherapy followed by five weeks of radiotherapy.
“I had some terribly low days when I think I was still in shock at what was happening to my body, but I have two wonderful children who really got me though it.
“My husband Mark and I told Laura, who was 15 at the time, and Adam, who was 11, as honestly as we could. Laura did things like putting pink streaks in her hair for breast cancer awareness. She had a belief that mum was always strong and would just get on with it. There were trying times though – the day I was having my surgery was Adam’s first day at high school. But they coped well and I’m very proud of them.
“One day when I was particularly tearful, I contacted Cancer Focus Northern Ireland, the new name for the Ulster Cancer Foundation, and booked an appointment with a counsellor. It was one of the best things I ever did. I had one session, which was enough for me. It gave me the opportunity to air my grievances about the disease and it was a relief to get my thoughts out in the open.”
If you are concerned about breast cancer or want to talk to someone about signs and symptoms, call the Cancer Focus information and support helpline – 0800 783 3339 (Monday – Friday, 9am – 1pm).