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Cancer diagnosis hit me like a train, but my wonderful 'sisters' helped me through dark days

Race for Life campaigner's moving story of survival

By Victoria O'Hara

A cancer survivor has spoken about how a network of strong women around her helped her through the darkest days of battling the disease.

Mum-of-two Lorraine Henry, who is recovering from breast cancer, has bravely talked about her emotional journey as she leads a major new campaign.

The 46-year-old, from Ballyronan near Magherafelt, has been chosen to star in a Cancer Research UK drive urging women across the province to sign up for a Race for Life event this spring and help save lives.

Lorraine is standing shoulder-to-shoulder with her daughters Rosie (14) and Anna (11), sister Lisa Roper (42) and niece Rebecca Roper (12) on the front line against cancer by taking part in the Race for Life 5K at Belfast's Stormont Estate on May 29.

"It hit me like a train when I was told I had cancer - I was in shock," Lorraine explained.

The occupational therapist recalls vividly how, on January 30, 2015, she was diagnosed with the disease.

Just days earlier she visited her GP after finding a lump on her left breast. Hopeful it was nothing to worry about, she went on her own to Antrim Area Hospital for tests.

Her husband Austin (45), who was an hour's drive away at work, had to dash to the hospital when he received an unexpected phone call from his wife.

Lorraine said: "I thought everything was going to be fine, so I went along on my own in between work appointments.

"I had a mammogram then an ultrasound. By the time I got on to a biopsy I began to realise all was not well.

"The nurses asked if I had anyone with me, so I ended up phoning a friend from work who came in to the hospital to be with me when I was told it was cancer.

"After my husband arrived we went out to lunch together to talk about it. I bumped in to a friend in the supermarket a bit later and just blurted out that I had cancer. I don't think anyone could quite believe it. It was tough."

The doctors, however, said her cancer was treatable and recovery rates were good.

"I tried to stay calm, but even then there were moments when I was fearful," Lorraine said.

"But cancer made me realise I have a lot of lovely women in my life. I started a group on Facebook called Sisters, which was a place I could go online to chat as a group to my own sisters, Fiona and Lisa, but also the close-knit gang of best friends who were there for me 24/7 to get me through cancer.

"Even when I was in hospital, just hours away from surgery, these strong women sent me little messages and photos to distract and even make me smile."

Last March Lorraine underwent a mastectomy followed by six sessions of chemotherapy. It meant last spring and summer became a blur of medical appointments and a week in hospital battling a life-threatening infection. With chemo, her hair fell out and she wore a wig, hat or scarf.

But Lorraine, who is a keen tennis player, found exercise actually helped make her feel stronger, and she enjoyed daily walks with her dog Keano.

After finishing her treatment on August 12 she went back to work.

She will take the drug tamoxifen for the next five years and will have annual check-ups.

Lorraine said that people facing cancer should live in the moment.

"It helps to live day-by-day and not to look too far into the future," she added.

Last year around 6,600 women took part in Race for Life 5K, 10K and Pretty Muddy events in Belfast, raising £365,391.

This year organisers need even more women to come together to help raise funds for vital research into the disease.

Jean Walsh, Cancer Research UK spokeswoman for Northern Ireland, said: "Around one person every hour in Northern Ireland receives the news that they have cancer. We're urging women to pick the event that puts fire in their bellies and sign up as soon as possible.

"One in two people in the UK will be diagnosed with cancer at some stage in their lives. Thanks to advances in research, more people are surviving than ever before, but there's still more work to be done."

To enter Race for Life today go to raceforlife.org or call 0300 123 0770. Watch Lorraine Henry share the highs and lows of her battle with breast cancer here: https://youtu.be/Amle7Dgztao

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