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Cancer survivor Erica urges all women to sign for Life

By Lesley-Anne Henry

Erica Hanson never thought she’d see the day when she would walk down the aisle.

This time last year the Co Down woman was mentally planning her own funeral, but after battling her way through the toughest 12 months of her life the brave 38-year-old is now preparing for her summer wedding.

Erica, a civil servant, is launching this year’s Race for Life event which takes place in Belfast in May.

She was diagnosed with cervical cancer in November 2008. And although she put on a brave face for devastated family and friends, behind her smiling facade she feared the worst.

“It is a sobering thought when you are told you have cancer. I never wanted to get married and then when I got told that I had cancer I think both me and my boyfriend changed our minds. You realise you are mortal. I was planning for a funeral in my head because the word cancer seems to bring about the word death,” she told the Belfast Telegraph.

“I was saying to everybody ‘I’ll be all right’ but deep down in my own inner thoughts I was thinking I might die as a 37-year-old woman.”

Cervical cancer is the sixth most common female cancer with around 7,350 people diagnosed in Northern Ireland every year — about 20 a day.

Erica’s diagnosis came at the time Jade Goody was losing her struggle for life. Like the reality TV star, Erica was “too embarrassed” to go for regular smear tests and ignored symptoms for months.

By speaking out now she hopes her serious health scare will encourage others to go for regular check-ups.

“I never went for a smear test. I had symptoms but I had been ignoring symptoms for about a year. I was embarrassed. I started bleeding irregularly and then I was at work and then all of a sudden blood just rushed out of me and I went to my GP because don’t like hospitals,” she said.

“I would advise women to go for smear tests because, believe me, I’ve made up for all the years I missed out on examinations. No woman likes it but you have to do it.”

Erica was determined not to give up on life, however, the weekly sessions of chemotherapy and daily doses of radio therapy did take their toll and made every day a battle.

She said: “It was hard going. There was one day that I rang up the radio therapy girls and begged them to leave me alone for a day and they persuaded me to come in. It had got to me. You get a burnt feeling around the lower tummy and you’ve got to drink a lot of water. Now I won’t even drink water, I have to have orange juice in it. I won’t drink a bottle of water now because that’s

what I had to do every day for 10 weeks to fill my bladder up. But I got through it.”

Launching this year’s Cancer Research Race for Life, Erica hopes her story of survival will inspire hundreds of women to take part in the 5km run to raise funds for life saving research.

The event, the biggest of it’s kind in Northern Ireland, takes place on Sunday, May 30 and organisers are hoping 5,000 women of all ages and abilities will run, walk or jog round the grounds of Stormont and raise £366,600.

Erica added: “I finished my treatment in March. I had done quite a few Race for Life’s but I felt more compelled to do it last year. I think I raised about £600.

“It was tough going. I did find it hard but I felt it was a milestone. I had finished my treatment so I wanted to forget what happened and put it behind me and the Race for Life was a milestone for me moving forward.

“I used to go running all the time. I’ve always been a runner and that was kind of the start of my new life.”

Last year more than 5,000 women raised £351,169.

Event organiser Helen Wright said: “Race for Life in Belfast has a fantastic atmosphere with women of all ages, shapes, sizes and fitness abilities coming together to make a positive difference to the lives of people touched by cancer. They motivate and inspire each other to complete the 5k, with many simply walking round, chatting and having fun.”

Erica is running the Reading half marathon next month in aid of Cancer Research. Anyone wishing to make a donation should log on to www.runningsponsorme.org/ericahanson2 .

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