Noleen Adair: Could she be our most inspiring woman of the year?

Pretty 'n' Pink Director, Noleen and Gavin Adair

Ahead of Friday’s deadline for entries to our annual awards celebrating |females here, Jane Hardy meets Noleen Adair of the Pretty ‘n’ Pink charity

It's hard to find the right adjective for Noleen Adair (33), founder of the breast cancer charity Pretty 'n' Pink. Strong, determined, courageous, gutsy, inspiring, brave. She's all of those things as her story, of developing breast cancer at the age of 22, then deciding to help others through her organisation, amply shows. But like so many people who deal well with the traumas life throws at us, Noleen is also modest. Asked whether she sees a brave woman in the mirror, she simply says: “I don't see a brave woman there at the moment, it's just me.”

Last month, Noleen's innovative charity, which she founded in 2006 with the business acumen gained from working as a manager at retailer Iceland, held a gala ball at Titanic Belfast.

“We started off in the room with the famous staircase. It was terrific, everyone was having fun, pretending to be Kate Winslet and Leonardo di Caprio.” Apparently, Noleen got the inspiration to, as she puts it, “move to the Titanic Quarter, like everybody else this season” in a lightbulb moment earlier in the year.

Noleen is somebody people want to nominate for the Belfast Telegraph Woman of the Year awards, and she has inevitably been shortlisted in previous years.

This year, her worsening condition has meant that Noleen has been grappling with a course of radiotherapy while masterminding the charity that has raised an impressive £400,000 for the sort of extras that women in her position may not get on the NHS.

She talks about the girls she's encountered who have benefited from Pretty 'n' Pink. “One girl who had cancer and had three children was helped to go on a respite weekend to Barcelona with her husband. It meant they could forget about the cancer, about everything except themselves.” This gave her a well deserved break from the cloud that hangs over women with the disease.

Noleen now says that she waited for a while after finding a breast lump in her early 20s, through embarrassment about discussing it, and that this dangerous delay is one reason she founded Pretty 'n' Pink. “I was embarrassed but if I had gone to the doctor earlier, the result might have been different.”

As it was, Noleen underwent many operations, including a mastectomy and reconstruction conducted by Sigi Refsum, the 2011 Belfast Telegraph Woman of the Year in Medicine.

Now she is faced with the spread of the disease and is undergoing another course of radiotherapy at the Cancer Centre in Belfast City Hospital. She adds that her treatment has been good, but that she wishes she'd got help earlier. “One of the reasons I founded the charity was to say that young women can get cancer and to tell them to get help,” she says. “Also to help women who have the disease. We've given out individual grants. At the beginning it was small sums like £150-£200, now bigger sums. These go towards things like heating oil, childcare, money to enable women get help around the house.”

Noleen, who knows exactly what all these women are going through, has also helped inject some sparkle into the lives of |fellow breast cancer sufferers.

Her voice lifts as she explains that she took 50 women and their friends to a performance of Legally Blonde at the Grand Opera House in Belfast.

“Oh, it was fantastic, everybody had a great time — and it was a wonderful show,” she says.

An event that has lifted the spirits of Noleen's family, who were in need of a boost after the news that her cancer had spread, was the birth six weeks ago of her niece, Lily. Noleen sounds the doting aunt, saying: “She's my brother Brian's daughter and a lovely wee thing. My nephew is 16 now, so we haven't had a baby in the house for all that time. However you're feeling, when you walk into the room and she's there, it just makes you feel better.”

The other person who regularly lights up Noleen's life, the man she describes as her rock, is husband Gavin. “He is and always has been so supportive,” she says. “He really understands. Although I'm not a flowers kind of girl, he is a romantic man.”

The couple found room in their hearts to share their home in Saintfield for some years with foster daughter Caroline, who is now doing her own thing and finishing a degree in marketing at Belfast Metropolitan College.

Gavin also remains by Noleen's side as she tirelessly raises money for her innovative, big-hearted charity for which she has great |ambitions.

“I'm already looking for a quirky venue for next year’s gala ball,” she admits. With two staff and intelligent use of social media, Noleen achieves great things.

Her one-woman crusade provides funds that improve the lives of women with breast cancer. She says that the women she meets often get a positive new direction after diagnosis. “They sometimes go in a different, creative direction, taking up baking or art or something new,” she reveals.

As Noleen did herself, when she moved from being on the management ladder at Iceland and a future retail star into the charity sector.

She says that Facebook is helpful to her business: “I don't tweet much and need to learn how to use Twitter better, but Facebook is brilliant. You can share advice and help other girls in the same situation. There's a group of us who use it.”

This woman's energy is phenomenal. Even though Noleen has to take time out for treatment or recovery from treatment, she never lets the side down.

“I make sure I put on my make-up and that the smile is in place,” she says.

At the recent gala ball, she looked, as always amazing.

Chris Love, a friend and public relations expert, says: “She looked outstanding and although you realise that inside she may not be feeling great, you wouldn't know it from her appearance.

“And that's inspiring to other women going through cancer.” Noleen remains under the care of her oncologist. Once this treatment is over, they will assess the situation.

Asked what she is putting on her Christmas list, Noleen says immediately, with a rueful laugh: “Good health would have to be top of the list.”

But she then touches on her sense of destiny. “I honestly think I was meant to do this, it was fated. I'm a great believer in that.”

Noleen says she's inherited her courage from her mother, Rose, who brought up three children in west Belfast, largely on her own as a single parent.

“We're very close as a result and I think I’ve inherited mummy's strength as she had to be both mummy and daddy,” she says.

That has clearly rubbed off. She says her father, Brian, who has also fought cancer more than once, is a positive influence too.

Although this isn't the career path Noleen would necessarily have chosen, she admits she gets a buzz from it.

“I honestly couldn't believe when I began the charity in 2006 that we’d get this far. It's amazing.” As is its founder. How would she like to be remembered? “As somebody who made a difference.”

Your chance to win

The Belfast Telegraph Woman of the Year awards, this year in association with Asda, are a success because of you, the readers, who nominate the inspiring women.

To thank those who take the time to nominate we’re giving them the opportunity to win a fantastic prize. The winner will get two tickets, together worth £100, to the awards night on December 5 at the Ramada Plaza Hotel, Shaws Bridge, Belfast. The lucky pair will also be given an overnight stay with breakfast at the four-star hotel, bringing the prize value to over £250.

At the black tie gala event they’ll enjoy a four course meal with wine and entertainment. Music will be provided by the Methody Girls’ Choir who have just won the BBC Youth Choir of the Year title. Then, Swingabella, led by Siobhan Pettit who has appeared with the Ulster Orchestra, will delight the audience after dinner.

And retailers from the |OUTLET at Banbridge will showcase the hottest styles for women and men.

For details on how to nominate and be in with a chance of winning this fab prize, see the advert on the opposite page.

Belfast Telegraph Sportswoman Of The Year Sponsor: Lyprinol

Bert Jukes, director of Enliten, the company responsible for bringing Lyprinol to Northern Ireland, says:

“We are delighted once again to sponsor the Sportswoman of the Year Award and it is a great pleasure to support the achievements of local women.

“Lyprinol is the top selling natural food supplement for joint mobility which is highly important for those involved in and competing in sport.

“Indeed, our own local sporting hero Mary Peters is a great ambassador for Lyprinol as it helps to keep her joints well lubricated and eliminates stiffness.

“These awards provide an excellent opportunity to celebrate local talent and I’m looking forward to the ceremony to see who walks away with the top accolades,”Bert says.

Belfast Telegraph woman Of The Year in Health Sponsor: Linwoods

Joanne Hayden, sales and marketing manager of Linwoods, says:

“As a company whose recent success and growth has been based on healthy foods, it seems entirely natural that we should celebrate the considerable contributions made to the health of our community by outstanding women and we look forward with much excitement to honouring the eventual winner of the 2012 Award.

“As the Women In Health award demonstrates, women are a powerful professional force within our health sector. At Linwoods we also see women as pivotal in driving healthier lifestyles for themselves and for their families. We find that women are keenly aware of the vital importance of a balanced diet and are consequently quick to embrace innovative products which contribute to healthier lifestyles.

“Against that backdrop, Linwoods healthy foods division has continued to break new ground and, indeed, to gain global success.

Indeed, just this month we launched to international acclaim our latest innovation: a low fat fresh milk product enriched with probiotic and vitamins, known as LinwoodsSuper Healthy.

“We are proud to say that our company, which has long been known and trusted for traditional breads and dairy produce, is today equally relied upon for its focus on Super-Healthy foods and Linwoods is proud to play its part in improving the health of our community.”

Belfast Telegraph Woman of |the Year in the Voluntary Sector Sponsor: Irish League of Credit Unions

Rosemary O’Doherty, a director of the Irish League of Credit Unions, says:

“We are delighted to once again sponsor this category. Volunteers are at the heart of every credit union, and our 101 member credit unions in Northern Ireland are no exception. Without the tireless work and dedication of thousands of volunteers, credit unions could not offer their members the services they do, or access to affordable credit. It is our honour to recognise the work of volunteers in Northern Ireland with this award.”

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