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Action Cancer Bra Walk: Why we're proud to put our best foot forward

Breast cancer survivor Sandra McCarry, from Derriaghy, and sisters Julie and Lisa Wilson from Belfast, who lost their granny to the disease, will be taking part in Action Cancer's 10k Bra Walk on Friday. They explain why this event is so important.

Feathered, sequinned or lacy - women will be showing their support for Action Cancer's life-saving breast screening service by donning pretty pink bras for the charity's 10k walk on Friday.

The Bra Walk has become a colourful annual event with up to 1,000 walkers taking to the city in a sea of pink - and the charity is inviting all men, women and children - to come and join in the day, too.

Now in its second year, the Action Cancer fundraiser, which is sponsored by SuperValu, will begin at Belfast City Hall at 7pm.

And while the walk has a positive message, the purpose is a serious one - to raise much-needed funds for the charity as well as creating awareness of breast cancer. Action Cancer has screened a record-breaking 10,750 women during 2015-2016. And for every 1,000 women screened, an average of six or seven breast cancers will be detected - at an early and more treatable stage.

The charity points out its life-saving work is made possible because of the continued, generous support it receives from the Northern Ireland public. And Action Cancer needs that support to continue now more than ever.

Valerie Thompson, from SuperValu, says: "We are delighted to sponsor The Bra Walk and would encourage families and friends from across Northern Ireland to get involved in this fun event. SuperValu has been supporting Action Cancer's Big Bus for almost 10 years, helping to bring breast screening services to 235 locations throughout Northern Ireland.

"Lending support to The Bra Walk is a great way to raise awareness of this live-saving service as well as an opportunity to get fit, walk in memory of a loved one or support someone going through breast cancer."

  • Online registration is now open priced at £12 per adult and £5 per child, and everyone taking part will receive The Bra Walk bag for life and complimentary pink t-shirt. All participants are encouraged to raise a minimum of £80 in sponsorship, the amount it costs Action Cancer to provide digital breast screening for one woman aged 40-49 and over 70

'If I hadn't been screened, my outcome would have been very different ... now I want to spread the word'

Sandra McCarry (46), who works for the health service, is a single mum from Derriaghy with two sons, aged 14 and 17. Sandra, who has suffered from breast cancer, is an Action Cancer Ambassador and will cut the pink ribbon on Friday to mark the start of the walk. She says:

Working in the health service, I was always aware of Action Cancer’s screening programme for women in their 40s and aged 70 plus. As soon as I turned 40 and was eligible, I phoned up and booked an appointment. It was easy and convenient — I had a 9am appointment at Action Cancer House,  at Marlborough Park, just off Belfast’s Malone Road, and was on my way to work by 9.15am. The mammogram wasn’t painful — just slightly uncomfortable for a few moments.

Shortly afterwards I received a letter to say that my results were clear. Then, two years later I received a reminder letter to attend again on March 24, 2013. After this mammogram, however, I was told ‘further investigation was required’.

While I was surprised when I received the letter, I didn’t feel overly worried. I knew that lots of women are referred on for further investigation and for the majority of them it doesn’t mean they have cancer.

I went to the breast cancer clinic at Belfast City Hospital on April 22 and took my mum with me — it  was actually her birthday. When I was shown the Action Cancer X-ray of my left breast I saw what looked like a small, white round circle. It looked to be very deep inside  my breast.

I had another mammogram plus a biopsy and that same day the consultant told me I had breast cancer and that there was evidence it had spread to my lymph nodes.

It was a lot of information to take in. I was so shocked that I had breast cancer — I couldn’t believe it. I asked the consultant to break the news to my mother, as I just couldn’t do it. As it turned out we were both remarkably calm.

The consultant suspected that the tumour was 2cm in size and that surgery and a lumpectomy were needed. I was told that the lymph node spread could only be determined after surgery. I had my operation  on May 3 — all my lymph nodes were removed and I spent five days in hospital.

Once the swelling had gone down I couldn’t really notice any difference in the appearance of my breast, so I was pleased with the outcome.

Of the 27 lymph nodes removed, only two came back as being cancerous.  That meant I needed six cycles of chemotherapy, which lasted from June 27 until October 15.

The chemo was tough. The first week of each round, I felt sick but the next two weeks I felt relatively normal. The last three cycles were horrible. I developed mouth ulcers, my hair and nails fell out. I told myself to just make the most of the times I felt well.

Before cancer I had long hair which I loved, so I decided to take control and got my hair cut after surgery, but before chemo. I had a haircut party with my friends. And actually I’m glad I got it cut because I really liked the style. By the time it started to fall out I’d time to process it.

Before I began to completely lose my hair, my neighbour came over the night before the second chemo treatment and shaved it. We’d a great night. I Facetimed my sons, who were away with their father at the time, so they wouldn’t get a shock when they came home. I managed to keep my eyebrows and eyelashes to the fifth round of chemo — it was harder losing my eyelashes than my hair, I wore a lot of make-up to deal with the changes in my appearance as well as wigs when socialising.

I continued to live my life during treatment — I decided to face it head-on. In February 2014, I had a two-week holiday to Canada to visit family. It was a good time to get myself together, to reflect and to get ready to return to work, which I did on a phased basis. By 2014, I had my first mammogram since diagnosis and was told that no worrying features were detected. I have been on Tamoxifen for a number of years now and see an oncologist and surgeon every year.

Now, I feel as though life is getting back to normal. I feel calmer. Things that would have made me anxious and stressed don’t do so anymore. I don’t really care what people think of me.

Since having all my lymph nodes removed, I have developed lymphedema in my left arm. This causes swelling and discomfort and can be painful. I have been attending the complementary therapy service at Action Cancer to help me manage the symptoms of the lymphedema. Even three years after my diagnosis, Action Cancer is still there to support me.

It was difficult for my sons to watch their mum go through this but I have had fantastic support. My family and friends have been amazing. My mum, dad and sister were all superstars. My social circle just came into their own.

I would encourage other women to go for breast screening as it could be the difference between living and dying. It would have been a long time before I noticed anything because of where the lump was in my breast. By that stage it would have been very big and I’m convinced it could have been a very different outcome for me if not for Action Cancer.

Spread the word and encourage your bosom buddies, family and work colleagues to put their best foot forward and walk 10k on Friday.”

'We are taking part to help celebrate our nanny's life'

Julie Wilson (22), unemployed, lives in Belfast. She will be doing The Bra Walk with her sister, Lisa (21), a shop assistant, from Belfast. They will be taking part in memory of their late grandmother, Lillian Ireland, an auxiliary nurse at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast, who passed away last May from breast cancer. She says:

Lisa and I decided to take part in The Bra Walk last year with two friends Robyn McKee and Kelly Witter, both 22. At the time, our nanny, Lillian had been diagnosed with breast cancer in autumn 2014 for the third time.

She had been undergoing treatment for some time, but then decided not to continue as it wasn’t having any effect.

We wanted to do something for our nanny and raise a bit of money to help other people with cancer.

But while we were raising sponsorship and before the walk took place, our nanny died on May 11 last year aged 70.

We were devastated to lose such a special person in our lives and it made the walk even more emotional and significant for us.

It was really inspiring to see so many people dressed in pink walking the streets of Belfast united by the same cause.

We are taking part again this year to celebrate our nanny’s life. With the first anniversary of her death just passed, we are keen to raise more money so Action Cancer can provide more women of her age with mammograms.

Last year we raised £650 which is enough for Action Cancer to provide eight women aged 40-49 or 70-plus with breast screening appointments.

It only costs £12 to register and each person is asked to try and raise £80, which will provide a breast screening appointment for a local woman.

It’s really not that hard to do — once you set up an online sponsorship page and ask a few close friends and family to donate.

Lisa and I chose to fundraise for Action Cancer, as it is a local charity. And it was important to us that the money is used to provide services to people just like our nanny and anyone else affected by cancer.

Not only do they provide this vital early detection service but they also provide support for families of people diagnosed or bereaved by cancer just like us.

I urge all men, women and children to support Action Cancer by taking part in The Bra Walk, not only is it for a great cause it’s also a great night out and celebration of life for all those no longer with us as well as those who have survived to tell their story.”

  • To sign up visit, contact Action Cancer, tel: 028 9080 3344 or email

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