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Ciara's designs offer style for cancer battlers

By Gary Grattan

A young Co Down woman is using her own traumatic experience battling both breast and ovarian cancer to help other women suffering from the disease.

Mother-of-two Ciara Priestly (28) from Bangor has set up a new business designing headscarves for women who have had to deal with the trauma of losing their hair after chemotherapy treatment.

>>In Video: Gary Grattan meets Bangor woman Ciara Priestly

Concerned because of a strong family history of breast and ovarian cancer, Ciara decided to be tested for the BRCA1 gene.

"Unfortunately, just after I came back from having my youngest daughter, the test came back positive and my consultant advised me that I had an 80-90 per cent chance of developing breast cancer and a 40 per cent chance of developing ovarian cancer," she explained.

"My options were to opt for screening or have a prophylactic mastectomy. I decided to have the mastectomy and had an MRI scan a couple of months before my surgery was due.

"My MRI scan came back clear and I went ahead with the surgery. Two weeks later I went back to hospital to have my stitches remove, only to be advised that they had detected a grade 3 breast cancer which they hadn't picked up on in the MRI scan

"The week after that diagnosis I went in and had my lymph nodes removed. Fortunately they came back clear but I was advised to start a six-month course of chemotherapy.

"Since then I have had numerous reconstructive procedures and unfortunately several months later my markers for my ovarian cancer had gone up quite drastically within a short period of time so my consultant advised me to go in for a radical hysterectomy, which was done almost immediately."

It was when Ciara was coping with losing her hair as a result of the chemotherapy that she realised she was finding it hard to source attractive, easily-tied headwear.

"When you have a mastectomy or any breast surgery you can't lift your arms above a 45-degree angle so it makes it extremely difficult to tie things behind your head.

"So I decided to design my own headwear, and after lots of compliments and comments from other people, I discovered there was a huge market and quite a need for them in Northern Ireland," Ciara added.

Ciara launched a part-time business, calling it simply 'headscarvesbyciara' - and within a few days of establishing a profile on Facebook, had over 200 messages and inquiries, some from as far away as the United States and throughout Europe.

She also took samples of her designs along to Macmillan Cancer Care and the Ulster Cancer Foundation - and they were so impressed they are interested in stocking them.

Ciara is also designing bespoke headscarves to meet the individual needs of cancer patients.

"I was always interested in fashion and looking good, like any girl would, but I didn't realise I could be creative until I had gone through the process myself and realised what I needed when I lost my hair."

To find out more about Ciara's designs go to the headscarvesbyciara profile on Facebook. Ciara also has a website www.headscarvesbyciara.co.uk which will be active from October 1.

Pictures kindly provided by Lorna Christie Photography

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