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Enjoy girls' night in and help battle breast cancer

Three inspiring women tell Marie Foy about the new 'Support Your Girls' campaign

Phil Quinn with her daughter and granddaughter Edel and Niamh Ferson
Phil Quinn with her daughter and granddaughter Edel and Niamh Ferson
Claire Williamson
Willy Acheson
Claire Williamson with husband Paul and sons Charlie (front) and Jamie
Phil Quinn
Willy Acheson with her son Abraham

Cancer Focus Northern Ireland has launched a new campaign called Support Your Girls to raise funds for a specialised support group for young women with breast cancer.

The leading local cancer charity is asking women to hold a fun girls' night in to fund the group as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October.

The campaign also highlights the signs and symptoms of the disease and stresses the importance of checking your breasts regularly.

Rosie Forsythe, community fundraising manager with Cancer Focus NI, said: "One in 10 women in Northern Ireland is diagnosed with breast cancer, which is a huge number - it could be your mum, your sister, your wife, your granny or your friend.

"We know that there is a great need for more support for younger women who have breast cancer.

"With the money raised from 'girls' night in' events, we plan to facilitate and fund a unique new service that will give them a chance to speak to experts on a wide range of topics such as infertility and sexual relationships as well as meet others in a similar situation.

"The young women we are helping are at a stage in their lives where they may be considering big life changes, such as marriage and starting a family.

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"A breast cancer diagnosis can dramatically change all their hopes and plans for the future.

"We're asking women everywhere to get involved by hosting a girls' night in for a few friends to raise vital funds. Do whatever you and your friends enjoy doing - and ask for a donation to Cancer Focus NI."

Cancer Focus NI also has made a short video to explain how to examine yourself.

You can find the video, information about the campaign and signs and symptoms of breast cancer on www.cancerfocusni.org/girls

Claire Williamson (40), from Lisburn, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015. She is married to Paul and they have two boys, Jamie (5) and Charlie (10). She says:

I was feeling well and had recently been for a mammogram, so when I found a lump on my breast I wasn't overly worried and neither was my GP. He referred me to a consultant who, again, wasn't unduly concerned but referred me for tests.

"When I was called in for my results, the consultant was flanked by a second and there were two nurses.

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Claire Williamson

"I went in on my own but when they asked me if anyone was with me, I knew then I had cancer. I was overwhelmed. You want life to stop, to pedal backwards, you hear voices and a lot of information is thrown at you but you don't take it in.

"I had an MRI, CT and bone scan, which was very difficult as I knew they were checking to see if the cancer was anywhere else in my body. You feel fear. The results come in and you almost celebrate that you 'only' have breast cancer. You think: 'I can deal with this'. My immediate reaction was how do I protect my kids from this?

"You wonder if you'll see your kids grow up. I had a lumpectomy and my lymph nodes were removed. After a lovely Christmas with the family I started chemotherapy - eight sessions every three weeks.

"It lasted five months until the end of May 2016, which I found really tough. I then had three weeks of radiotherapy.

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Claire Williamson with husband Paul and sons Charlie (front) and Jamie

"Cancer took a year out of my life. I got the boys up every morning and out to school but there were days when I literally crawled back to bed.

"A girls' night in is a really easy, fun way to raise funds for such a worthwhile cause - what better reason to have a girls' night in with your friends. Sign up now!"

Willy Acheson (56), from Ballinamallard, has had breast cancer three times. Willy, a clerical officer, lost her husband six years ago and lives with her son Abraham (28). She uses the Cancer Focus NI bra-fitting service. She says:

I first had breast cancer on the right hand side in 2009. I'd had cysts before but this time my breast was just very sore. It turned out I had cancer. I ran out of the hospital and they had to bring me back in, I was so distraught. I wanted so much to get out of that room.

"I had a lumpectomy and three weeks of radiotherapy and got the all-clear in 2014, which was a huge relief. Then, last year, I found a huge lump on my left breast. A third cancer was found at the back of my breast which was picked up by a mammogram. I was diagnosed on June 8, my husband's birthday - he took his own life six years ago.

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Willy Acheson with her son Abraham

"My consultant said the breast needed to be removed but I told him to just take them both away. I took the news even worse than the first time; nothing prepares you for the emotional impact or that you are going to lose your breasts and your hair.

"But, I'm thankfully on the other side of it now. I had six sessions of chemo, which shrank the tumour. Then the double mastectomy and reconstruction at the same time.

"It's so scary getting the bandages off, steeling yourself to see the scars.

"I feel I've been through the mill. I had surgery recently to replace the nipples and will go back to have the areolas tattooed on. I'm trying to reclaim back my body, the part that was taken away.

"One of my sisters was also diagnosed with breast cancer months after me. Sometimes talking about the whole experience I get a bit choked up. But I'm positive, too, and I try to be strong. There is no point in sitting weeping, I've done enough of that.

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Willy Acheson

"I think this Cancer Focus NI campaign is such a good idea. I want to add my voice to stress that women should check themselves regularly and go to the doctor straight away if they have any worries and get checked out.

"I'm backing their call for women to hold a girls' night in and raise funds for the new Cancer Focus NI support group for young women.

"I know only too well how much turmoil you go through and having that support is wonderful."

Grandmother Phil Quinn (72), who has breast cancer, took part in a photoshoot to help publicise the Support Your Girls campaign along with her daughter and granddaughter Edel (48) and Niamh Ferson (16).

Phil's family has been greatly affected by cancer over the years and she started the Cancer Focus NI breast cancer support group in Armagh along with a friend 25 years ago. She says: "I was first diagnosed and treated for breast cancer in 1990 when I had a radical mastectomy, and then in 2006 I had another tumour removed.

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Phil Quinn

"Last November I found another lump in my breast and was shocked to hear that the cancer had returned and had also spread to my bones. At the moment I'm back and forth to the hospital to get injections every two weeks. The results of my last scan showed my condition is stable.

"Women need to check their breasts regularly to get to 'know their normal'. We need to keep an eye out for anything we feel is not quite right.

"Early detection means better survival rates, so it's essential that women get information about signs and symptoms.

"I also think it's an excellent idea to have support groups for younger women. Sometimes young women think they aren't at risk because there is no history in their family and because they are young, so it can be an even greater shock if they are diagnosed.

"I have three granddaughters and want them to have a proper support network if they should ever need it.

"These support groups cover the medical side of things but they are also an important way to meet other women on the same journey. They are so very valuable.

"I'd encourage everyone to sign up and have a girls' night in for this great cause."

Know the signs of breast cancer

Check for anything that is not normal for you:

- A lump

- Thickening of the skin

- A dimple or puckering of the skin

- Change in size or shape of one breast

- Any unusual sensation/pain/discomfort in one breast

- Veins becoming more visible

- Discharge from the nipple (especially blood-stained)

- Change in nipple shape / inverted nipple

- Persistent rash on a breast

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