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How our friendship helped us battle cancer

Holywood mum-of-two Rosie Adamson and Bangor widow Andrea Halls will be taking part in Cancer Research's Pretty Muddy event this Saturday. They talk to Stephanie Bell about how they have supported each other through illness

By Stephanie Bell

Breast cancer survivors and best friends Rosie Adamson and Andrea Halls are urging women to get down and dirty and have some fun at the annual Cancer Research Pretty Muddy event.

The women, who became firm friends as a result of their cancer diagnosis, are doing whatever they can to create awareness and help raise funds for cancer research.

In this latest joint effort, they had great fun testing out the bright pink space hoppers that are just one of the fun obstacles that women can tackle in the mud-splattered course in Ormeau Park, Belfast, on Saturday.

The pair, who knew each other as children, met at a cancer fund-raiser a few years ago and have been supporting each other ever since.

Here, they share their stories and the difference it has made to have each other for support as they came through one of the toughest challenges of their lives.

'Throughout it all, it's meant a lot to have Andrea as a pal'

Rosie Adamson (50), a specialist healthcare assistant, is married to Michael (53), a civil servant, and has two children, Rachael (22) and Stuart (19). Rosie was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer in 2008 which spread to her lungs. She devotes her time to raising money for research in the hope of finding a cure. She says:

I was 42 when I was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer. I had been seeing a doctor privately for an ongoing problem with a pain in my left breast caused by an abscess after my daughter Rachael was born in 1995.

Each time I went to see the doctor he told me it was nothing to worry about, but the pain continued and then I started to get numbness in my hand and my arm. I was dropping things and I knew something was wrong.

I got an appointment with him on June 2, 2008. I was really worried, but I was it wasn’t unexpected at my age and that it was the same problem as before — lateral wall breast syndrome.

I knew and felt there was something not right and insisted on getting a scan.

On August 7, I had an ultrasound and a mammogram in the Ulster Hospital, Dundonald. Two weeks later, I got a phone call asking me to come up for a biopsy. I didn’t tell anyone I just went by myself.

I knew then something was badly wrong. It felt like a dream and I left the room and ran to the car park and just screamed at the top of my voice.

So many thoughts went through my head — my poor mum, husband, my kids. Am I going to die young?

A week later I was back at the hospital where I was told I had breast cancer.

I was also told not to worry and that I would need the lump removed and be put on Tamoxifen and that would be it.

On September 22, I was admitted to have the lump removed. I felt so sick after my operation and two weeks later was shocked to be told I had an aggressive Type 2 breast cancer and would have to undergo the strongest chemo and, as my breast was riddled with cancer, I would need a complete mastectomy and lymph nodes removed.

I underwent the procedure on October 2, 2008. No-one can prepare you for losing your breast, it felt like losing my life.

When I went home, the pain and the sickness was unbearable but I knew I had to keep going for the kids.

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Fighting on: Rosie Adamson

Eventually I was told my chemotherapy would start on December 27. I tried to enjoy Christmas and worried that it might be my last.

Chemo started and my hair fell out after 10 days, then my eyebrows and eyelashes, and I felt like I was dying.

My chemo finished on March 17 and I had a review three months later to see if it had worked.

I was surprised when the oncologist asked me about walking and asked me if I was out of breath when I climbed the stairs — then he told me I had lung cancer.

A scan confirmed it.

They said the cancer was very small and they would monitor me every six months.

I started Tamoxifen which was terrible. Every bone in my body ached and I was sick every day and couldn’t do anything because I was so weak.

I wanted my life back so I stopped taking Tamoxifen and decided to treat myself through a healthy diet. I stopped taking dairy and ate more fresh fruit, vegetables and fish.

In 2012, I had a breast reconstruction and was told that, as a precaution, I should have my right breast removed and my ovaries.

Throughout it all, it meant a lot to have my friendship with Andrea as we have been able to support each other.

We usually celebrate our scans with cocktails and a day out and we look forward to our trips away together.

We have great fun and have done so many fund-raising events together.

I believe in looking forward and that’s why I want to raise money. My fear is for my own children and I really believe there has to be a cure out there for them and that’s why I will continue to raise as much money as I can for research.

It’s now nine years since I was diagnosed with cancer. I still go for scans and check-ups, but I am still here fighting and I am going nowhere.”

'Rosie has boundless energy and is so positive'

Andrea Halls (52), a widow from Bangor, has one son Andrew (31), and has come through two devastating breast cancer journeys. She says:

I was shaving under my arms when I noticed a peanut size lump. I went to my GP and she said she thought I was too young at 39 to have breast cancer but she referred me to the hospital.

I had a grade three tumour and had to have a mastectomy and chemotherapy and radium treatment.

They also took out 34 lymph nodes and 16 of them were cancerous.

I had a mastectomy and reconstruction at the same time as I didn’t want to go home without my breast.

I just thought I was going to die and I even went out and bought myself a grave. You are in shock; and then you get on that train where you have all these treatments and procedures. You just get on with it.

People say you are so brave but you have no choice. I did have a good cry and wallow, and then I just picked myself up and got on with it. The chemo was tough and you don’t know what to expect and it’s devastating — losing my hair was the hardest part.

After the radiation finished I just thought — what now? You feel a bit lost and you’re not sure what to do and you can feel very alone. I went to a Pink Ladies Lunch which Rosie organised and our friendship started that day. And it has been amazing to have someone who knows exactly why you are feeling the way you are.

In 2010, I discovered I had the BRACA1 gene after some family members died of cancer and my dad Jim was diagnosed with breast cancer.

If I had known I would have had a double mastectomy and when my cancer came back in my other breast I just felt really angry. I was diagnosed just one month off the five-year remission period when I thought I was clear of cancer and had done everything right.

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Close friends: Andrea Halls survived two battles with breast cancer

I was just starting to get on with my life again and had got a wee job. It was shattering to be told it was back. It was a real kick in the teeth.

I had another mastectomy and also had my ovaries removed as a precaution and had more chemotherapy. The chemo was harder on me this time, but what was great was that I had met Rosie and she was there for me.

She is amazing and has boundless energy and is so positive.

She would have taken me out for the day to keep my spirits up and she also understood the tiredness and when ‘chemo brain’ kicked in and I couldn’t even spell simple words like ‘the’ — she knew exactly how I was feeling.

We also went with each other for check-ups and hospital appointments and we have done Race for Life together in the last few years. It is brilliant to have her friendship.

When you’ve been through something as life changing as cancer you see life differently.

It makes you realise that you have to get out there and make the most of it and don’t keep your favourite shoes for good but wear them and enjoy them.”

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