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Charity cancer telethon saved my life, says mum-of-four Sabrina Devlin who battled disease

By Claire Williamson

A Northern Ireland woman has told how she owes her life to a telethon after it prompted her to check herself - and just one week later she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Sabrina Devlin's life was turned upside down in November 2012 at the age of 34.

The 39-year-old Hilltown woman said: "As I sat at home watching the annual Cancer Research UK Stand Up to Cancer telethon about other people battling cancer. I had no idea it was about to save my life.

"I had noticed a small lump in my right breast six months before, which I had assumed was a cyst or milk duct, and had thought nothing more of.

"But as I watched the programme and saw the effect cancer has on families, I just thought to myself 'I have to get this checked out'."

Sabrina - who has three daughters, Cecilia (21), Jessica (16), Molly (7), and a son Patrick (14) - went to the doctors and was then referred to the breast clinic at Craigavon. She was diagnosed within a week.

She recalled the moment she realised the seriousness of what was happening, asking the doctor: "Am I going to die?"

"I realised how serious it was when the doctor said they were going to do everything in their power to make sure that didn't happen," Sabrina said.

"Those are the words which stuck in my head, but coming home I made the decision to be brave and take control of it.

"The hardest part was telling everyone, telling my children and family members.

"How do you put it into words? My eldest daughter was 16 the next day and having to tell her for her 16th birthday was not nice. It is something she will always remember."

Sabrina went on to have a mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and reconstruction surgery. As she was concerned about losing her hair, she shaved her head and then had a hairpiece made to look like her hair.

"No one knew I had my head shaved and it was a shock then when I pulled the hairpiece off," she said. "I never felt I had to hide away. I was very open and honest about my treatment and I always hoped my story could help raise awareness for young women."

Sabrina decided to opt for reconstruction surgery after her mastectomy because she "wanted a breast shape again because I was so young and wanted to feel feminine". But the operation was not what she hoped for and she was put on the waiting list for further surgery.

The brave mother then became part of the Here I Am support group for cancer survivors in Northern Ireland and took part in a photoshoot along with others to tell their story.

"They were looking for people for a campaign to show their scars and talk about their cancer journey," she said.

"If someone had asked me a year before if I'd do it, I would have said no, but after the surgery I wanted to help others and spread awareness."

Four years on, Sabrina was overwhelmed by the response she got when she shared on Facebook an image of a mastectomy tattoo she had done. She said: "I was so happy and I knew that was what I needed."

Sabrina is now a proud grandmother to little Ellie, aged one, who was born close to the anniversary of her diagnosis.

She said: "It was a huge thing for me to be here for her birth and now every year, instead of dreading the anniversary of the diagnosis, I have her to focus on.

"I am determined to make a stand against this disease. Research saves lives."

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