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I found lump on my breast when I was pregnant. I had to have chemo at 17 weeks

By Victoria O'Hara

A woman who was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was five weeks pregnant and who underwent chemotherapy, has spoken of the importance of being aware of the symptoms.

Emma Curtis, a pre-school teacher from Carryduff, was told the devastating news in 2012 as she was expecting her second baby. She underwent a mastectomy and at 17 weeks pregnant started chemotherapy.

Speaking during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Emma has said how, despite the shock of the diagnosis, the thoughts of her two-year-old daughter Kitty and having a baby on the way gave her the reasons that she needed to live for.

The 39-year-old found a lump under her right nipple while getting washed.

"I showed it to my husband and we weren't quite sure what it could be but we thought it was best to get it checked as I was also five weeks pregnant," she said.

Emma, who said she is speaking out to help people know the symptoms and signs, got an appointment with her GP who referred her to the breast clinic.

"The following day I received a phone call from the clinic informing me that there was a cancellation the next week, so I was seen very quickly," she said.

"Following an ultrasound and a biopsy it was confirmed that I had cancer.

"You don't ever think it will happen to you, I mean I was relatively fit and healthy, I had just found out I was expecting and had a two-year-old at home - a cancer diagnosis wasn't in my plan."

She added: "Shortly after Nancy was born I was prescribed medication for five years to reduce the risk of breast cancer coming back.

"Looking back I am surprised at just how strong I was; it is surprising where you get your strength from and although there were hard days, you get through them."

Emma said she received support from her husband Tim who was with her "every step of the way", and her parents.

"I didn't want to know any statistics or hear the worst case scenario; I had a two-year-old at home and a baby on the way that I needed to live for. I got through it by dealing with things in small bits," she said.

Almost three years on Emma is sharing her story to encourage others to never think it won't happen to them.

"My advice to others would be: 'Never presume it won't happen to you, be breast aware, know your own body and look out for changes, and finally, and most importantly, don't delay in getting checked out'.

"I'm proof that the earlier it is caught, the more successful treatment can be'."

Her advice comes as part of the Public Health Agency's new Be Cancer Aware campaign.

It is estimated that after five years, 99 out of 100 women diagnosed will still be alive, so early detection is important.

Pressure is on health trusts to reduce waiting times for urgent cases of suspected breast cancer in Northern Ireland.

The ministerial target states that all women referred urgently with suspected breast cancer should be seen within 14 days.

Recent figures show that only 81% are.

Dr Miriam McCarthy, Consultant in Public Health Medicine at the PHA, says Emma's experience of checking her breasts and taking action when she discovered something is an important example for all women.

"While many women know to look for lumps, we also need to be aware that there are other changes that could point to breast cancer, such as a nipple turning inwards, dimpling or redness of the skin or veins that stand out more than usual," she said.

"If you experience any symptoms that could possibly indicate the presence of cancer, it is essential that you see your GP without delay."

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