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'We had feared the worst, but survived it together'

Lorraine Potts, a security officer, tells Judith Cole how a newspaper article about breast cancer, which her husband Craig urged her to read, saved her life. Lorraine (48) and Craig (55) live in east Belfast. Lorraine says:

By Judith Cole

"Ten years after being diagnosed with breast cancer, I feel very fortunate to be a survivor and to be able to encourage others to be vigilant for the signs and symptoms.

At the time I was working in security at Seacat and noticed that as I manually lifted the barrier to let cars through I had pain under my arm. Then, one evening Craig brought home an article from a newspaper about how women should check themselves for signs of breast cancer, and as I followed its advice I did indeed find a lump.

However, I didn't think it would be anything to worry about - I had always been a healthy person, after all. I didn't drink or smoke and I went to the gym and ate well.

But Craig urged me to get checked out, just to be sure, so the next day I went to Action Cancer for a consultation. I was referred to Belfast City Hospital for further investigations, although I still did not think anything untoward would be found. A biopsy was taken and very soon Craig and I were being told by a consultant that I had cancer. It was a very surreal experience. My first thought was that I was going to die - someone who lived near us had passed away and I, too, assumed the worst. I was crying, and Craig was also very emotional, and I don't think we took much in of what was being said.

I returned to hospital very soon afterwards to have a partial mastectomy and removal of lymph nodes in my arm. Fortunately, the lump was only about 1cm in diameter and had been caught very early. It was shocking to see the number of people on the ward who'd had partial and full mastectomies - both young people and old.

After my operation I had to wait for a week to find out if the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes. It was possibly the longest week of my life, but it was fantastic news that they were clear.

I had radiotherapy but didn't need chemotherapy - and that had been one of my biggest fears.

Three months ago, 10 years after my diagnosis, I decided to have reconstruction surgery, as I just wanted to feel whole again.

It involved using muscle from my back to fill the breast cavity and although I'm still recovering I hope it will turn out to be a success.

By a sad coincidence, within a month of my diagnosis of breast cancer, two neighbours were also diagnosed, and one has since tragically passed away - so I know that I'm extremely fortunate to be a survivor.

If it wasn't for that article from the newspaper I might not have bothered looking out for signs of breast cancer ... and I certainly might not be here today.

The earlier you get anything suspicious checked out, the better and I would urge everyone to know what the signs and symptoms are, and to check regularly for them.

'i wanted to do my best to help lorraine'

Craig, a Metro bus driver, says:

"It didn't cross my mind that Lorraine might have cancer because she had always led a very healthy lifestyle.

But when I saw the article in the paper I decided to bring it home as a matter of interest. As it turned out, I believe it really saved her life because on reading it she was inspired to examine herself to check for signs of breast cancer.

That's why I support all the campaigns to raise awareness of this terrible disease. The earlier it can be diagnosed, the better the chances of survival. The Ulster Cancer Foundation is doing great work in getting the message out there, and lives are being saved through early diagnoses.

The night Lorraine discovered the lump stands out in my memory. It was a Wednesday, and I was watching football on television while she was upstairs. At half time she called downstairs to me that she had found a lump.

But, like her, I still didn't think the worst - and even when Action Cancer referred her to the hospital I believed everything would be fine.

Although the lump itself was just a cyst, a biopsy revealed that there was a malignant lump behind it - it was devastating to be told that there was cancer there.

Lorraine was crying and I did my best to console her. It felt as though there was an echo in the room - people were talking but I wasn't taking anything in.

We had only been married for three years and we had recently lost three loved ones. I couldn't believe that we were facing another battle, but I told Lorraine that we had already come through so much together and we would beat this, too.

The operation was carried out very quickly and then we had what seemed like a very long wait, although it was only a week for the results of the tests of the lymph nodes. We were elated to find out there was no spread, but the news was mixed with sadness because the lady who was in the next bed to Lorraine had learned that her cancer had spread.

Lorraine was advised to do regular arm exercises to help prevent fluid gathering in her arm, following the removal of her lymph nodes. I helped her with that by marking how high she was able to stretch.

There were difficult times in the early stages. At Christmas time we went shopping as Lorraine wanted to find a new outfit to wear, but she ran out of a shop crying after trying something on - looking at herself in the mirror she saw one arm was slightly fatter than the other, as a result of the lymph nodes being removed, and it distressed her.

But as time went on we stopped talking about it and things got back to normal. Over the last couple of years she started talking about reconstruction. I had never thought she needed it, but she wasn't happy with herself and decided to go for the operation. It turned out to be a more major operation than the mastectomy.

My employers, Metro, who sponsor the Ulster Cancer Foundation's Think Pink breast awareness campaign, were very generous in giving me as much time as I needed to support Lorraine. I was with her 24/7 following her surgery and I found looking after her very satisfying. If you love somebody you'll do what you can for them.

At the same time, it was mentally strenuous. I didn't want to show any negativity to Lorraine and was aware that I had to be positive all the time.

We do have so much to be thankful for. If it wasn't for that article, which prompted Lorraine to check herself, things could have been a lot worse.

For more information contact the Ulster Cancer Foundation via its website or tel: 9066 3281

Belfast Telegraph


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