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Born2run: 'I'm looking forward to getting back to running after I beat my cancer'

Newcastle mum Grainne Madden was shocked to learn she had the disease despite being an active athlete. Now, she tells Una Brankin why she cannot wait to get her trainers on for the next Belfast Telegraph Born2run event.

Grainne Madden (53) lives in Newcastle and is a member of Murlough Running Club.

She has two daughters, Rebecca (24), a teacher, and Emma (23), a post-graduate student, with her husband Chris, a senior project manager. A registered childminder, Grainne underwent surgery for breast cancer just over a year ago. She says:

I'd always been careful and did self-examination. I was a large lady, bust-wise, and initially I thought my bra was making me feel uncomfortable. However a trip to my doctor revealed that I had mastitis and I was given some antibiotics - but the soreness I had been feeling was a by-product of breast cancer.

I was very fit and well and had started running about five years ago, dropping two dress sizes from size 14 to size 10. With my daughters away at university, I wanted to get fit but didn't like the idea of the gym so I joined Murlough Running Club and started their training programmes, running along on the beach. Sinking into the sand, you discover muscles you never knew you had. I started to run four miles a day and entered some 10k races - I did the half marathon in Newry and the Paris marathon three years ago.

A diagnosis of stage three breast cancer was a shock as I felt great. The lump was deep in my breast - even the consultant couldn't detect it at first. After I had mammography and scan and biopsy, I was told I'd have to have surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. I was there by myself - it was the hardest ever drive home I had to do.

It was horrendous. I was so scared, I had to keep the light on when I was in bed. All my family was very supportive, but as a childminder I had to lose the children under three years old I'd looked after, although I continued to mind the ones coming after school, and that motivated me and helped keep things relatively normal.

My surgery took place at Belfast City Hospital where I had to have a double breast reduction for the lumpectomy and the removal of lymph nodes - 26 of them. That has left my arm weak and stingy, and it's true; you do feel mutilated afterwards. I couldn't wear a shoe-string top again and I wear big scarves to disguise the indent.

Afterwards I had to sleep sitting up for six weeks and my neck was killing me. I lost my hair and had to wear a hat. Before, I'd dyed my hair brown -now I'm a silver fox, completely different in pictures before and after. The breast reduction is brilliant. I'm delighted with it. I can get into dresses and jerseys I'd never have worn before. I was a 34H; now I'm a 34D. I'm a new woman. Anyway, they found cancer in five of the lymph nodes, so I had 16 weeks of chemo after the surgery. I was quite sick after the first one, but not as bad for the second, and I got a different type of medication for the last three sessions, which wasn't as bad.

It was very tiring though, and then I had to have five weeks of radiotherapy. I drove myself from Newcastle to the City Hospital, but was usually too tired and couldn't concentrate to read during my treatment, so I just watched TV and movies.

Luckily I have good friends who would come and have coffee with me, including my cousin Jackie, who came to all the chemo sessions and took notes for me. She has a form of cancer, too - she's having chemo injections for it, so she knew what to expect. She's a lifesaver.

My treatment finished at the end of last May. Despite this, I couldn't celebrate - I found it a very anti-climactic. Like many people after treatment end, I felt on my own. My husband bought a bottle of Champagne, but I couldn't drink it. All I wanted to do was to go to bed. I had my first check-up in December and got the results two days later: all clear. Before this I had felt a bit in limbo, and I've to wait another year for the next check-up.

Thankfully, I don't have the BRCA gene. There was no immediate family history, apart from an aunt and a couple of great aunts. My mum died from a hole in the heart when I was three as the doctors didn't know as much about it then.

I believe prayer, occasionally, had helped me through. When I've felt down I've prayed and a lot of others have prayed for me. The running club has been very supportive and I meet some of the girls for coffee every Saturday morning and can't wait to get out there again with them.

My body is still recovering from all the treatment, but I'm really looking forward to getting back to running. I love being out in the fresh air and embrace running in all weathers, with the wind on my face - even the rain and snow. It takes my mind off everything and it's free.

Running down the Champs-Elysees and past the Arc de Triomphe in Paris was amazing, with lots of people cheering us on. We're going back for my friend's birthday in two years time. I got lazy over Christmas and I'm envious of the level the rest of the girls are at. The doctor says I can go back when I feel able. I'll be the newbie again."

Get on your marks...


February 6, 11am

Antrim Castle Gardens,

Randalstown Road, Antrim


February 27, 11am

Castlewellan Forest Park,

Castlewellan, Co Down

Enter at:

Women who have a family history of breast cancer reduced their risk by one-fourth by doing 20 minutes of moderate or vigorous physical activity at least five times a week, along with maintaining a healthy lifestyle in other ways, according to a study published in the journal, Breast Cancer Research.

Even ex-couch potatoes can reap immediate anti-cancer rewards. Postmenopausal women who gave up their sedentary ways and engaged in a moderate-to-vigorous intensity exercise programme, showed changes in hormone and protein levels consistent with a reduced risk of breast cancer, according to a study published online in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Furthermore, some findings suggest that starting an exercise programme during adolescence may delay the onset of breast cancer for women who may carry a mutation in their BRCA genes (which are associated with an increased risk for the disease), although it is not thought to prevent the disease from developing.

  • See

Grainne's healthy weight loss tips

I dropped two dress sizes through running, down from size 14 to size 10. I eat lots of fish - nothing stodgy - and drink green tea and eat blueberries which are a superfood. I have a banana for energy before a run but not porridge as it too heavy and high-carb

Majella O'Donnell (Daniel's wife) says not to heat anything in plastic in the microwave

It helps to drink lots of water, but I'd never leave a plastic bottle of water in the sun, as the heat makes chemicals leak from the plastic

If you can't face running in the awful weather, even a quick walk is good. I get out with my sheepdog Charlie and he loves running

I've also taken up dancing - waltzing, jiving and ballroom. I won't be doing any Strictly type competitions at my age, that's for the young whippersnappers. It's great fun. I'd advise anyone just to go for it - you'll love it - and take up running

I'm hoping to do the next Born2Run event, when I build my miles up. I can't wait

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