It should have been the best period in her life. Helena Elliott was happily married and had just given birth to her second beautiful daughter.
In her own words “life was wonderful”.
But nearly two years ago to the day Helena was forced to face her biggest fears after finding a lump in her left breast.
“I thought it was just a change in the breast after giving birth and because I had the babies I didn’t do anything about it for weeks. I had Lucy in November and went to the doctor in January,” she told the Belfast Telegraph.
“It was just a tiny, pea-sized lump in my left breast. I found it when I was in the shower. To be honest I didn’t think it was anything and had the doctor not told me to come on over at 11am that day I don’t think I would have had the courage to go at all.”
After a mammogram and a series of biopsies Helena was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) — cancer of the ducts in the breast. It was her worst nightmare come true.
“I couldn’t sleep and wasn’t eating for weeks on end. I had been thinking about it and monitoring this lump, thinking is it or isn’t it? I had my worrying done by the time she said to me it was cancer,” added the mum, who lives in Portadown.
“When she told me I thought I have two children, what are we going to do? Am I going to die? I have just given birth to my second child. I was gutted. It was a big shock to me but an even bigger shock for my husband, he had been in complete denial and thought the lump would be nothing.”
On March 6, 2008 Helena went under the knife for a full mastectomy and breast reconstruction.
“They used back tissue from my left side to make my breast and put an implant in at the back to fill it out,” she said. “I just wanted rid of everything. I wondered what if there was just a tiny fraction of cancer left in and it could grow. I couldn’t mentally cope with that. I can’t think what if it came back.”
Helena’s surgery was followed by six gruelling sessions of chemotherapy over three weeks.
She said: “It was horrible. The first one was the worst as I didn’t know what to expect. I had heard so many stories and I was very, very sick. But in fairness the hospital staff gave me tablets to stop the sickness.
“Losing my hair was absolutely awful. I think it was my 10th day of chemo that my hair fell out. Lucy was about seven months at that time and she had got a piece of my hair that had fallen out in her hands and was playing with it. There I was sitting with a newborn baby and my hair was falling out. It was awful.
“I did get a wig but I didn’t wear it.
“I knew all the treatment was to help my chances. It was an insurance policy for the rest of my life to make sure there was a complete wipeout to stop it coming back.
“It was rotten, rough and very, very hard but I had loads of family and plenty of support to get me through.
“I lived in cuckoo land until this news came to my door. It has made me realise that life is for living.”
Helena also went on a course of Herceptin and finished her treatment on October 6 last year. This week she was hoping to return to work as a cook supervisor in Bocombra Primary School.
Helena is among the 7,350 people diagnosed with cancer every year in Northern Ireland.
And she felt compelled to take part in the Cancer Research Race for Life to raise money for the research that she believes saved her life.
She said: “I want to support all those people who treated and looked after me so fantastically well. If there was no research I wouldn’t be here. It needs to be done I want to give something back and this is the only way I can do it.”