Northern Ireland news

Cancer charity celebrates 50 years of reducing the impact of the disease on people's lives

Pauline McDonald from south Belfast has been diagnosed with cancer three times

A BELFAST woman has spoke about the impact a cancer charity has had on her health battle as it celebrates 50 years of reducing the impact of the disease on people's lives.

Pauline McDonald has been supported by Cancer Focus Northern Ireland after being diagnosed with the condition three times.

She is speaking out in support of the charity as it celebrates five decades of providing care and support services for cancer patients and their families.

Since 1969 it has been funding scientific research into the causes and treatment of the disease, campaigning for better health policy and running prevention programmes to help people lessen their risk of getting cancer.

Each year it supports 5,800 local people affected by the disease, provides 4,000 counselling sessions and answers 2,000 NurseLine calls.

It also drives patients to hospital appointments, helps women with bra and swimwear fitting after breast surgery and supports patients through art therapy, creative writing and its Sing for Life choir.

Ms McDonald, who was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014, is among those who have availed of the support.

"I had a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy which took me through 2015," she said.

"I went back to work and everything was fine. Unfortunately, the following year I got a diagnosis of thyroid cancer, had more surgery and radiation therapy.

"I went back to work again thinking it's finished.

"But in December 2018, the breast cancer came back, after thinking for a couple of years that I was on the home straight.

"I had surgery this year in February to remove the cancer from my chest wall and now I have to go to the Royal Marsden Hospital for radiation therapy."

She said Cancer Focus NI care services had "helped me through the process of having cancer".

"I also used the bra-fitting service, which was really good, confidential and private and staff were very understanding of the situation I was in," she said.

"Cancer Focus NI does such good work and we are lucky to have had this wonderful charity for the last 50 years."

To mark the charity's milestone, Ms McDonald joined other cancer patients in creating a quilt display, which she found therapeutic.

"I like quilting but when I was ill it wasn't one of the things I wanted to do," she said.

"However, coming to the Cancer Focus NI group and meeting other women like myself helped me to get back into the way of it again. It made me be productive, using a skill I already had.

"I didn't realise I had a skill that I could pass onto other people.

"Sometimes when you have cancer you think you're not capable of doing anything. I started quilting automatically and without a thought I was up and running again.

"The group is very supportive and kind, you talk about things you don't want to talk about in any other forum except this one."

As it celebrates five decades, the charity launched a new 'Cheers to 50 Years' campaign and is calling on people to ask for donations for cancer research instead of gifts on their birthday.

It aims to raise £100,000 for research into breast cancer at Queen's University Belfast.

Breast cancer survivor Emily Stanton from Belfast, is encouraging the public to support the campaign after being diagnosed in 2015.

"Thankfully it was caught early and hadn't spread," she said.

"I had a lumpectomy followed by chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

"While my prognosis is good, I'm a realist and I know that a recurrence is a possibility. It's a very frightening thought and one which makes this research close to my heart.

"I'd like to encourage everyone to support this vitally important Cheers to 50 Years campaign.

"You can do this on your birthday by asking friends and family to make a donation to this brilliant cause instead of giving you a gift. It could be a life-saver for me and for other women like me."

Ollie Govett from Cancer Focus NI said "no matter what age you are, we are asking you to give the gift of research and help us give hope to future generations".

Dr Kienan Savage, who is leading the research, added: "If successful, this research will help reduce the number of women who are having unnecessary surgery and ensure all women receive the best personalised treatment for their breast cancer here in Northern Ireland".

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