In June 2020, at just 41 years old, Emma Cooper from Bangor was diagnosed with breast cancer. The diagnosis came as a shock, but Emma is now determined to share her experience in the hope that it will help others. Today, Emma is proudly supporting our Breast Bud campaign which is encouraging people across Northern Ireland to get into the habit of checking their breasts and chest regularly with the help of the charity’s self-check hanger, which has a step-by-step guide on how to check yourself in just a few minutes. This is Emma’s story.
“My husband, Peter, told me that he felt a lump in my breast, but I didn’t take much notice. Cancer hadn’t even crossed my mind
as I was a busy mum, working two jobs at the time. That was six months before my cancer diagnosis. Peter mentioned the lump again and he thought it had grown quite significantly, so I agreed to get checked out. I went to my GP who wanted to refer me for further investigation. All of this was happening at the height of COVID-19, which meant that I had to attend the appointment on my own whilst Peter waited in the car. When they asked if I had anyone with me, I knew that the news would not be good.
“When I was told I had breast cancer, I went into shock. Peter and I went home after the appointment and when I woke the next day, it felt like life had changed and would most likely never feel the same again. However, everything moved quickly after that and I had a left sided mastectomy on 3rd July 2020.
“During my cancer journey, my mum was also diagnosed with breast cancer. When I told my mum that one of the signs I’d had was puckering of the skin on my breast, she had noticed the same thing but had put it down to getting older. So in a way, Peter saved my life by talking openly with me about discovering a lump and I may have saved my mum’s life, by telling her about the symptoms I had. That’s why I was so keen to get involved with Friends of the Cancer Centre’s Breast Bud campaign. If by talking about my cancer diagnosis and sharing my story we can save one life, it will be worth it.
“Mum and I ended up having radiotherapy treatment together. My mum was more worried about me and naturally I was more
worried about her. I was also extremely worried about the impact of my diagnosis on my children Ollie (10), Jack (15) and my
stepson, Ross (16). Ollie did not like the word cancer, so together we came up with an alternative name and called it ‘Tiny Dancer’. It worked for us and didn’t sound as scary.
“After surgery, my oncologist recommended that I receive chemotherapy, which I found much harder than the radiotherapy. I was always known for my blonde hair, so it was extremely difficult shaving my hair off.
“At one stage, I was hospitalised in the Cancer Centre at Belfast City Hospital due to a mouth infection, which was a side effect of my chemotherapy treatment. It was at this time that I became more aware of Friends of the Cancer Centre and the impact its work has on patients. Friends of the Cancer Centre provided me with a financial grant and more recently, I’ve learned that the charity funds a Breast Cancer Clinical Nurse Specialist and a Secondary Breast Cancer Nurse. I believe it is so important that women have access to this vital care, and it is great to know that Friends of the Cancer Centre is here for people like me and
thousands of others living with a breast cancer diagnosis.
“Two years on, I am still receiving treatment. My current medication has put me into the menopause which is tough. The other thing I find really hard is the visible reminder that I have cancer, as there are scars where my left breast used to be. It has been a tough ride, but I feel like I’ve tackled it head on and I wanted to show some resilience to my kids. Don’t get me wrong, I have some bad moments but I’m very lucky to have a great family around me.
“Despite how difficult the past few years have been, I am determined that something positive comes from it all. Being part of Friends of the Cancer Centre’s Breast Bud campaign has given me a way to use my experience to help others. To anyone reading this, please get one of the charity’s self-check hangers and start checking yourself.”
Here for you when you need it most
As well as encouraging people to be more breast aware, we are also incredibly proud to fund two nurses who are dedicated to supporting breast cancer patients. Our Breast Cancer Clinical Nurse Specialist, Elaine Shaw, and our Secondary Breast Cancer Nurse, Gemma Potter, are the only nurses of their kind in Northern Ireland. They act as a vital lynchpin between the various teams involved in a patient’s care and are a valuable source of information and support for women as they go through treatment.