Fiona Nash, from Derry, is preparing for a Christmas she once feared she might not see.
The mum of two was just 35 years of age, when in September 2011 she found a lump and a visit to her GP resulted in a referral to the Breast Screening Unit at Altnagelvin.
Fiona had surgery followed by chemotherapy which lasted 18 weeks, finishing the following February 2012. Both these treatments were available at Altnagelvin, but when radiotherapy was recommended, she faced the arduous journey to Belfast.
This lasted seven weeks and because her children were so young – her son Jude had just started nursery and daughter Rachel was only 8 years of age - Fiona could not contemplate leaving them for a whole week, whilst she stayed in Belfast for her treatment.
“I was trying to keep things as normal as possible for the kids. So I would travel to and from Belfast on Monday, travel late on Tuesday returning home on Wednesday, travel again on Thursday to return home for the weekend on Friday.
“It was extremely difficult for my husband who was working shifts. He was really taking the whole burden, washing, cooking, shopping, home works etc. Initially he had to take three weeks off work . He was my rock and I don’t think I could have come through it without him.
“We got great support from both our families and great friends providing help when they could, it’s the simple things like dropping the kids off to school, cooking or preparing a meal or even calling to visit for a chat and make a cup of tea.”
Radiotherapy finished in May 2012 and Fiona began a course of Tamoxifen. However, as she was experiencing side effects, she was referred to a gynaecologist when a scan revealed the unthinkable; an 8cm cyst on her right ovary which surgeons recommended removal of the ovary as the cyst was so large.
“In fact, because my original cancer was oestrogen led, I was given the option of having both ovaries removed together with a hysterectomy as a precaution,” adds Fiona.
“I discussed this with my husband and as we had our two children, we decided to go with this option. I had a hysterectomy in May 2013 and, due to the fact that I am young, will remain on hormone treatment for 10 years.”
Fiona’s experience is driving her to back Cancer Research UK’s ‘Right Now’ campaign, which launches with a series of ground-breaking adverts on Christmas Eve.
The highly charged and emotional TV, poster and radio campaign shows the reality of cancer for patients just like Fiona, as well as their friends and family.
The powerful films - which show real patients in real-life moments - are a compelling call to take action right now in the battle against cancer.
“My experience means I understand all too clearly why Cancer Research UK’s work is so important,” continued Fiona.
“That’s why I’m backing the Right Now campaign and I’m urging people across Derry and beyond to get involved in whatever way they can, to help fund Cancer Research UK’s crucial work.”
Fiona’s also described the turmoil a cancer diagnosis brings to a family.
“Many people see the patient as strong and brave as they fight the battle and the sickness of the treatment, but truthfully, without the support and encouragement of family and friends it would be very difficult to get through. My husband was the backbone and gave me strength. He would often sit quietly holding me as I cried; he took care of everything at home, fulfilled all the needs of our young children as well as looking after me and my every need, day and night. The vows of sickness and health were taken to the extreme and we survived.
“I remember feeling overwhelmed and guilty as the nurse that left her own young family was attending to me at home on Christmas Day. We all tried to be upbeat and merry to enjoy as best we could without thinking about cancer and our journey. We spent much quality time together playing games, watching movies and laughed a lot during that holiday period.
“We are all looking forward to Christmas this year because as a family we can celebrate life, love, health and happiness.”
Jean Walsh, Cancer Research UK spokesperson for Northern Ireland said, “We are so grateful to Fiona for her support.
“Our new campaign highlights the reality of cancer. Every hour, someone in Northern Ireland is diagnosed with cancer. It is life-changing for them, for their family and friends and for everyone who cares about them.
“Our campaign shows that research is working - people like Fiona are able to celebrate special moments with their loved ones. But sadly, for some, time is so much shorter than it should be.
“That’s why our doctors, nurses and scientists are striving every day to find better, more effective and kinder ways to treat this devastating disease. We want people to watch the adverts and feel compelled to act - right now - to help more people, just like Fiona, survive.
“Research has led to an improved understanding of the biology and causes of cancer. This in turn has led to discovering better ways to prevent, diagnose and treat the disease. But to help even more people survive, Cancer Research UK needs everyone to act.”
Jean finished, “There are so many ways to get involved here in the North West. From taking part in Dryathlon in January, signing up for events like Slide-On Cancer or giving time to volunteer in our shops. The key is to commit right now and to help shape a better future for everyone diagnosed with cancer.”
For more information on how to help beat cancer sooner, visit www.cruk.org