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I didnít tell my girls, I didnít want them to worry

Friday, 24 March 2017

I didnít tell my girls, I didnít want them to worry thumbnailVicki and her two daughters, Bethany and Olivia. Photographs: Creative Light Photography

A MUM-OF-TWO who was diagnosed with cancer is encouraging families to take part in a Mother's Day walk this Saturday (25 March) to help more mothers and families affected by cancer.

Vicki Ewart from Kilkinamurry, was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2014 - just eight months after losing her own mother to the disease.

Ahead of Mother's Day this Sunday, Vicki says it is "a poignant event" in her family after the death of her mum to cancer and she is determined that her girls will not lose her "any time soon".

Vicki, who now volunteers for Action Cancer as a peer mentor by helping others in a similar situation, says she discovered her cancer by chance while on holidays in the summer of 2014.

“I lost my mum to ovarian cancer in February that year and had been made redundant from my job a couple of weeks later.

“We had booked a holiday to Egypt in the summer. While I was there and putting on suncream, I thought to myself that something didn't feel right."

But Vicki didn't worry at that point.

“I never thought much more about it after that, but then I suddenly began to get more tired than usual.

“I get a routine vitamin jab and when I was there, I explained to the nurse about my symptoms and she said that she would get the doctor to check me out."

When she left the doctors, Vicky reassured herself that everything would be fine and an appointment was scheduled for a week later.

“I never even said to my husband and went to the City Hospital for the check-up one morning and just said I would be late to work. Three hours later I was given the diagnosis."

Vicki was diagnosed with Stage 2b invasive breast cancer, a 4.9cm tumour.

“Looking back, I think the doctor knew, only he did not want me to be worried. I had Crohn's disease and it could have gotten worse if he had told me that.

“I was first told that I should have a mastectomy but then told about this trial that could shrink the tumour."

Vicki opted for the trial which shrunk the tumour to 1.9cm - it had to be under 2cm to be considered a success.

She thought that a mastectomy operation might have been too much for her. Vicki also had her fallopian tubes and ovaries removed to prevent ovarian cancer, given that the BRCA gene which she carries brings an increased risk of both breast and ovarian cancer.

“At that time my kids were only eight and five and the trial had a much better recovery time than the mastectomy. Also if I had the mastectomy, there would be much more that I would have to explain to them," said Vicki, adding that they decided against telling the girls about the cancer diagnosis.

“They would have associated cancer with death as they had lost their grandmother that way and I did not want them to think that.

“They thought that mummy had an arm operation and the medicine made my hair fall out.

“The girls and I had hat/wig and bandana sessions to see which they liked on me and them, they say 'laughter is the best medicine' and a child's laughter is captivating.

“I will have to sit down and tell them some day as they will need to get checked as the BRCA gene is in our family.

“I have collated my journey to share them with when the time is right."

Vicki, who is a positive person by nature, admits she did have bad days.

“I had my bad days like everyone. I had to go for checks and I got tired very easily.

“I could not be the superwoman that I was before. I did manage to get the kids to school most days, my mum's motto was 'never go out without your lipstick on'. I managed most of the time to use my lovely Benefit make-up and tried to make an effort with my hats as it made me feel better."

Vicki was given free counselling sessions with one of Action Cancer's counsellors and that was the start of her peer mentoring.

“I remember them joking saying that I was a positive person and I should maybe think about speaking to other people and telling my story.

“I already had a WhatsApp group started which I called 'Boobilicious update' and sent around updates on me to my family and friends."

It was after her treatment finished, that her eldest daughter asked her if she could get her hair cut for the Princess Trust for boys and girls like mummy with no hair.

“How could I say no?"

Alongside this lovely gesture, they started raising money to support the work of Action Cancer. Their aim was £500 which would train one peer mentor. However the end result, to their delight, was £4,200.

Vicki, who qualified as a peer mentor this year, has already helped quite a few people.

She has spoken to people going through cancer or to their family who may be struggling to come to terms with a diagnosis.

“It can be the smallest advice that you give someone that can help the most.

“I remember telling a woman who had cancer to tell her friends who were calling to see her to bring a cake and show them where the kettle is so that she didn't use what little energy she had trying to be the host.

“I was always one for baking a cake when someone came around but I just told my visitors to bring their own when they came.

“I also remember when I was going through treatment that it took me ages to try and find a nail polish that suited as your nails can be very dried out.

“I was able to pass on this advice to a woman that had the same problem. It might sound small but something like having a nail polish that can actually work, can be a real pick-me-up.

“You can be honest about what they will expect as you have been there."

The work that Vicki and the other peer mentors do is so worthwhile to cancer patients and their families, so much so that they were rewarded with the Adult Learning Initiatives that Promote Health and Wellbeing for Life Award last week.

The awards are presented by AONTAS, the Irish National Learning Organisation, to outstanding, learner-centred adult education initiatives that demonstrate high levels of collaboration amongst participant groups.

“There were 72 applicants and 16 shortlisted so just to even be shortlisted was a massive achievement in itself, so to actually come away with the award is an even bigger achievement and testament to the amount of work and commitment everyone has given to this project."

Vicki is asking people to support "this great event [on Saturday] as the money raised will help local people when they need it most".

Registration for this Mother's Day Walk in Hillsborough Forest Park is £10 per adult and £5 per child. The minimum sponsorship is £80 per family, which will cover the cost of one breast screening for a local woman.

Action Cancer is the only charity in the UK and Ireland to offer free breast screening to asymptomatic women aged 40-49 and over 70, those who fall outside the NHS screening age range (50-70).

The free screening is on offer at Action Cancer House in Belfast and on board the charity's Big Bus, supported by SuperValu NI and its independent retailers which travels to 235 locations throughout Northern Ireland every year. Action Cancer also offer a range of therapeutic services available to children and adults affected by cancer in Northern Ireland, starting from five years of age.

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