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Please, please, please... check your breasts, says Derry woman who has twice survived breast cancer

Michelle McLaren urges women to look after their health

Michelle McLaren

Michelle McLaren is urging women to regularly check their breasts.

A Derry woman who had breast cancer twice by the time she was 31 has made a heartfelt video message to encourage others to check their breasts regularly.

Michelle McLaren, who works for the Pink Ladies cancer support group, shared a short film on Facebook detailing her cancer journey to mark breast cancer awareness month.

"I know this is something that happens in October but it needs to happen every month," she said.

"Get to know your breasts - self detection saves lives."

Michelle was just 25 when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer and her son was only seven weeks old.

After several trips to her GP, Michelle paid to see a private specialist in Belfast who told her she had cancer.

She underwent a mastectomy followed by chemo and then six weeks of radiotherapy.

Life returned to normal and Michelle was kept busy raising her young family and studying for her degree in community development.

After three and half years she had a reconstruction, but she wasn't happy with the results and she decided to have her second breast removed to reduce the chances of her cancer returning followed by a second reconstruction on both sides.

"I had three wee wishes I was trying to keep, that I would be 30, that I would graduate from my degree and that I would be five years cancer free," she recalled.

Michelle's wishes were all coming true, but while getting ready for a Christmas night out, she noticed a swelling under her arm and made an appointment with a consultant at the Breast Screening Unit to discuss it.

"I went over with not a care in the world," said Michelle.

"The girls there are absolutely amazing, they make you feel so relaxed.

"I was sitting there all day, and to cut a long story short my cancer had come back but this time it was in my chest wall and my lymph nodes.

"I was shocked but not as shocked as my sister because there's always that wee niggle in your head that it could back."

The outlook wasn't very good for Michelle because doctors feared the cancer may have spread because it was in her lymph nodes.

And because the cancer had come back on the same side, radiotherapy wasn't an option this time.

A few weeks later, Michelle had two lumpectomies, but they were unsuccessful and she had to make the decision to have a radical mastectomy with muscle removal.

"I decided I need to live - I have kids here.

"I went and had the surgery and I had the support of Gavin my partner.

"It was horrendous but it was just one of the things I needed to do to survive."

This was followed with more chemotherapy.

"I'd lost my hair and I lost my breasts but at the same time  I was just happy to be alive," she said.

Michelle's cancer treatment ended on May 8, 2014.

"The reason I am sharing my story is because I want all women to be aware and check their breasts.

"You are never too young - I was 25 the first time and 31 the second time.

"Please don't put this down to being an older woman's disease, because the more you get to be breast aware and how your breasts feel for you, you will notice changes.

"Please do a self examination once a month.

"If you think something is wrong, go and speak to your GP you can be ask to be referred to the breast clinic

"If it doesn't sit right with you, speak your mind. It's your body, you know if anything is wrong.

"Please, please, please check your breasts."

Michelle added that anyone who gets a mammogram appointment should make it a priority to go.

And whilst the normal Breast Cancer Awareness events cannot take place this year due to the current restriction, the Pink Ladies are offfering virtual breast awareness sessions.

"If any work place wants to we can do virtual events and we would also ask you to check out our Pink Ladies page on Facebook."

You can watch Michelle's video in full on the Pink Ladies Facebook Page.

If you have a story or want to send a photo or video to us please contact the Derry Now editorial team on 028 7129 6600 for Derry City stories Or 028 7774 3970 for County Derry stories. Or you can email editor@derrynews.net or editor@derrypost.com at any time.


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