A local cancer survivor is backing the new Cancer Focus Northern Ireland fundraising campaign, ‘Support Your Girls,’ during breast cancer awareness month in October.

The leading local cancer charity is asking women to hold a fun girls’ night in to raise money for breast cancer support for younger women in Northern Ireland. The campaign will also highlight signs and symptoms of the disease and stress the importance of checking your breasts regularly.

Willy Acheson, from Ballinamallard, has been diagnosed with breast cancer twice and uses the Cancer Focus NI bra-fitting service (in partnership with Cancer Connect in Enniskillen). She says that the charity’s new campaign is “an excellent idea”.

Telling her story, Willy said: “I first had breast cancer on the right hand side in 2009. I’d had cysts before but this time my breast was just very sore. When I went to the doctor and was sent to Altnagelvin. It turned out I had cancer.”

Willy continued: “As a result, I had a lumpectomy and three weeks of radiotherapy. I got the all clear in 2014 which was a huge relief.”

However, last year Willy found a huge lump on her left breast and another was found at the back of her breast which was picked up by a mammogram.

“You would never have known it was there otherwise. I was diagnosed on June 8, my husband’s birthday - he took his own life six years ago,” said Willy.

“My consultant said the breast needed to be removed and I’d have to have chemotherapy. I opted for a double mastectomy and had reconstruction at the same time. Nothing prepares you for the emotional impact of it all, that you are going to lose your breasts and your hair. But, I’m thankfully on the other side of it now,” she said.

Willy commented that she is now very aware of how crucial it is for early detection. She said: “Women need to check their breasts regularly to get to ‘know their normal’. We need to keep an eye out for anything we feel is not quite right – some of the signs include lumps or bumps, puckered skin, thickening, a rash, oozing or crusting.

“Early detection means better survival rates, so it’s essential that women get this information.”

“I also think it’s an excellent idea to have support groups for younger women. Sometimes young women think they aren’t at risk because there is no history in their family and they are young so it can be an even greater shock for them if they are diagnosed. I’d encourage everyone to sign up and have a girls’ night in to support this great cause,” Willy added.

Rosie Forsythe, community fundraising manager, Cancer Focus NI, said: “One in ten women in Northern Ireland are diagnosed with breast cancer, which is a huge number – it could be your mum, your sister, your wife, your granny, or your friend.”

She continued: “We know that there is a need for more support among younger women who have breast cancer.

“Our unique new six week service will give them a chance to speak to experts on a wide range of topics such as infertility and sexual relationships as well as giving them the chance to meet others in a similar situation.”

“The women we are helping are at a stage in their lives where they may be considering big life changes, such as marriage and starting a family, and a breast cancer diagnosis can dramatically change all their hopes and plans for the future. That is why we’re asking you to have a girls’ night in and help us provide the support they need,” Rosie added.

Cancer Focus NI are asking women everywhere to get involved by hosting a ‘girls’ night in’ for a few friends to raise vital funds.

“Do whatever you and your friends enjoy doing – and ask for a donation to Cancer Focus NI. It could be a film night, a pyjama party, pizza treats, makeovers, the list is endless. It’s a great reason to have a good time with the girls,” concluded Rosie.

Not sure how to check your breasts or what to look out for? Cancer Focus NI has a short video to explain what you need to look out for on its website and social media channels.

You can find out more about the Support Your Girls campaign and the signs and symptoms on the charity’s website, www.cancerfocusni.org/girls.