Angela’s Story

Angela was diagnosed with Breast Cancer on 5th October 2021 aged only 51.

Cancer Focus NI’s specialist counselling service was there to support her during her chemotherapy, mastectomy, reconstruction, and radiotherapy.

“It’s been a tough few years. I lost everything internally following an earlier hysterectomy, then I lost my hair, and then my breast. I’ve had so many feminine parts of me removed that I no longer feel like a woman. Sometimes I feel like a shell. Cancer Focus NI were there for me when I was in need, and it is comforting to know that they will be there for someone in a similar position that I was in. Thank you for supporting their work during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.”

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Angela's Poster

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Read Angela’s full story

Angela was diagnosed with Breast Cancer on 5th October 2021 aged only 51. Finding a painful lump, she was under the impression that because it was sore that there was nothing to worry about. Having had cysts previously that required draining, she visited her GP who referred her to the Breast Clinic in Craigavon Hospital. She was seen within a fortnight.


“The date of my diagnosis is one that I will never forget. I had just spent two years growing my hair and had had breast augmentation. Then there I was being told by an Oncologist that I had a HER2 positive tumour in my right breast and in lymph nodes in my right arm. I was in an absolute state of shock when they detailed that my treatment would involve immediate chemotherapy, followed by a lumpectomy, radiotherapy, and a year of Herceptin injections.”


Shortly after this announcement, Angela underwent further scans that discovered further cancer, which presented as a cluster under the nipple in her right breast. She now faced a mastectomy and reconstruction too.


“I’d already had a brush with cancer in late 2018 when during a hysterectomy they found cancerous cells in my cervix. They were all removed successfully but I found that experience frightening enough.”

Chemotherapy cycle

Angela had a difficult time during her six sessions of chemotherapy. Taking sick throughout her chemotherapy cycle, she was hospitalised, caught COVID as an inpatient twice, developed a blood clot in the arm that had cancerous lymph nodes, developed colitis, and got shingles. All of this pushed her surgery back by eight weeks.


“When I finally was able to have the mastectomy, I was in such pain that I was making sounds on the operation table that I don’t wish to ever speak about again. Then six weeks later, I received my radiotherapy treatment, which unfortunately hardened my breast implant and left me with terrible burns too. That whole period was simply horrific.”


As a fiercely independent woman, Angela had chosen to go through most of her early cancer journey alone. She had initially received literature about available breast cancer support services and was signposted to Cancer Focus NI by her GP but was not in a place where she needed to access the services.


“After about three months, I admitted to myself that I needed help and support. I finally reached out to the charity and was connected with the wonderful counsellor, Angie Smyth. I was not prepared for how beneficial the service was. Thanks to the support I received, I began to understand my thoughts, feelings, and fears. This was a changing point for me.”

With the support of her counsellor, Angela began to welcome other people along on her cancer journey to help further support her. Thanks to her friends, family, and cancer professionals, she was able to hold on to her sense of humour and determination, which helped her remain focused on reclaiming ownership over her body.


“My life now and my outlook is very different. My Mum and I hadn’t spoken in around 10 years before my diagnosis, we’ve always had a fractured relationship. When she reached out to me when she discovered that I had cancer, I was so happy. We chatted for a good while over the phone that first night and put all our problems firmly in the past. Even though I would refer to myself as fiercely independent, I remember crying to a nurse during my treatment and telling her that I needed my Mum. This has been one of the positives to come from my cancer. I’m so grateful to have her in my life again.”


Angela describes another positive from her cancer journey being a healthier outlook on life. A self-confessed workaholic, her obsession with her career as a Retail Manager resulted in her losing friends and affecting romantic relationships. However, it was the stark response of her Oncologist that helped her to reassess things. Rather than focusing on her health and recovery, it was pointed out to her that she had been too concerned about returning to work. She was told that she would have to accept that she would be out of work for at least a year. From that moment, her focus shifted.


“It’s such a cliche but you have so much time to think, and I now know that I will never live to work again. My time with my friends and family now is precious and it’s the top of my list. I plan to write a book about my journey, hoping it will help others going through the same thing. I want to train to complete a marathon. I adore my volunteer work at Cancer Focus NI’s Banbridge retail shop and I get such happiness from helping people. My paid job never made me feel this content. I’m also planning to travel solo to as many countries as possible. The world is my oyster now!”

With this new outlook, Angela recently took up running and completed her first 10k in June 2023, raising a little over £600 for our charity. She also started slimming world and has lost 2 stone 8lbs in the last six months. Having been healthy and fit before her diagnosis, her goal is to get back to where she was. However, her mental health is still one area that is still not back to where it once was.


“Sadly, my confidence is very bad and some days I can’t get past my front door. It’s been a tough few years. I lost everything internally following the hysterectomy, then I lost my hair, and then my breast. I still have no nipple and the waiting list for a nipple tattoo is at least 2 years. I still can’t look at my reconstructed breast. I’ve had so many feminine parts of me removed that I no longer feel like a woman. Sometimes I feel like a shell.”


Angela knows her journey is not over, and the next phase will take time. She has so many plans and is even open to the opportunity of finding herself a Mr Right and deciding on a change of career. Though, for now her health is her priority. Currently seeing a pain management Doctor, she wants to overcome the things that are holding her back from achieving her long-term goals.


“I became single in late 2019 after twelve years with my partner. Between then and receiving my diagnosis, I have had to find a new home twice, cope with lockdowns, mourn the loss of a dear family pets, and recover from a badly broken shoulder. Whilst I am proud of myself for having gone through all this and my cancer journey as a single person, I would never want to relive that period of my life. I think it’s ok now for me to admit this to myself. I think it’s ok for me to take a bit of time to comfort myself and heal from the trauma I’ve experienced.”

Take back control of my life

Thanking people for supporting the charity’s counselling service, Angela has a new perspective of the vital work that Cancer Focus NI delivers, often in secret.


“I don’t feel I have the right words to describe how valuable the support and donations to the charity are. Having never been affected by cancer before my own diagnosis, I never really thought about the importance of such services. I regret that and truly wish I had taken time to raise money before now. Every pound given is absolutely precious and priceless. Thank you for supporting this wonderful charity. They were there for me when I was in need, and it is comforting to know that they will be there for someone in a similar position that I was in.”


Since beginning to share her story, Angela has found strength in hearing other women in similar positions share their experiences with her. She hopes that by being a face of Cancer Focus NI’s Go Pink campaign, she will help inspire even more women and their wider families to speak up about the impacts of breast cancer.


“For someone living with confidence issues brought on by breast cancer, it can be daunting to even consider sharing my story. I take great strength from my children Andrew, Johnathan and Abbie who are my shinning lights and have motivated me to take back control of my life. I love them and I thank them for supporting me on my cancer journey.”