Breast cancer patient Kate uses our lifeline services
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Breast cancer patient Kate uses our lifeline services

Mum of three Kate Gray is battling metastatic breast cancer – so breast cancer awareness month in October is especially poignant for her.

Kate, husband David and daughters Emily (10), Connie (7) and Megan (4) have had tremendous support from Cancer Focus Northern Ireland.And now Kate is urging local women to hold a Girls’ Night In this October to raise much-needed cash for its breast cancer research at Queen’s University.

“The charity has been a complete lifeline for us all,” she said. “The fact that it funds potentially life-saving research means a lot to me as new developments could mean earlier diagnosis, better treatments outcomes for other women and life extending treatments for women in my situation.”

Kate and the children

Kate and the children

The 38-year-old Lisburn singing teacher (Kate Pielou LLCM ALCM), who also owns the Phoenix Arts Belfast drama school, started her own cancer journey in July 2017.

“I went to my GP after finding a lump in my breast. I had been quite vigilant about any changes as I’d had sepsis and mastitis before when I was nursing and I wanted to avoid that again.”

Kate was absolutely floored to be told the that she had cancer. “I had hoped it would be blocked glands or cysts. I was devastated and worried for my young family. Megan had only stopped breast feeding earlier that year,” she said..


“I had a week of MRI and CT scans and blood work before I was given my final diagnosis. I had secondary metastatic breast cancer with lesions on the bone, as well as primary breast cancer. It was serious. I had surgery on August 24 last year when I had a single mastectomy and node clearance.”

Earlier in March, before noticing the lump on her breast, Kate also noticed lumps in her armpit. “I thought it was a swollen gland, I hadn’t realised at the time that this was a possible early indicator of cancer. I don’t know if it would have made any difference if I had gone to the doctor sooner but I’d like to alert other women to keep an eye on this area too when they are checking themselves.”

She continued: “I had surgery within two weeks of diagnosis, not much time to let it all sink in, I had a lot to deal with.  Luckily David was able to take a few months off work to look after me and the children.

Hormone treatment

“I had four months of hormone treatment but in January I got the news that it hadn’t worked and lesions had appeared on my liver as well, with a few extra ones on my bones. I was shattered. There was huge emotional fall-out. I’d been planning my triumphant return to work, I really felt adrift not doing what I love, teaching singing and drama.”

In January  2018, Kate started chemotherapy but her March review showed that this treatment was unsuccessful too. “That was a terrible disappointment and very tough to hear.

“I had to change to different chemo drugs and start Herceptin and, at last, I started to see some positive results. I’m feeling much better, more like my old self, and the cancer is vaguely under control. I’ve finished chemo and am on a cocktail of other drugs which is hopefully holding the cancer in place.

Art therapy

Kate and David

Kate and David

“I’ve been seeing the Cancer Focus NI art therapist Joanne Boal since October and she’s been absolutely brilliant. This therapy really appealed to me as I’m an artistic person, it’s so relaxing to have timeout and I fell in love with it. I love crocheting and knitting, so it all fits together very well,” she said.

“Every week I try something different. I’ve done a lot with paint and ink. One week it was clay; thumping that clay was a big release for all the tension that was building up inside me. Joanne has also given me valuable coping strategies for all the things I am trying to figure out.”

Family support

Cancer Focus NI family support workers have also seen the children. Connie in particular was struggling at school. “The service has been a big lifeline for her and has helped her from imploding. It was very difficult for us, as parents, to explain to the children what was going on in a way they could understand, they are very young, and the family support workers helped us with that.

“My mum has used the charity’s counselling service as she was having difficulties too – my diagnosis was only one of a number of traumatic events in her life, so she really valued having someone to express her anxieties and feelings to.

“And I have also used the Cancer Focus NI bra-fitting service, which is for women who’ve gone through breast surgery,” Kate explained.

Anyone who would like a party pack for their own Girls’ Night In or for more information, please call 028 9066 3281, email or visit

If you have concerns about cancer can call the Cancer Focus NI information and support NurseLine on 0800 783 3339 and speak to the specialist cancer nurse or email