Strabane women step up to March a Million for Cancer Focus NI

Strabane mum Naoimh Simpson is encouraging everyone to lace up their trainers and March a Million steps to help Cancer Focus Northern Ireland deliver vital services to cancer patients and their families across Northern Ireland.

Naoimh and her neighbour Michelle are taking on the challenge to complete one million steps and raise money for Cancer Focus NI’s services, so far they have raised an amazing £2,000 before beginning the challenge!

The charity is asking local people, including families, to complete one million steps starting on March 1 – that’s 10,000 steps a day for 100 days, 500 miles, or more than 18 full marathons if you’re doing it solo. Split between four people it’ll amount to 10,000 steps for 25 days each.

You can walk, run, dance or push your steps, split them between a group of friends or complete the million all on your own. You can do it in the garden, the park or at home, whichever way you choose to do it, you need to complete the challenge before the 31st May.

Naoimh Simpson, 43 from Strabane is married to Aidan and has three young children. She was diagnosed with breast cancer February 2021 after finding a lump when doing a routine breast check. After some encouragement from her friend and neighbour to regain her strength in the right way, Naoimh is taking on the Cancer Focus Northern Ireland’s March a Million challenge and completing one million steps with her neighbour.

“I am a very busy person; I work fulltime for the EA Music Service and I enjoy as much exercise as I can, as well as being a member of my local orchestra and choir. March a Million will be a challenge for me but I am very excited about taking part.”

Advocating to check yourself regularly, Naoimh shares her story:

“I found a lump along my ribcage, under my right breast when doing a routine breast check. I had previously had a fibroadenoma in my left breast, a harmless breast lump, so whilst I didn’t delay in getting checked out, I was initially unconcerned.

“I got an appointment with the doctor and a referral to the breast clinic within two weeks. The fast-track system meant that although I was at this appointment for four hours, I was told the same day that I had cancer. The wait to the next appointment was the most difficult part, as I had to wait for a full diagnostic assessment of the cancer and the treatment would be based on the outcome.

Chemotherapy, a lumpectomy, followed by radiotherapy were all in Naoimh’s treatment plan to fight the cancer.

“I had my first chemotherapy treatment in less than a month from finding the lump, for which I am very grateful. Following the surgery, I was fortunate enough to have had a complete response to treatment.

“My treatment has taken place within the tightest of restrictions during the pandemic. I had to attend most of my appointments alone and I wasn’t allowed any visitors when I was in hospital. This was very difficult at times, but the medical teams made sure that support was there at every turn.

“I also had a full gene assessment to see if my type of cancer was hereditary and was thankful to learn that this wasn’t the case. As a mother of daughters, it was a load off my mind to know that they weren’t at increased risk.

“The care I received during my treatment was second to none, but the effects of a diagnosis reach far beyond the physical, and the ripples stretch into family and friends.”

As a result of her treatment, Naoimh was told that she would lose her hair, an experience she was anxious about.

Naoimh added: “When that day finally came, my kids got out the scissors and hair clippers and helped me shave my head. Which turned a potentially traumatic event into an evening of laughter and support. I got a fringe, a curtain hairdo, and a mullet!

After her surgery Naoimh found out about Cancer Focus NI’s bra-fitting service, a specialist fitting service to help women find the right bras and swimwear.

Naoimh added: “I’m getting a bra fitting to help with comfort after my surgery, as I of course have discomfort around my scars. This kind of help is so important in trying to find a new normal, and I’m grateful to Cancer Focus NI for this service.

Talking about how March a Million will be a challenge but beneficial to her, Naoimh explained:

“My radiation therapy has left me with bone weakness, so I am working to find and do the right type of exercise in the meantime. In doing so, my neighbour Michelle has encouraged me to get out walking as I’m unable to go back to the type of exercise I had been doing prior my diagnosis. We are doing March a Million together and she suggested this is a challenge we can take on together, both as a personal challenge and as a way of raising funds to support Cancer Focus NI.

“This will be a serious challenge for me as I have episodes of fatigue that can be overwhelming some days. However, walking has been great for this and it’s a gentle exercise that is helping me regain my strength in the right way. I am committed to giving it my best shot!

“Cancer is indiscriminate, so don’t ever be afraid to get something checked out if you find a lump, or changes to your body that give you any cause for concern. You’re never wasting anyone’s time, and as my nurse said to me, ‘We’d rather see a lump that turns out to be nothing than not see one that turns out to be something’.”

Kathryn Holland, outdoor events manager, Cancer Focus NI, said: “March a Million is a great event to get involved in, not only are you helping to raise vital funds for our services, but it is a great way to keep active during Spring!

“Sign up for just £5 and raise as whatever you can. Your participation and fundraising will help us continue to bring vital services to cancer patients and their families across Northern Ireland.”

Whichever way you choose to do it, you need to complete the March a Million challenge before 31 May. It costs £5 to register and Cancer Focus NI asks you to raise whatever you can in sponsorship. Simply visit https://cancerfocusni.org/event/march-a-million/ and sign up.