This article is part of the Our CQ Winter Edition. To read the online edition click here.
Emma Graham has been through an arduous time as she battled breast cancer. However, she remained smiling throughout and does everything she can to help others.
In January 2020, Emma Graham’s life was turned upside down when she discovered a lump.
“I was taking part in the Portrush pantomime,” explained Emma. “I got up that morning and noticed my breast was dimpled and I just thought ‘it’s only a pyjama crease’.
“When I was in the shower I felt around and felt a lump and I still thought it was nothing, that it was just me over-worrying.
“When I was at the pantomine that day I asked a friend Zoe Stephenson because she is a nurse to take a look and straight away she said ‘go to the doctor on Monday’.”
Emma saw her GP who subsequently referred her to Antrim where she had a mammogram, biopsy and ultrasound. Just one hour and 15 minutes later, on February 5, it was confirmed she had breast cancer.
“I was convinced it was nothing, possibly a cyst, I was only 32, fit and healthy, so I didn’t think it could be anything sinister.
“I didn’t really take in what the consultant was saying, he kept saying you do understand it’s breat cancer and I kept replying yeah, yeah, yeah.”
As Emma attempted to take in this devastating news, she then had to try and explain to her 8-year old daughter Pippa what was happening to mummy.
“She was really good,” continued Emma. “She had a few wee worries when chemotherapy started but generally she took it in her stride.”
As if receiving a cancer diagnosis wasn’t hard enough to deal with, Covid-19 struck and the country went into lockdown just as Emma had her first surgery in March.
“I was literally in that morning and out again in the evening because the breast cancer ward in Antrim was being turned into a Covid ward so I had the tumour and part of the breast removed.
“I then got the news that the cancer had spread to the lymph nodes so I had another operation in April.
“My main concern was getting to hospital because at the time I didn’t drive, your friends were told they couldn’t take you and public transport was a no-go because of the pandemic. Luckily I had my surgery in Coleraine hospital so that took away that stress. After that chemo started and again transport was the issue so they sent an ambulance for me.”
Emma underwent six sessions of chemotherapy completing her final one on Wednesday, September 9 before beginning 20 rounds of radiotherapy.
“Chemo was hard because of the fatigue, physical pain and nausea. You start off feeling completely well having hair, having eyebrows, having eyelashes and by the end you have no hair, your face looks really bloated like a chipmunk, you put on weight and you have a lot less energy.”
Emma decided to start the Love Yourself campaign, choreographing and recording a video called ‘Dance To Enhance’
“I felt that I was losing myself, I felt very bald, fat and ugly but I’m a positive person and so I decided to do a dance video to make me feel like me. Being able to go to dance and have that outlet each week gave me a boost.
“It was all about showing this is what having cancer looks like but also to show you can do something good out of it.”
The country found itself in lockdown again from January to April 2021 and it was during this time Emma really struggled.
“All my treatments were finished, I didn’t have to travel every day for appointments, I was having different side effects, I was sitting at home and that’s when it really hit me.
“I struggled with the fact I didn’t have cancer any more but I was feeling so ill, I still didn’t look like myself. It hit me then that it’s not a case of finishing treatment and you go back to being yourself straightaway. I felt so vulnerable at that time.”
Although no longer receiving treatment for cancer, Emma is still dealing with the side effects following her teartment with another operation on the cards.
“I was put into early menopause and I struggle with bone problems but everyone is different in the way they are affected. Basically it’s a case of in order to have your life and live your life you can’t do in the same way as before.”
Emma returned to work on the Clarins counter in Boots, Coleraine 15 months ago and with the Boots Macmillan Beauty Advisors on the counter next to her, she is more than happy to talk to anyone who is going through a similar journey.
“Boots has been very understanding and kind to me since I started. I do share my journey with customers if the subject comes up. I can advise them on different products that worked for me or chat about my journey.”
Emma is also involved with a local group – Breast Friends Causeway Coast who recently produced a calendar to raise money to provide support to anyone going through treatment and their families.
“Once you have walked that journey you have a lot of time to help others going through the same experience,” added Emma. “They were a big help to me and if I can do anything to help others I will.”
If you are going through cancer, have a friend or family member who is having treatment and would like support you can contact Breast Friends Causeway coast via email: [email protected] or through their Facebook page: Breast Friends Causeway Coast