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Opinion: I wouldn't have recognised the signs if my cousin hadn't been diagnosed with breast cancer

I was just 35 years old when I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Image: Syda Productions via Shutterstock

I WAS 35 years old when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I noticed some dimpling on my breast. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to get myself checked, had it not been for my cousin, Lorraine, who had been diagnosed with breast cancer previously. She had told me about this symptom which she experienced so I owe my early diagnosis to her.

I visited my GP straight away who referred me for further tests immediately which consisted of a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy. A week later, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a huge shock.

Soon after that, I commenced my treatment which consisted of a lumpectomy, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and hormone therapy in St Vincent’s Hospital. Towards the end of my chemotherapy treatment, when everyone expected me to be feeling more positive, I actually was at my lowest.

At this point, I was visited by an Irish Cancer Society Peer to Peer volunteer from the Survivors Supporting Survivors Programme. This lady had been through her own breast cancer journey. The treatment she underwent was similar to mine and she knew exactly what I was going through. This support was invaluable as I could finally chat to someone who had been through it and had come out the other side. She understood the fears I had and the practical challenges which a diagnosis can bring with it. She was so reassuring and that was a turning point for me in my recovery.

I am thankful to say that my diagnosis was ten years ago. Today, I am thankful to be doing well and I have become a volunteer with the Survivors Supporting Survivors programme. I visit women who are coming to terms who their diagnosis and offer support at a time when I know how much it is needed. I help them discuss their feelings and anxieties, give emotional support and practical advice. Any cancer patient can call the Irish Cancer Society’s National Cancer Helpline Freefone 1800 200 700 to speak to a specialist cancer nurse who can refer them to the Survivors Supporting Survivors programme.

I am passionate about cancer research. During my treatment, I took part in a clinical trial that explored how a drug which was originally used at late-stage breast cancer performed at early-stage breast cancer. It worked well in my case.

Sadly, my cousin who had been diagnosed with breast cancer before me later passed away.

That is why I am supportive of the Irish Cancer Society’s new breast cancer campaign called Paint it Pink. The Paint it Pink campaign raises funds for the Irish Cancer Society’s free services for breast cancer patients and invests in the Society’s Collaborative Cancer Research Centre BREAST-PREDICT. This Centre is the country’s first Collaborative Cancer Research Centre which brings together most of Ireland’s leading breast cancer researchers from a range of disciplines and a number of leading academic institutions. They will share their resources and expertise in a project designed to predict the best treatment options for breast cancer patients.

You can find out more about the Paint it Pink campaign at

Sharon Burrell is a breast cancer survivor from Dalkey, Co Dublin. Sharon now volunteers with the Irish Cancer Society’s Survivors Supporting Survivors programme which offers vital support to newly diagnosed patients.

Paint it Pink is the Irish Cancer Society’s new breast cancer campaign. Paint it Pink is a fun way for people to raise money for the Society’s work across breast cancer funding vital research, advocacy and services to those affected by breast cancer. The campaign is all about doing something big or small to paint it pink on October 3rd, sharing pictures of your activity on social media #PINKPICS, and texting the word Pink 50300 to donate €4 to the Society.

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