Clayre signed up to do The MoonWalk – then found out she had breast cancer

We’d always wanted to take on a walking challenge for a breast cancer charity, but now fate had dealt its hand and I would be taking part during my own treatment.

“I was 39 when I found a hard lump in my breast – it felt like a brick and just seemed to appear overnight. When I felt it, my instinct was that something was wrong.

A day later, I saw my GP. My appointment at the Ulster Hospital was fast-tracked and came through within just a week. I was bracing myself for a cancer diagnosis, but my doctor kept on saying that it was more likely to be a cyst, because I was too young to have breast cancer. I had a very healthy lifestyle too, wasn’t overweight and there was no significant history of breast cancer in my family, other than an aunt many years ago.

I received my test results on the same day as my hospital appointment – in that moment of them telling me I had stage 3 cancer I was stunned, yet somehow not surprised. It was like floating through someone else’s world for a moment. A couple of weeks later, I had surgery to remove a 2.8cm tumour, followed by chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Then began 10 years of medication to help prevent cancer returning.

I’d signed up to take part in The MoonWalk Scotland with two friends not long before I was diagnosed. Our main reason for taking on the half marathon had been that one of our group had been diagnosed with breast cancer twice before, as well as her Mum and her sister. We also wanted to mark my 40th birthday. I’d additionally planned to take part in the Belfast City Marathon for a local cancer charity.

We’d always wanted to take on a walking challenge for a breast cancer charity, but now fate had dealt its hand and I was going to be taking part during my own treatment. At the age of 39, I’d expected to be doing what I could do to help other people facing cancer. But as we all know, cancer doesn’t discriminate.

I completed The MoonWalk Scotland not long after my first cycle of chemotherapy and with a Picc line inserted in my arm. This is a tube which goes from the arm into the chest, so that chemotherapy can be pumped around the body. The three of us felt a huge sense of achievement when we crossed the Finish Line, knowing we’d made a difference, and it was incredibly emotional for all of us.

Although I was going through treatment at the time of The MoonWalk, I put on my practical head and my fundraising took on a whole different tempo. Together we raised over £4,000 for charity. I had never felt so lucky to have such fantastic friends, family and colleagues, who were incredibly supportive and positive with me every step of the way. It would have been easy to say “why me?”, but I think it was really a case of “why not me”?

Having said that, in terms of my own health, it is still a bit of a struggle. I’m taking the hormone therapy tamoxifen for ten years, and the side effects are quite difficult to deal with at times. Issues surrounding fertility and early menopause were never really explained when I was diagnosed and I had to make a very quick decision about whether I wanted to freeze any of my eggs. I was told that this would mean a delay to treatment, which I didn’t want, as my tumour was aggressive and continuing to grow. I just wanted to get the tumour out! It was a very mechanical kind of conversation, with no real thought about how you are trying to process all the information. Being told you would be left infertile and your periods would stop was difficult to process.  There was no real discussion about the impact of a forced medical menopause at such a young age.

After treatment, people expect you to go back to normal, but I found coming back to work really difficult, as I just wasn’t the same person, yet I was expected to be, and to have the same physical ability and strength as before. Shortly after my active treatment ended my dad was diagnosed with stomach cancer. I moved in to my parents’ house to help my mum, who has Alzheimer’s, to care for him. My Dad died in my arms from cancer during the height of lockdown in May 2020.

In keeping with my Dad’s wishes, we raised money for Walk the Walk through donations in lieu of flowers after he died. Dad would have been delighted and I was too, as it was a very personal thing for us to do. I received a call from Walk the Walk on my birthday, shortly after my Dad died, to thank us and to tell me that one of the projects funded by the charity is mobile breast cancer screening bus, run by Action Cancer, a local charity in Northern Ireland. The bus allows women aged 40-49 and over 70 to have mammograms. I had been sat in my car at the time, just crying and feeling very lonely. The call really lifted me and gave me strength.

The Lagan Dragons is another charity which received a Walk the Walk grant. They are a local dragon boat racing team in Northern Ireland, for people affected either directly or indirectly by breast cancer – I did some training with them! Knowing that the money Walk the Walk has raised is helping people so local to me was very helpful in terms of my recovery.

Now I’m really looking forward to taking on The MoonWalk London in 2022. It’s so important to have a healthy lifestyle! I’m starting to get back into taking part in marathons again, supporting various charities, including of course Walk the Walk.

When I did The MoonWalk Scotland, it was a very good event with a fantastic, positive atmosphere. We donned our Hollywood-inspired bras which were laden with red diamonds, red fringing and feather boas. I went up on stage to take part in the warm-up – it was brilliant fun and also incredibly emotional. Everyone has a personal reason for taking part and it was touching to see so many men and children there too. At one point, everyone holds hands and hugs the person next to them – it really gives you extra hope that one day there will be a cure for breast cancer.

I’d urge everyone, however young they are, to check themselves for lumps and bumps and make sure anything suspicious is checked out by a medical professional. I’m relatively young to be diagnosed with breast cancer, so I hope my experience raises awareness that cancer can strike at any time.” - Clayre

Thank you for sharing your story Clayre and we look forward to seeing you at The MoonWalk London 2022!

If you feel inspired to unite with us against breast cancer... check out our challenges here and if you would like to share your story with us, please email us and we will be in touch.



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