NI cancer charity ‘helped bereaved children go on with life’

A Northern Irish cancer charity gave children who lost their mother the skills and resilience to go on, their father has said.

Mother-of-five Anna Harte died in 2010 when her youngest child was aged just three.

Cancer Focus NI is celebrating 50 years of helping families like them, and has launched a major campaign to raise £100,000 for pioneering breast cancer research.

Mrs Harte’s widower Donald said: “You have to be honest and up front and they will cope, they will cope, that is the one thing I have found out of this process.

“It is not a straight road and there will be bumps, but they will cope and they will get out of the other side of it and the fact they have been supported through that by Cancer Focus makes that process quicker and makes them stronger.”

The trade union official from Craigavon attended the charity’s group for the bereaved, planning for the first anniversary, Christmas and birthdays.

He added: “It is a great support to know that people have been through it and come out of the other side of it. There is light at the end of the tunnel, and it takes a while and is very difficult, but that support was incredible for me.

“It allowed me to support my children through that process and made it easier on them.”

At the time of their mother’s death, his oldest girl was aged 15 and his youngest boy just three.

He said: “It is not a process that ends, it is a process that continues and they were given the skills and tools through others’ experience to do that and that is wonderful.”

Debra Rice, 47, from Belfast, was diagnosed with breast cancer caused by a faulty gene in 2015.

She had lost her hair due to chemotherapy.

She said: “Once I did not look like myself any more it was very, very hard.”

She was invited to a beauty day with make up artists organised by Cancer Focus NI.

Ms Rice recalled: “I had a lovely facial, had my make up done, and did not recognise myself.

“I had eyebrows and eyelashes for the first time in months, it was just a lovely experience and helped boost my confidence.

“That gave me little tips and tricks for my make-up to progress and put on my make-up and feel normal again, that was a big bonus for me.”

A Cancer Focus-funded research project based at Queen’s University Belfast will study women who have developed cancer in their second breast, and aims to develop a test to identify those who are at greatest risk of developing a second breast cancer.

By testing DNA, it could deliver more personalised medicine and avoid women like her daughter having to undergo preventative surgeries unnecessarily, Ms Rice said.

Ms Rice added: “She has a 50/50 chance of inheriting that gene, so for me, anything we can do that is going to benefit her in the long run and anyone like her. I would like to think she will not face the choices that I had to make, that there will be other things available to her.”