Courageous Courtney Wedge, who was just 23 when diagnosed, was chosen as VIP to start the 5k event in the city’s Ormeau Park.
She stepped on stage just one day after completing treatment for the disease to rally a pink army of more than 2,500 women taking part - all united by a determination to beat cancer sooner.
Courtney sounded an airhorn to set off women of all ages, shapes and sizes on obstacles including an inflatable mud slide and scramble net along the mud-splattered course.
Courtney of Bangor said: “I feel so proud to be part of a powerful, passionate pink army of women at the frontline in the fight against cancer.
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“Today is a celebration of coming to the end of treatment. I think everyone including even the doctors were shocked I had breast cancer so young. Until the moment I was diagnosed people kept trying to reassure me it was fine. They said I was too young to have breast cancer but I had a bad feeling about it from the start. There were tears and at my lowest I did ask, why me? I was determined to stay positive. I’m lucky to have the most amazing family and friends who have pulled me through.
“The second I was told I had cancer I asked doctors, how are you going to fix me so I can get on with my life?”
Cancer Research UK’s Race for Life, in partnership with Tesco, is an inspiring women-only series of 5k, 10k, Pretty Muddy and marathon events which raises millions of pounds every year to help fund life-saving research. The Race for Life 5K held in Stormont in May has already raised £176,480 for Cancer Research UK. Last year, around 6,607 women took part in Race for Life 5K, 10K and Pretty Muddy events in Belfast and raised a fantastic £365,391.
VIP starter Courtney, now 24, knows exactly how vital that research is.
The care assistant recalls vividly just before Christmas last year when she visited her GP after discovering a lump in her left breast. Her mum Carol Wedge, 52, was with her at the Ulster Hospital breast clinic on December 14 when tests revealed Courtney had cancer.
In January this year, Courtney started the first of six sessions of chemotherapy. When her hair started falling out after the first session, Courtney decided to invite her friends around to a hairdresser pal’s house to support Courtney as her dark hair was shaved off.
Courtney said: “I loved my hair and it was a hard thing losing it.
“But it’s been difficult losing eyebrows and eyelashes too. I knew I could put my wig on to help feel positive and strong but there’s that moment when you take it off at night too.
“My eyelashes are just properly coming back now and it’s brilliant to be able to wear mascara again. I’ve got an incredible group of friends, some I’ve known for five or six years, others I’ve known all my life. We all had a wee cry together when they first heard but they’ve been there for me.”
And it was a huge boost in June after Courtney’s final chemotherapy treatment when her family gave her a Great Dane puppy called Odin as a remission present. The four-month-old puppy helped keep her smiling as she recovered from surgery to remove some of the skin around where the tumour had been. The best news of all came this summer when tests showed the cancer had gone altogether. And yesterday (Friday September 2) Courtney came to the end of 15 daily radiotherapy treatments at City Hospital.
Around one person every hour in Northern Ireland receives the news that they have cancer. One in two people in the UK will be diagnosed with cancer at some stage in their lives, but the good news is more people are surviving the disease now than ever before. Survival rates have doubled since the early 1970s. Money raised through Race for Life allows Cancer Research UK’s doctors, nurses and scientists to advance research which is helping to save the lives of men, women and children across Northern Ireland and the UK.
Race For Life’s area events manager for Belfast, Katie Palmer, said: “I want to say a huge thank you to Courtney and to everyone who took part in Pretty Muddy Belfast.
“The atmosphere was full of emotion with participants wearing signs on their backs declaring their reasons for taking part. Many will be remembering loved ones lost to cancer or celebrating the lives of people dear to them who have survived.”