NI woman Joan Dunlop starts cancer treatment on Valentine's Day after holding Brave the Shave party at weekend

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Joan Dunlop, a mother-of-three, is no stranger to trauma, so when she received a recent breast cancer diagnosis she tackled the situation from the front.

Having been told by her Cancer nurse that she is to receive a strong dose of chemotherapy treatment, starting on Valentines Day, Joan decided to hold a ‘Brave the Shave’ party at the weekend in Groomsport in a bid to raise awareness of the illness and raise money for he Ulster Hospital’s McMillan Cancer Unit.

"I knew that my long hair falling out would make it more traumatic, so I got it cut so I won’t have to endure that,” said the Bangor woman.

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"My family and friends who did it with me, their hair will start to grow back in a few weeks, but I am going to have no hair for a few years with all this treatment I am getting.

Joan’s husband, Phillip Dunlop, 53, died suddenly in 2019 after completing the Camino route from Porto in Portugal to Santiago.

They had met through their love of swimming and diving – and had worked together in Bangor's Aurora Aquatic and Leisure Complex.

Joan had been a champion diver and had gone on to coach children in the sports.

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"I think I coached half of Bangor in diving, trampolining swimming and did a lot of disability work,” she said.

The party was held at the Groomsport Inn on Sunday and was an emotional experience for the 51-year-old as she says she now starts more than two years of cancer treatment with chemotherapy to treat breast cancer that has spread to her lymph nodes and lung.

Joan said that local barbers volunteered to do the shaving and any women with long hair donated their locks to the Little Princess Trust.

“I got a diagnosis of chronic kidney disease and my kidneys are only working at 30% so this chemotherapy is going to be very hard on them,” she said.

“I found a lump in my right armpit in December.

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“Then in January I got a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy and tumours were found.

“At the time the consultant didn’t even need to wait for the biopsy results. He knew what he was looking at.

“And then after a full-body CT scan at Lagan Valley Hospital, cancer cells were also found in my lung.

“So I’m having chemotherapy first to blast the tumours and shrink them, then a mastectomy a few months later before radiotherapy and immunotherapy.”

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after Joan's hair is cutafter Joan's hair is cut
after Joan's hair is cut

Joan said she really wants to emphasise to women the importance of checking their breasts, looking for any unusual changes.

“Before finding this lump I never really did – but now I know how important it is,” she said.

Joan’s fundraising target on JustGiving is £10,000.

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