Breast Cancer survivor Claire will run her first marathon for Cancer Focus NI

18 January 2019

Breast Cancer survivor Claire will run her first marathon for Cancer Focus NI

Breast cancer survivor and mum of two Claire Williamson is full of energy - a very different picture from a few years ago - and is celebrating life by signing up to run the Belfast marathon, her first ever.

“The thought terrifies me,” Claire admitted, but she has chosen to take up the gauntlet and run her heart out for Cancer Focus Northern Ireland because she says the charity was a real lifeline to her at a hugely tough time in her life.

Claire got great comfort and support from the charity’s art therapy service, which helped her express her emotions when words failed.

Claire, from Lisburn, who has run a couple of half marathons, is married to Paul and mum to Charlie (10) and Jamie (5). She tells her story to encourage others to take part in the marathon for Cancer Focus NI

She says:

“I decided to have a mammogram in March 2015 after a good friend was diagnosed with cancer. Nothing showed up. Then, in August, I found a lump and went to my GP. Though she thought it was probably nothing to worry about she referred me to the breast clinic at Antrim Area Hospital where I had a biopsy.

When I got my results two doctors and two nurses were present. My first thought was oh no… this is bad news, these nurses are here to catch me if I faint. A doctor asked if I had anyone with me and then I knew.

I was overwhelmed. You want life to stop, to pedal backwards, you hear voices and a lot of information is thrown at you but you don’t take it in.

I had an MRI, CT and bone scan, which was very difficult as I knew they were checking to see if the cancer was anywhere else in my body. You feel fear. The results come in and you almost celebrate that you only have breast cancer. You think…I can deal with this.

My immediate reaction was how do I protect my kids from this? Jamie was only 18 months old. You wonder if you’ll see your kids grow up? 

I had a lumpectomy and my lymph nodes were removed and I felt fine. After a lovely Christmas with the family I started chemotherapy – eight sessions every three weeks. It lasted five months until the end of May 2016.

Handing over the care of your children is so hard but you have to. You just aren’t fit enough.  Jamie started to call my mother-in-law mummy as he saw her more than me. It was very upsetting. I then had radiotherapy for three weeks which finished on 1st July 2016. 

I found the chemo really tough and towards the end of the treatment I felt I wanted to do something to support my mental health. I contacted Cancer Focus NI who suggested art therapy.

I’d never heard of it before but decided to give it a go.  Joanne Boal, the art therapist, was great and very reassuring. She told me not to worry about what we would paint or do but that we’d work it out when I arrived. The first week I tried watercolour which I found very calming. I then tried craft and clay, chatting to Joanne while we worked.

When you are having chemo, life is continuing all around you but when you come to art therapy you have one hour of space for you. You can slow it all down. It’s escapism, peaceful. And great fun too. It’s not like when you paint with the kids because you think of the mess and having to clear up - but to just be free and enjoy what you’re doing is great. 

What I’ve created aren’t masterpieces but they are very precious to me.  Some look ridiculous, childlike, but others are peaceful and tranquil. One day I was working with clay… bashing it. I was really working with it and getting quite physical. It almost felt like I was running again. I felt alive.

During one session I had a real self-healing moment. I literally started to throw paint at the page with no thought. It was a freedom, no restrictions, whereas the outside world was so restrictive to me. It was liberating. I remembered who I was. 

Cancer stops you living. It stops you socialising as your immune system is low and you don’t want to mix.  Art therapy gave me a release. It became a coping strategy. If I was angry, I could be angry or calm or centred. I would leave art therapy (particularly after the clay bashing session) and feel like I had achieved something.

Joanne is great. She takes you on a journey and says the right things at the right pace to get you to open up about how you really feel. The release is amazing. We don’t analyse the paintings… it’s the process. She is very supportive.

If anyone has the opportunity to do art therapy then they should do it. I would highly recommend it. It’s so helpful at helping to address your feelings and emotions. I come away from the sessions feeling positive and upbeat. There have been tears and laughter but also great fun.  

When you’re diagnosed with cancer it is important to keep strong. Coming to art therapy and talking in a confidential and safe environment helps with your mental wellbeing. 

This is only one of Cancer Focus NI’s very valuable services for cancer patients and their families, so if you can support them, please do.”


You can #runforyourlife and support Cancer Focus NI by selecting them when registering for the 2019 Deep RiverRock Belfast City Marathon.  Already signed up and would like to start fundraising for them?  Simply email or call 028 9068 0771 to request your free fundraising pack.


Entries are NOW OPEN at via the brand new MyTicket App.  The current rate is the available until 28th February with a final entry deadline of 12th April 2019.