Big Bus saves Juliet’s life!

editorial image

Juliet McFarland from Ballymoney was 45 when her breast cancer was detected on board Action Cancer’s Big Bus, the charity’s mobile breast screening unit, which offers free mammograms to ladies aged 40-49 and 70+ outside the age range of those invited by the NHS breast screening program.

One year on from her diagnosis Juliet wanted to give back to the charity that saved her life, and took her on her own challenge of zipping the Lagan.

“This year I was determined to give back to Action Cancer once my treatment was finished, I wanted to set myself a challenge. I’d come across the Zipline event on Facebook and I knew I had to do it! The date was so significant to me as on April 21 2016 I visited the Action Cancer Big Bus in Ballymoney and on April 22 2017 I completed the zip line challenge across the River Lagan! What better way was there for me celebrate my one-year anniversary, almost to the day, since visiting the Big Bus? This event was perfect.

“I can’t recall where exactly I’d read or heard it, but I’ve known for quite a while that being a woman in my 40’s meant I was eligible for a free mammogram on Action Cancer’s Big Bus or in Action Cancer house - In fact I’d known all this for over 5 years before I actually got myself on their bus.

In April 2016 a friend on Facebook shared a post by Action Cancer showing where the Big Bus was going to be over the next few weeks. It was coming to Ballymoney on April 21st, and I knew I should get myself checked out. There was no excuse, the bus was going to be in a town that I visit most days anyway.”

On the morning of 21st April Juliet went to the Supervalu store in Ballymoney where the bus was parked. The charity’s Big Bus, supported by SuperValu NI travels to 235 locations throughout Northern Ireland every year.

“I naively had thought you just walked in and waited your turn. The lady in the bus kindly explained that it was necessary to book an appointment either online or by phone. I thanked her and was about to leave when she mentioned that the lady who had booked their 10.30am slot had not turned up, and would l like her appointment. I can still hear myself saying to her ‘yes please, that would be great.’ Just over a week later I got a letter from Action Cancer advising me that I would need to visit the Breast Clinic in Antrim Hospital as a further assessment was necessary. A few days after that a lady from the Breast Clinic phoned me with an appointment for the following week.”

On May 11 2016 Juliet was diagnosed with Stage 2, Grade 3, ER Positive Breast Cancer.

Juliet continued: “I had never felt a lump, or noticed anything different about my right breast. Even on the day of diagnosis the Doctor who examined me could not feel a lump or see anything visually that would suggest I had Breast Cancer. However, the mammogram and an ultrasound showed a small mass, 2.6cm in size, deep inside my breast. A biopsy confirmed this area was cancerous and a further biopsy confirmed that there were also cancerous cells in a lymph node close to the tumour.”

On June 13 2016 Juliet had surgery to remove the tumour and all the lymph nodes from under her arm. Juliet began her chemotherapy treatment at the end of July, followed by four weeks of radiotherapy. Her treatment finished on January 9 2017, and she is now on the other side of treatment and feeling well.

She explained: “It was Action Cancer that discovered my Breast Cancer, and they discovered it before I could have felt a lump or discovered it myself. I would not have been due to be screened for another three years by the NHS and with no obvious signs of something being wrong, I know that my visit to the Big Bus has been critical to getting an early diagnosis. My cancer was caught early; l believe Action Cancer saved my life. They are a charity that will be forever close to my heart.

“Myself and four friends completed the zip line challenge together raising over £2,000 for Action Cancer. We are all members of the Joey Dunlop Leisure Centre in Ballymoney, which is where we met. The support I’ve had from all my ‘gym friends’ has been amazing, from the day of my diagnosis right up to until now.”

Juliet’s gym buddy Audrey aIso had a diagnosis of ovarian cancer in 2012 which was thankfully diagnosed at the earliest stage.

She added: “As part of my recovery after surgery I began going to the gym and made great friends there. When Juliet was diagnosed I knew exactly how she was feeling. Unless you have had a cancer diagnosis it is hard to understand the stomach churning emotions that you feel.

“As a group of friends we decided to support her in whatever way we could. We helped with childminding, transportation to appointments and meals. We always said that we would celebrate the end of Juliet’s treatment by doing a fundraising event. To be honest I was a wee bit worried that the others would choose to do a run so when I saw the zip line on Facebook I quickly suggested it! We had incredible support from everyone at the Joey Dunlop Leisure Centre! What a wonderful exhilarating experience it was!”

Juliet is sharing her story so that other ladies over forty will be encouraged to book an appointment on the Big Bus or at Action Cancer house.

She concluded: “Booking a breast screening appointment may save your life, I know it may very well have saved mine. I am, very thankful to be so well and able to get on with my life.”

So grab your friends and sign up to Action Cancer’s adrenaline filled zipline on Saturday, August 19 to provide early detection to women in Northern Ireland. Registration is £48 and minimum sponsorship is £80, this will cover the cost of one breast screening for a local woman. To sign up you can register online, alternatively call Steph on 028 9080 3349 or email