'Losing my hair was the hardest part,' says Courtney who battled breast cancer at just 23
Disease can strike at any age, warns one of youngest people to be diagnosed
For Courtney Wedge, the hardest part of having breast cancer at 23 was losing her hair.
Believed to be the one of the youngest people diagnosed with breast cancer in Northern Ireland, Courtney is cancer-free today.
The 24-year-old finished her last radiotherapy session on Friday, almost a year after she was diagnosed.
"The hardest part was losing my hair," she said. "You still don't feel like it's over. My hair's growing back, but it'll take time."
After she found a lump on her breast in December, Courtney went to her doctor to get it checked out. Her friends told her it wasn't a big deal, but she had a bad feeling about it right from the start.
"I got referred to the breast cancer clinic, but it doesn't run in my family or anything," she said. "You don't think it would ever happen to you, especially when you're at my age."
When the doctors told her that she did have breast cancer, the care assistant from Bangor was shocked. She asked the doctors: "Well, what are you doing about it? What's the plan?
"It felt like I was never going to see the end. I can see the end now. But when you find out, you think that's it."
The doctors put her through chemo soon after they discovered the tumour. "They were all really quick in getting me through," she said. "They must have caught it pretty early." She started six sessions of chemotherapy in January this year - one session every three weeks. The first three sessions gave her nausea and the second three made her weak.
"I was quite sick with it," she said. "It was really hard."
Courtney's hair started falling out after her first session, so she decided to shave it all off and wear a wig instead.
"I knew I could put my wig on to help feel positive but there's that moment when you take it off at night too," she said.
During those months of chemo, her sister would take her to shop at the mall, "just to get out". "I didn't want to stay in," she said. After her final session in June, Courtney's doctors had good news for her. "I found out the chemo reduced the tumour completely. I got a really good response from the chemo, which we were shocked by."
Her parents bought her a Great Dane puppy as a gift when she finished chemo. The dog helped her through her recovery and an operation in July to test the tissue where the tumour had been.
The test showed she was all clear. "It's been an emotional ride," she said. But her perseverance carried her through.
"I wasn't going to let it beat me," she said. "I was just trying to stay positive. I wasn't going to let it ruin my life."
After the operation, Courtney did 15 sessions of radiotherapy until her last session on Friday.
"It's been a long road," she said. "I hope I never have to go through it again."
After she was diagnosed, Courtney started raising money for different organisations.
Her family and friends pitched in by holding events and her workplace even offered to help her fundraise for a charity of her choice. She chose Pretty 'n' Pink, a Northern Ireland breast cancer charity.
"All together I've raised about 10 grand for Pretty 'n' Pink," she said. "I just wanted to give back."
Courtney also kicked off the Race for Life Pretty Muddy 5K on Saturday, one day after her final treatment session.
The race was organised by Cancer Research UK, one of the leading cancer charities in the world. "I want to let other young girls be aware," she said. "I just want them to know I'll be there for them."
She wasn't able to run this year because she's not fit enough yet, but she plans to run next year and raise more money for Cancer Research.
"It's important just to spread awareness," she said. "They're the ones doing all the research and that's so important."
The past nine months have been difficult for Courtney, but she was determined to make it through for the people around her.
"I think that, just because I am so young, I didn't want my life to end now," she said.
"All my friends and family... they're just my world. I just didn't want to lose everybody."
As one of the youngest breast cancer survivors in Northern Ireland, Courtney wants young girls to be aware.
"You can be any age," she said. "Everybody hears it's older people, but younger ones can get it too. Always go get checked.
"If I didn't find it, it could have spread. It could have been a lot worse."