Gina Potter counts the likes of Charlotte Hawkins, Nadia Sawalha and Jenni Falconer among the fans of her funky hand-printed t-shirts.

The fashion-forward Bangor entrepreneur set up her business after a bowel cancer diagnosis when she was just 42 years old forced her to reassess her life priorities.

Gina believes her story demonstrates it is possible to live again after gruelling cancer treatment and she is keen to encourage as many people as possible to support the efforts of scientists to continue their lifesaving work.

She is appealing to people across Northern Ireland to sign up for the Cancer Research UK Shine Night Walk, a 10km fundraiser on October 14, where participants will take to Belfast city centre in a fun and inspirational parade of light.

Gina, who was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2005, says: “I’m so grateful to have more precious time with my loved ones.

“I owe everything to research into better treatments and so much more progress has been made since my diagnosis, so I hope that sharing my story will help inspire people to sign up for the Shine Night Walk.

“It’s not about being first across the finish line. Everyone can take part at their own pace, whether that’s a leisurely stroll, a lively stride or a full-on power walk.  

“There really is no better motivation than knowing you’re helping to save lives. Please do not do what I did and try to ignore your symptoms. I was very lucky, but it could have been so different.”

Gina had ongoing symptoms for a number of years but told herself she was too young to be suffering from a serious condition.

“I foolishly delayed seeing my doctor and looking back now, I realise I was scared,” she recalls.

“My symptoms kept getting worse and one night when I went to the toilet and saw a lot of blood I was really shocked. A visit to A&E and a subsequent colonoscopy revealed I had a tumour.

“I listened in shock as I was told I had bowel cancer, but as they had caught it at an early stage, it should be treatable. I needed to have surgery to remove the tumour and part of my bowel, followed by chemotherapy.

“I found treatment hard going as I had numerous side effects, worst of all constant sickness. With prayer, support from family and friends, reflexology, retail therapy and working throughout treatment I got through it.  

“It’s just amazing what fantastic medication and drugs the hospital was able to provide me with. I was given a 24-hour anti-sickness syringe driver, that was inserted into my stomach for seven days at each round of treatment.  

“I was able to put the syringe driver into a bum bag. This enabled me to go to work and keep myself busy, so it was a godsend.

“By now though, my hair was thinning and I had sores in my mouth, so my husband Stephen and I went on short trips when we could. It helped take our minds off things.”

The day Gina finished treatment she couldn’t stop her tears in the hospital reception and she recalls hugging her husband of 26 years and seeing the relief in his eyes.

But with treatment finally finished and all her scans clear, Gina felt a darkness creep over her – relieved it was over, but just wanting to feel normal again. She was referred to a mental health nurse who advised her to take some time off work to recover.

She had tried so hard to keep going that she hadn’t had time to build up her strength, both mentally and physically. 

Gina continues: “I took a week off and spent time on myself, having my nails and hair done and going shopping.

“I knew how differently things could have worked out, but I had the chance to live my life, doing the things that made me happy. I didn’t want to be angry about the past.

“I started talking to cancer patients online and hearing their stories made me realise how lucky I was to still be here. It made me really appreciate my life, being able to go out for meals and enjoy walks along the beach.”

By 2017, Stephen had taken early retirement and Gina decided to leave her job, so they could spend more time together.

She used this opportunity to focus on her art, which led her to return to hand painting t-shirts – a skill she had been taught in her younger years.

When she posted a photograph of one of her designs on social media, a friend asked if she could buy one. Word spread and orders began to come in.

Her designs are now hand printed by a local Bangor print company and pre-orders are available via Gina’s Instagram @ginaGpotter

Gina says: “After 35 years working in an office, I love being able to do the hours I want and work on something that I am so passionate about. It makes me feel really content.

“I also try to use my Instagram page to raise awareness – reminding my 31,200 followers that although risk increases as we age, cancer is not just an older person’s disease and to get any changes checked out if they are worried.

“After five years of tests and scans I got the all clear in August 2010. I must say I cried tears of joy upon hearing this and immediately hit the shops. 

“Retail therapy is hard to beat. My husband and I went to London for the weekend, our credit cards took a hammering, but I felt he deserved the trip after what he had been through for years.  I couldn’t have got through it without him. 

“Once I had the all-clear I finally felt able to talk about my experiences. I really closed myself in before that and couldn’t discuss it with anyone, I suppose we all have our own self-preservation mechanisms.  

“Now I really want to help cancer survivors and current patients in any way I can, as I really know how hard a cancer diagnosis is. But more importantly, I want to let them know that there is life after cancer and life for me is a more positive, appreciative, compassionate and a loving life for sure.    

“That includes helping to raise vital awareness and funds. It’s thanks to research I am still here today, so I want everyone to show their support on October 14 .

“Get your glitter on and shine – helping Cancer Research UK tackle this devastating disease. We can all make a real difference to people with cancer.”

To find out more about the event, click here.