Paula is an Ambassador for Breast Cancer Ireland and involved with breast cancer research in the fight to search for a cure and to raise awareness for breast cancer in young women. This is her diary of key moments in her experience with breast cancer.
The first day I found out… I was at a family wedding in June 2011 where my three little daughters aged six, four and two were flower girls. The night before the wedding I was applying some tan to my arms and chest, as I was wearing an off the shoulder black dress. I felt a lump in my left breast. I’ve only worn this dress on a couple of occasions in the last few years and this was one of them. I knew I had not felt it before and thought it was unusual. At first I didn’t worry or think it could be anything sinister as I was too young and had no family history of breast cancer. I thought surely there was nothing to worry about. I was wrong.
I was diagnosed with Stage II invasive breast cancer a month later. I will never forget the date. Myself and my husband were asked to come in and I will never forget the fear I felt as I was given the news that I had a tumor in my left breast. The medical team were explaining everything to us and all I could think of were my three little girls and what would happen. The initial delivery of news of cancer is devastating, a shock and a feeling of helplessness. I cried so much that day and had to pull myself together to come home to my girls and my parents who were minding them at the time. I felt my whole world had turned upside down – I felt pain and such deep sadness in my heart for my family. When you are given a diagnosis of cancer, you immediately are fearful of what the future might hold for you and what it will mean for the people who love and need you the most.
The first day of treatment… Breast cancer treatment is very different for every person. Telling my girls about chemotherapy was very difficult. My mother-in-law sadly passed away during these few weeks unexpectedly while she too was undergoing chemo, so telling the girls that I was ‘taking the same medicine’ was very hard. I remember describing it as ‘baddy cells and goody cells.’ I dropped them to school and Montessori and went on to Vincent’s to start my first day of chemo. It was a very tough day and I remember walking into the Oncology Department feeling a sense of disbelief that I was there. I found the first chemo hard but after that I was determined to get through each one. I put the list on the fridge and drew a line through each one when I came home. I had very long hair at the time and of course, losing my hair was the hardest part- I was told it would fall out between 14 and 16 days after my first chemo. I thought it just might not, but of course it did. My daughters don’t even remember it, my youngest has no recollection of mummy with no hair at all although during chemo she made me laugh everyday as she asked me if I was putting my hair on today. I had an amazing wig which I wore most days.
The first day of feeling better… I finished chemo in December 2011, my hair started growing back six weeks later and I remember that beautiful sunny day in February when I felt it was time to take the wig off and show off my new, very short hair. I didn’t know I had ever missed it, but feeling the wind run through my hair felt fantastic. I now embarked on my new life after breast cancer. I started running. I had never run before and it’s become one of the most important things in my life after cancer. This year I ran my first 10k. I’ve been taking extra care of my diet and I have never felt better. I couldn’t imagine feeling better, it’s like I have a broken heart that is now healing and whilst it was tough, there is life after breast cancer. There are amazing friends and people to help you through it and it does get better. Throughout this journey I used to wake most mornings and just lay there feeling numb and incredulous that this had happened. Now I wake up and I feel lucky to be here.
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