How did you discover you had breast cancer? When? I discovered a lump in my breast myself, by self examination, around 2000. I attended my GP and was referred to a consultant, who declared the lump benign (“once benign, always benign” I was told). The lump did not disappear and just to be sure, I made another appointment to see the consultant, albeit some four years later. He immediately recognized that it was not in fact benign, and was most likely breast cancer. I had a biopsy two days later and breast cancer was confirmed.
What stage/type was it? It was declared stage 2 after surgery.
What was the course of your treatment? Surgery, chemotherapy and 5 years on tamoxifen, a hormone therapy treatment
How proactive did you have to be in your medical decisions? I was entirely proactive in relation to the diagnosis. Once it was diagnosed as cancer, things moved pretty quickly and comprehensively in St. Vincent’s Hospital, where there is a team who deal with all aspects of the treatment. The treatment protocol seemed pretty standard, and although I did consider seeking a second opinion in the United States, I decided against it as most if not all of my doctors had in fact trained and worked in the States at some point, and it seemed as though the treatment approach was universal. I also had an acquaintance who had recently had a similar diagnosis and did get a second opinion in the States, and was told the treatment would have been the exact same there as in Ireland.
How much information did you share with your children? My children ranged in ages from 11-17 at the time, so it was pretty much on a need- to -know basis. I told them the truth and certainly answered any questions they had, but I probably minimised the situation. My eldest was in his leaving cert year and I wanted life to continue as normally as possible, which I think it did.
How much time did you take off work? Was it enough? I took off (the recommended) one year, which was just right for me.
What bothered you most about treatment? Most women say it but it’s true, or was for me –losing my hair!
What part of treatment was worst? While the chemo cocktail and reaction is different for everyone, for me it wasn’t as bad as anticipated. I think waiting for the surgery, the exact diagnosis and the treatment to start was the worst part.
Who was in your support network? Family and friends –they were both great and crucial. My family live in the States and they were as supportive as possible from a distance –many visited here during my treatment, and my in-laws were fantastic. They made all the difference, as did my friends. It was absolutely key to have people to spend time with to both take your mind off the cancer and to talk about it.
How long until you felt 100% well again? About a month after the chemo finished- this was about 7 months after the diagnosis. And it wasn’t that I felt unwell all the time during the 7 months –on the contrary. There were many, many days when I felt fine and took exercise, went out and visited with friends and family.
How does your experience impact you now? It doesn’t impact me very much at all now, thankfully. You do tend to worry and wonder if the odd ache or pain is anything more sinister than the normal aging process.
Do you worry more about your health now than you did before? Yes, but only occasionally.
What are your top tips to someone in treatment now?Don’t believe everything you read or hear! I read a number of articles books and did the usual internet searches prior to chemotherapy and was anticipating all the possible side effects which fortunately, never happened. It caused a lot of unnecessary anxiety. In the end, I just listened to and took my doctors’ advice, and pretty well ignored everything else. It’s important to take all your meds, especially the anti-nausea medication. It was also very helpful for me to talk to a couple of people who had been through it prior to starting treatment. They were very supportive and informative, and the fact that they looked and felt great was very encouraging.
Portrait by Kevin Abosch
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