A MOTHER-of-three who has experienced the toughest year of her life having been diagnosed with breast cancer last year will undertake a 60km cycle this Sunday to raise funds for people who are diagnosed with the disease.
Juliette O‘Connell from Herbertstown is hoping that by telling her story, other women will be more conscious of possible breast cancer symptoms and seek advice if they have any concerns.
“It is the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning and the last thing I think of at night,” said Juliette who has undergone months of intensive treatment and is today, thankfully, cancer free.
“Anyone who finds any bit of a change or a lump or rash, just go straight away and get it checked,” she encouraged.
Juliette who was fit and healthy and cycled up to 100km on a Sunday with Kilmallock Cycling Club became slightly worried when she noticed a rash forming on her skin, particularly after she had exercised.
“I thought it was just from cycling because when I exercised it came out worse. I didn’t realise it was breast cancer,” the 42-year-old explained.
“I had gone to the doctor in October (2011) and I was sent to the breast clinic in December and they said they couldn’t find any lumps - which genuinely they couldn’t because I couldn’t either - but just for precautionary reasons they said they would send me for a mammogram.”
Sadly for Juliette and her family, two large tumours were detected by the scan which she underwent in March of last year.
“There was no such thing as waiting for biopsies. The very minute they saw the mammogram they knew what they were dealing with. It was a more aggressive form of cancer but they said they had this miracle drug - herceptin,” she explained.
Juliette underwent intensive treatment over several months which included the use of herceptin, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
She also had to have her breast removed last September and is due to undergo reconstructive surgery in October.
The decision taken by actress Angelina Jolie to speak about her own preventative double mastectomy. Juliette feels, really inspired her and indeed others in a similar situation.
“It was brilliant,” remarked Juliette who has three children Jack, 13, David, 12 and Ava,7.
“All that helps other people. People need to know. When you are first diagnosed with cancer the first thing you think about is death. The last thing I thought that day was that they were going to tell me I had cancer. I was so healthy.”
Juliette underwent all her treatment at Limerick University Hospital which she said, offered outstanding care.
“Everything was done in Limerick and I have to say they were outstanding in there. The care and attention was first class. It definitely is a centre of excellence,” she said.
Both Juliette and her brother Liam Hayes who is also a member of Kilmallock Cycling Club came up with the idea for a fundraising cycle and walk in aid of the breast cancer unit at the hospital which they entitled Giving a Little Back.
“The response we are getting is unbelievable,” said Juliette who paid tribute to her family for their outstanding support.
The 60km cycle will get under way at 9am this Sunday from the HDA memorial park in Herbertstown and will travel from Bruff, to Kilmallock, Kilfinane, Garryspillane Cross, Knocklong, Hospital and back to Herbertstown.
Those interested in taking part can sign on from 8am and the 8km run/walk/family cycle will get underway at 2pm with sign on from 1pm.
Limerick senior hurler Gavin O’Mahony from Kilmallock will also be present on the day with the Munster senior hurling cup, to offer his support and meet the locals.
There will also be refreshments served to all participants on their return to the finish line.
While thankfully, Juliette is now cancer free, she said that going through cancer is something that will never leave her.
“When you get breast cancer it takes so much away from you,” she remarked during her open and honest interview.
“I know I am giving a little back but breast cancer has taken an awful lot from me as in part of my body is gone. I know I will get it back but it will never be the same,” she said.
“I always loved the way I looked - my long blonde hair. It took my hair which I washed and straightened every day. It is growing back but part of me was taken away when I had to go through the treatment.
“Anyone who finds any bit of a change or a lump or rash, just go straight away and get it checked,” she advised.