“AM I going to die?” can be the first words uttered by some women when they are first diagnosed with breast cancer.
But four Limerick women who have battled and survived the illness say that the scary experience can also be an extremely positive one, with the right support and the right state of mind.
Sheena Kinsella, Christine Mullane, Sara Madden and Melanie Hunt each have a unique experience when it comes to dealing with breast cancer and say, while bad days do occur, treatment can help provide a positive experience with the right help.
Christine was first diagnosed in 2010 when she had two young children. Within eight weeks of finding a lump upon self-examination, she had finished surgery and went through chemotherapy. Death was not on her mind, however; her children were.
“All I could think of was my two kids because they were so young. I said to the surgeon that day, ‘Whatever it takes, I don’t care what you have to take, or what you have to do, I just don’t want to die, and that was literally it.’”
She adds that the fear of another diagnosis still exists and that it felt like a “thunderbolt” when she was first told. But she admits the only time she gets nervous is when she has to get the mammogram.
“It was just overwhelming, but as each year goes by and you get your tests every few months in the clinic, they constantly keep an eye on you. And if they see that you stand a better chance of non-recurrence, the appointments are less and less. So now I only have to go once a year,” she explains.
Sara, from Clareview, is a two-time survivor of breast cancer. She says her experience with the illness was an “extremely positive” one from the very first day because of her helpful surroundings. However, she admits that she needed distractions to help avoid the “bad days”, which is why she took up tai-chi.
“Bad days would be when I am tired from treatment or when you have a long day of sitting at home and when you have time to think. I recall those bad ones. If I was able to get up and get out, it was never an issue. Otherwise, I would have been lying down thinking, ‘How long is this going on for?’” she says.
For Corbally woman, Melanie Hunt, cancer has been part of her life, as both her mother and aunt suffered from cancer also.
“Just take one day at a time and to think positively about the whole thing” is the advice that the 45-year-old’s mother gave to her when she was first diagnosed and had to overcome treatment.
However, Melanie says that she wished services like the Daffodil Centre in the University Hospital Limerick was around to help her with basic, day-to-day assistance while undergoing treatment.
“If the centre was there for me, it would have been more reassuring. You always hear about other people, but you never think that this is going to happen. And when you get the diagnosis, the first thing you think of is, ‘Am I going to die?’ And especially when you have young children. The hardest part was waiting for all the biopsies and results. Put the faith in your doctors and let them do their work and keep the positive attitude,” she explains.
Sheena Kinsella, (36), found out she had breast cancer when she was just 24. But she admits that the bigger shock was discovering that she was 16 weeks pregnant at the time.
She says that the doctors advised her to not go ahead with the pregnancy, that she would be “writing her own death sentence”, but she insisted.
“I disagreed and I went out and had my daughter. They took her at 35 weeks and - she was perfect - I had to go straight to the maternity to Dublin, and I had over three months of radiation, all with a premature, tiny baby.
“It could have gone really wrong, and in hindsight, being 24 I used to be the girl about town and just bought my own house, I had a great job, lovely car. I thought I knew absolutely everything. With breast cancer, I wasn’t physically sick, so I thought, ‘What do they know?’ I had 12 different consultants and nurses arguing that I couldn’t go through with the pregnancy. But had it been now, at 36, I probably would have listened to the doctors,” she explains.
Her daughter Amy is now 11-years-old.
“I guess you could say that she saved my life and I saved hers.”
Valerie Murphy, who helps women after their breast cancer treatment, says it is important for people to be more aware about what treatment entails.
“I became a volunteer with a breast cancer organisation a number of years ago and that’s how I have my service today. From the very beginning, I wanted to put a positive slant on the whole thing, so that the women could have the help of others, that it’s not about death - it’s life. It’s life changing. But it is something that you have to go through and come out the other side.”
Valerie adds that services like the Daffodil Centre and the Mid-Western Cancer Foundation are key for any women in the region undergoing treatment.
This Sunday, June 7, St Paul’s GAA in Mungret will run the Boobathon event, at 2pm, in aid of breast cancer awareness. For more information, call 086-1025906.
On Sunday, June 28, the annual Killaloe Pink Ribbon walk will take place. For more information, visit www.pinkribbonwalk.ie.