A Tuesday afternoon in late September 2006 – I’m on my favourite walk with my husband along the Galway promenade. A body of blue-green water spewing white foam forth in a powerful rhythm against a horizon clear and strong. Ever-changing scenes of vigorous energy; not an outer manifestation of my inner world by any means it must be said!
We topped our intense march through time with a Gaelic coffee reminiscent of years earlier on the day before my darling daughter’s birth, following an equally brisk walk to initiate her arrival.
When my mobile phone rang I answered my friend’s concerned questions, sharing the newly-acquired knowledge regarding a breast cancer diagnosis that had left me reeling.
Hours before I had been taken through the treatment procedure. A lumpectomy, chemotherapy and a course of radiotherapy lay ahead. My consultant had not bargained for the second operation to remove lymph nodes. When it was apparent that this was needed it was duly organised in swift fashion within a week of the first operation. It was all a steep learning curve for me.
I was one of those people who obliterated details of cancer from their life and when I was given the news I really thought that this was the end for me. My mother had died of throat cancer, and Dad’s mother had died of cancer of the stomach. As I am adopted I also had the legacy of breast cancer in my birth mother’s maternal line. So these women’s stories were what informed my reaction to my diagnosis. But I was to have a positive outcome, and I am eternally grateful for this.
I found it hard to take in all the information at first – new medical and practical terminologies to be learnt, as well as lots of new procedures to follow. Coping with the many emotions brought forth was no easy task either and while I am not always a person who sees the glass half full, I do think I did well in terms of embracing positivity to negotiate this particular life-challenge. Well done me! But I am not forgetting those who helped along the way.
While University Hospital Galway has had some criticism levelled against it in recent times, my experiences there have been really positive. I still attend for hospital check-ups and I am still on hormone treatment as I was placed on a clinical trial. So what made this situation quite tolerable for me despite a certain amount of anguish at first? I would say that it was the very carefully monitored care I got from diagnosis to post- treatment.
Athenry Cancer Centre also offered invaluable help, always compassionate and empathetic to all. I am indebted to the Breast Care Nurse Mary O’Dowd for her understanding and guidance, as well of course as the medical team, and also the support I received post-treatment from Cancer Care West. I took part in workshops on Mindfulness, Yoga as well as Creative Writing classes given by Trish, which I loved. I think creativity is a wonderful aid to the healing process, and some of my writings were published in a book aptly called The Healing Pen emanating from this classwork.
I trained last year as a Peer-to-Peer Support Worker with the Cancer Society, as having the reassurance of others who had come through the cancer journey proved to be crucial for me in my recovery. It is time now to give what I can. I feel real gratitude that cancer’s hold on me was not fatal and that I can still watch the wonders unfold on my walks along the Galway prom.
For information about breast cancer, breast health or to access one of the Irish Cancer Society’s services visit www.cancer.ie or call the National Cancer Helpline on Freefone 1800-200700.