Cancer Week – Ciara’s story
Four years ago this month, Ciara got the news that she had breast cancer. At the time she was 35, separated and mum to her 5-year-old son. The Irish Cancer Society shared her story for 2016 Cancer Week…
“I previously had a benign lump and was in a screening programme with St James Hospital. I had an annual MRI that showed up a very slight change from the previous MRI a year earlier. I was sent for a mammogram which showed up as clear and it was agreed I would have the MRI repeated in three months.
“Meanwhile, I had an appointment with Dr Liz Connolly, a Consultant Breast Surgeon for a physical examination. About 3 minutes into the examination she must have become aware of something and sent me straight down to ultrasound for a biopsy.
“The ultrasound showed up nothing; everything looked perfect, the sonographer even rang the surgeon to tell her nothing was showing up. I was sent back to the surgeon who marked the spot with a marker and returned for the biopsy.
“Because of this, I was fairly confident that everything was okay. I didn’t for a second think that a human hand could pick up what a mammogram, MRI, and ultrasound couldn’t. It later transpired I had stage 3 invasive lobular carcinoma.
“It is one of the most difficult breast cancers to diagnose as it forms in lines in the milk ducts rather than as a lump, and the survival rate for this type of cancer is pretty low due to late diagnosis. So really, any change at all, no matter how small should always be checked out. If it is enough to make you stop and think it, it is enough to be followed up. I think of Ms Connolly regularly, and how lucky I was to have seen her that day.”
“From the day I found out I had cancer, my mind was made up and it was not for changing. My decision automatically was a double mastectomy.
“To me it was a no brainer.
“The main reasons for this were I had been living with cancer in my left breast unbeknown to me. MRI’s, Ultrasound, mammograms didn’t find it and I know in my heart that I would never ever have a moments peace wondering what might be happening with the right breast. I wanted it gone and some peace of mind. I have a beautiful young son who had just started in junior infants at the time and I wanted to eliminate as much risk as I possibly could and give myself what I felt was the best chance to see him grow up.
“Hysterectomy was always on my journey’s road map and the oophorectomy came into the plan shortly before surgery. It wasn’t a big decision for me really but rather another step to help increase my chances and life expectancy. The two body parts go hand in hand so they may as well both be taken out. They were both done at the same time and I was shocked at how quickly I was out of hospital. I think I was out within two days and recovery was pretty easy.
“Finally my date for reconstruction arrived. As it is such a long surgery it was hard to get theatre time available. But the day finally arrived, the day that in my head marked the end of the whole process.
“Would I do it again, yes probably, however the end goal of the double reconstruction doesn’t live up to everything I expected it to be though it does give a good shape underneath your clothes. With surgery come scars and disfigurement and the let-down that things can’t go back to the way they were before, scars will fade but will still be there.
“But on the other hand, would I want my old scar free breasts back?
“Life doesn’t go back to normal and my body won’t go back to ‘normal’, but I’m alive and I’m feeling better than I have done in years and slowly accepting how my new body image is and trying to remember every scar tells a tale and I have lots of stories, nobody likes perfection, and I am a stronger person for this. So, I am learning to wear my scars and try not to let them hold me back.
“And, most importantly I had some laughs along the way, mainly at myself and my “chemo brain” and the other plus is got to spend 10 months at home with my son and was lucky that I could work remotely from home on projects and events when I was feeling well enough to do so.
“If you have any worries or concerns please go see you GP as quickly as you can. I cannot urge you strongly enough to get checked out as soon as you possibly can. The earlier you catch this disease the less chance there is of it entering lymph nodes, the less chance of needing chemo and the higher your survival rate.
“There is no age limit on cancer, it effects all ages so it is never too soon or too late to be comfortable and familiar with your breasts.
“But most importantly act immediately on anything at all you are concerned about.”
Questions about cancer? You can contact the Irish Cancer Society on Freephone 1800 200 700 Monday to Friday 10-4, by email or online at www.cancer.ie/nurseline or by visiting the Irish Cancer Society Daffodil Centres at hospitals across the country.