It was about 10am on the 18 December 2018 when I got a call in work asking me to attend to the colposcopy unit in the Louth Hospital at 1pm that same day. Bearing in mind I work in Dublin City centre a one and a half hour bus trip away, I was certain it wasn’t to tell me all was clear. The two years up to this point I had been attending the unit since a smear showed abnormal cells, I had got a the Lletz, Biospy, Smears and two weeks before I haemorrhaged during a procedure and was brought by ambulance to the Lourdes hospital Drogheda, it was at this point I knew the efforts to date to stop the cancer had failed. Still I lived in hope, that was until I got the call to attend the unit on the 18th of December 2018.
Once I arrived I was seen in minutes, with my brother beside me I got the news that they had found a tumour and the results showed it was cancer. Looking back I was a little too cool. I am not sure if that was because I was in shock, because I knew it would be ok or I had no real idea what was ahead. I left and soon enough the entire family was told. I went for lunch, imagine.. soup and sandwich and a side of discussion about cancer. Madness or maybe not, as others will tell you for the most part diagnosis tends to mean a wait, for an appointment with an oncologist or in my case a gynaecologist followed by an oncologist so while you wait you must go on or at least try.
As I got the last few bits of Christmas shopping I was hoping it wasn’t my last with my precious little boy who had already lost his dad just two years before. They say things come in threes and I felt my family had already got its quota and enough was enough. We had lost Séamus’s dad, my gran, a niece and just three months before a very close first cousin had got diagnosed with breast cancer. Unfortunately it doesn’t work like that. The Christmas just gone my family told me Christmas 2018 was terrible everyone was just so mindful of what the future may hold. I put all my resources into making it the best Christmas ever for me and Séamus and decided to put the cancer diagnosis away in a little drawer.
Christmas Eve I met my oncologist in St Luke’s Hospital Rathgar. If anyone got to pick a hospital a prettier place you couldn’t get it is also renowned world wide in its field. Dr Jennifer Gilmore was equally impressive, she held nothing back but delivered the news in a way I never wavered from absolute trust in her. It is really only in recent months the information she told me that day has begun to absorb. The treatment plan included weeks of radiotherapy, chemotherapy and brachytherapy.
Treatment began on 17 January 2018. I lived onsite at St Luke’s Hospital in a lodge for people who would have too far to travel during treatment but did not need admittance to a ward in hospital. I was there for 7 weeks. It was tough but I was lucky as my sister and friend stayed with my every night and my son was wrapped in cotton wool at his grandparents house. The treatment itself meant my insides were fried with the hope of removing the tumour. The chemotherapy made the cells more sensitive to the radiotherapy treatment. I must say the staff were like angels and without the comforting questions or them realising the level of pain I was I don’t think I could have lasted.
My body reverted back to that of a baby and like a elderly frail person all at once – diarrhoea, constipation, vomiting, starving, unable to eat, stuffed on a crumb, headaches, wrecked, not able to sleep, not able to stay awake the list was endless. The last two weeks of treatment I was admitted to hospital for the internal radiotherapy or brachytherapy. This was tough, as much as I am very grateful for the care I received being surrounded by people who have little hope of being cured or have very different diagnosis can eat into the little hope I had banked up. Although it is patience who has the best tips on living with cancer and the common bond of cancer makes you immediate comrades fighting this shitty disease together. Whilst in hospital I received two platelet transfusions as my levels dipped too low to get the radiotherapy. It is so important people understand the importance of giving blood, they say 2 in 3 of us will get cancer soon and currently over two thirds of donated blood is used in cancer related treatment.
I got out of hospital on 26 February 2019. That summer is a a bit of a blur as I tried to get back to normal soon realising it had to be a new normal. My nature is quite energetic and I love to talk. In those first few weeks I just couldn’t, walking stairs was a mini marathon and realising I had to listen to my body was the hardest. I kept myself too busy trying to distract myself and determined to show cancer it didn’t change me. This was a fools errand as my body is no longer a healthy 32 year old who never had cancer. It wasn’t until the 5 June 2019 after tests that I got told the treatment had worked, I am cancer free.
Since then I am on a journey of learning how to be me. I attended my local cancer centre The Gary Kelly Cancer Centre for counselling which was just amazing. Anne helped me deal with it all and make me understand the importance of being kind to myself. I attend adhoc classes such as yoga, art therapy and even lately a drama group. Making new friends who understand without me having to explain has made a huge difference in how I move forward. Earlier this year I was also in a daffodil day fashion show in the survivor group meeting inspirational people in the community who do so much for those with cancer. Ireland is amazing at helping those with cancer, the simple idea that you can get a lift to and from treatment because you may be too ill to drive or get public transport makes the worst day that little bit more bearable.
A friend recently got me on a dating app for the first time. Whilst I seem able to match I cannot seem to be able to muster the courage to reply, I am unsure how to approach the hi my name is Eileen and I cannot have any children but I will get there. Although I saw this week on first dates a gorgeous girl Leona who had breast cancer, out and about dating so who knows. Maybe a trip to Lisdoonvarna matchmaking festival should be on the cards. I am unsure what my future holds for me just yet. I know I am 34 in full blown menopause, infertile have constant diarrhoea and or constipation but I am also here, hopefully for many more years to come.
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