Hodgkin’s Lymphoma survivor (28): ‘The hardest thing to live with after cancer is the fear that it will come back’
In support of The Irish Cancer Society’s annual Daffodil Day campaign, Hodkin's Lymphoma survivor Lyndsey Connolly (28) opens up about the vital support the organisation lends to those coping with the disease.
The day Lyndsey Connolly graduated was a bittersweet occasion. On one hand, she was celebrating the Master’s degree she had worked so hard to achieve but on the other she was coping with a cancer diagnosis of which she did not know the outcome.
After months of fatigue and coping with infection after infection, Lyndsey fell ill with viral meningitis in October 2013, which eventually led to doctors discovering a large tumour in her lung.
“At the time I was doing a full time masters while working full time and I was exhausted. Towards the end of the summer I just kept getting infections but I put this down to just being run down and because I was working so hard.
“That October, I fell ill with viral meningitis. I had gotten the flu shot a week previously. While I was being treated, one of the doctors booked me in for a chest x-ray which was quite an unusual test for someone in my position at that time. During that x-ray, they discovered a tumour in my lung.
“After many biopsies and tests I was diagnosed with Hodkin’s Lymphoma, a cancer of the blood. I was very lucky because my doctor told me that had it been a month later and the cancer had gone into my heart there would have been nothing they could have done for me.
“It was ironic that viral meningitis actually saved my life,” said Lyndsey, from Blessington Co Wicklow.
The shock diagnosis wrecked its way through Lyndsey’s life, forcing her to consider things she hadn’t before. To protect her chances of having children in the future, doctors advised Lyndsey to freeze her eggs and she found the procedure difficult to cope with while processing her illness.
“At that point in time, my doctor suggested I freeze my eggs if I wanted to have the possibility of having a family in the future. It’s so difficult because that procedure is so invasive and intrusive that it’s really hard to even put your mind to that when you’re dealing with the fact that you have been diagnosed with cancer.
“Two weeks after I was diagnosed, I graduated from my masters and that was bittersweet. On one hand I was proud to have finished something I had worked so hard on, but on the other I had just been catapulted into a life where I had to battle cancer.
“Although it ended up being a lovely day in the end, it was tainted,” said Lyndsey.
An intensive chemotherapy regime soon proceeded but Lyndsey admitted she was surprised by people who began to avoid her because they didn’t know how to cope.
“When people hear that you have cancer they often don’t know what to say or how to behave around you and that’s so difficult.
“A few people distanced themselves from me and although it hurt, I just had to focus on getting better.
“Funnily enough the people I thought would be a great support for me actually weren’t and those who I didn’t expect to be so good were fantastic,” she said.
Lyndsey, who has been in remission for two years, admitted that many people assume you are better after chemotherapy ends, but in fact, dealing with the aftermath is perhaps the hardest part.
“People think that when chemotherapy is over and you’re in remission it’s all done, but that’s not the case. People forget the damage left behind by cancer. For me, I have a lot of damaged nerves in my legs and in my hands that make things more difficult for me. The fatigue you feel long after the chemo has finished stays with you and there’s been damage to my ovaries and my fertility.
“It’s hard because people think that once you go into remission you don’t need them anymore but actually it’s the opposite. You need people more than ever because you are so afraid. You aren’t fine,” she said.
Living with the fear that her cancer will return is crippling, revealed Lyndsey.
“The hardest thing to live with after cancer is the fear that it will come back. It never leaves you.
“Before Christmas I thought the cancer had returned and it was frightening. You are constantly living in fear thinking ‘Will I beat this again? ‘Next time will I die?’”
Lyndsey, who now works as a Health Care Assistant with Laura Lynn, revealed that the support of The Irish Cancer Society throughout her treatment and in the years after have been vital to her emotional wellbeing.
“The Irish Cancer Society is such an important charity. It’s brilliant. During my treatment in Tallaght Hospital, I was often on wards with older people. I was the youngest by decades. Although I got on well with them, the age gap was hard. My Daffodil Nurse Teresa was such a huge support to me. I could just tell her everything, and that confidante is so vital to people going through what I had. She was beside me the whole way through.
“I have become involved with the Irish Cancer Society as a volunteer and it’s really helped me. It’s so nice to speak to other people who’ve been in your position and be able to say ‘I’ve been there too’,” she said.
To support Daffodil Day call 1850 60 60 60 or text DAFF to 50300 to donate €4 to the campaign. Donations can be made online at www.cancer.ie or you can download the Daffodil Day app from app stores in Ireland.