Thursday 27 July 2017

'Nothing will ever prepare you to hear the words 'you have breast cancer''- Irish women who beat cancer and won

Yvonne Dolan came out of cancer with a determination to live life to the full.
Yvonne Dolan came out of cancer with a determination to live life to the full.
Mairin Daly says her friends and family are amazing. Photo: Andrew Downes.
Geraldine Warde from Roundstone, Co Galway. Photo: Andrew Downes.
Sinead Melia
Marian Flannery

One in 10 Irish women will get breast cancer at some point in their lives, and while it is more common in women over 50, it can affect women at any age.

That point will be made very clear on Thursday by the Pink Ladies, a group of women from every decade who have experienced - and beaten - the disease. They will now strut their stuff on the catwalk alongside professional models in a fashion show to raise funds for the national charity, Breast Cancer Research.

They want to raise awareness about the disease that around 2,600 Irish women are diagnosed with each year, and also provide a little hope and inspiration to other sufferers and let them know that they are not alone.

RTE regional reporter Teresa Mannion, who will MC the event at the g Hotel in Galway, said: "They are remarkable women and great role models for people in the midst of their own cancer journey."

Christine Costelloe, development director of Breast Cancer Research and event organiser, said the fashion show - which features women from their 20s to their 60s - was one of the most unique the charity had organised in its 25-year history.

One of the women, Marian Flannery, had a bucket-list wish to have her photograph in a glossy magazine, a dream that prompted the idea of a fashion show so that others would see that life after cancer can throw up new possibilities.

"The event will provide an opportunity for the Pink Ladies to receive pampering, connect with one another, and feel empowered walking the catwalk," Christine said.

Clinical nurse specialist in breast care Catherine Masterson came up with the idea of the fashion show as she felt it would inspire others going through cancer and strengthen the connection between the research programme and patients and their families.

Here, the Pink Ladies recount their journey through breast cancer.

Tickets cost €35 and are available at BreastCancerResearch.ie, email hello@breastcancerresearch.ie, or call 091 863 917

Mairin Daly

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Mairin Daly says her friends and family are amazing. Photo: Andrew Downes.
 

Mairin Daly, in her 60s, was diagnosed in September 2015

What was your initial reaction?

I was devastated I found it difficult to cope.

What did treatment involve?

After an ultrasound and a biopsy, I was made aware that all was not well. I had a lumpectomy. I did not have to have chemo but had 20 sessions of radiotherapy. My consultant was so reassuring I knew I was in safe hands.

What was the most difficult part?

The waiting and wondering was the hard part. It was difficult but you need to be brave.

How did you get through the hard days?

There were some dark days but you hoped for the best and you were busy because you had to attend hospital every day for treatment.

How did it affect your self-esteem/femininity?

I had issues with self-esteem and femininity but I did ask questions and there was always help available with encouraging answers. My family and friends were amazing.

What would you say to others just diagnosed?

I would say it is going to be okay. Not easy, but from my experience the people looking after you are excellent and they look after you in a very loving way.

Yvonne Dolan

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Yvonne Dolan came out of cancer with a determination to live life to the full.
 

Yvonne Dolan (38), diagnosed in July 2013

What was your initial reaction?

As much as you try to maintain your composure, when you hear the words that "you have breast cancer", nothing will ever prepare you for that. I was absolutely devastated.

What did treatment involve?

I knew that I had the BRAC1 gene. My mother sadly died from breast cancer when she was 61. My sister was diagnosed twice in her mid-30s and is fully recovered. I had eight rounds of chemotherapy. Two months later, I had a double mastectomy followed by 32 sessions of radiotherapy. A year later, in 2015, I opted to have both ovaries removed as a preventative measure.

What was the most difficult part?

For me, one of the most difficult things was losing my hair. However, I did get some fabulous wigs, which made me feel and look human. I actually got more compliments from strangers in the street admiring my hair than I ever got with my natural hair!

How did you get through the hard days?

Yes, there are hard days, but thankfully I didn't have that many of them and always tried to stay positive and upbeat. My husband Gordon was great. I have very good friends and family. Also, I wrote a blog called, 'Feck, my boobs tried to kill me'. I found that to be quite cathartic.

How did it affect your self-esteem/femininity?

If anything, I came out of this with the determination to appreciate life and live it to the full.

What would you say to others just diagnosed?

Stay away from Google and self-diagnosis as every cancer is different. Keep positive and upbeat. Stay away from negative people. Most importantly, be kind to yourself.

Geraldine Warde

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Geraldine Warde from Roundstone, Co Galway. Photo: Andrew Downes.

Geraldine Warde (47), diagnosed in 2014

What was your initial reaction?

Total shock and disbelief, followed by a mixture of emotions. I felt, 'This is it. I am going to die soon.' Then, I realised I had to pick myself up and get on with it.

What did treatment involve?

I was advised to have a mastectomy reconstruction followed by four chemo and 28 radiation sessions.

What was the most difficult part?

Most difficult was the chemo, no doubt. I felt my body was no longer mine. I felt my body was breaking down after each chemo. It was the most terrible feeling imaginable. I thought the chemo would kill me, honestly.

How did you get through the hard days?

Sheer determination and wanting to feel better again. I wanted my life back. In my head and heart, I had to be determined. I had the continuous help of my partner. Trina, Heather, Jan and Nessa were there for the girlie chats. Nurse Catherine Masterson (my professor's PA) was at the end of the phone at all times.

How did it affect your self-esteem/femininity?

Losing my hair was the worst thing. OMG. I got nice caps, wore make-up, etc, but underneath I knew I had no hair. It was very difficult going out for a meal to a nice restaurant with a stupid cap and sitting eating with the sweat coming out through me.

What would you say to others just diagnosed?

It is a hard road ahead until you realise it will end and you will get better. Life does get good again. You got to have faith in your professor. My professor Michael Kerin told me that afternoon at diagnosis he would "fix" me. And he certainly did that.

Sinead Melia

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Sinead Melia

Sinéad Melia (30), diagnosed in July 2014

What was your initial reaction?

Shock and fear, quickly followed by the thought, 'You can beat this'.

What did treatment involve?

Chemotherapy (eight sessions), radiotherapy (28 sessions) and, finally, surgery, which involved lymph-node removal, mastectomy and reconstruction.

What was the most difficult part?

Post-surgery, I was in a lot of pain. It was a tough time both physically and emotionally.

How did you get through the hard days?

On bad days, I reminded myself tomorrow will be a better day. I tried to remain as positive as I could. Each day, I was encouraged by my mom to get up, get dressed, put my make-up on and we headed out for a drive.

How did it affect your self-esteem/femininity?

Losing my hair was difficult. I felt very self-conscious when I wore my hair piece. I felt people I didn't know would be able to tell it was a hair piece. Also, I was apprehensive about my scars post-surgery. But I am learning to realise that these are part of my story.

What would you say to others just diagnosed?

Try to take things one day at a time. Try to remain positive, even on the toughest day, which can be easier said than done. Know that you are not alone.

Marian Flannery

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Marian Flannery

Marian Flannery (62) diagnosed in 2008

What was your initial reaction?

Shock. I couldn't believe it.

What did treatment involve?

I had a mastectomy and reconstruction on January 21, 2008. I had six sessions of chemotherapy and radiation. My hair fell out 16 days after my first treatment. (I have grown my hair long and I am now a blonde.) It took six months before I started feeling better.

What was the most difficult part?

Telling my 16-year-old daughter Sarah. I was fortunate enough to have income protection and returned to work full-time in January 2010. In hindsight, I think I should have gone back initially on reduced hours as tiredness was a problem. It is only for the last year that my energy levels have improved.

How did you get through the hard days?

My husband Gerry, my daughter Sarah, my friend Attracta and my work colleagues in St John's Community hospital were all there on the difficult days. I found the Cancer Support Centre in Sligo a great support.

How did it affect your self-esteem/femininity?

It didn't, because I had reconstruction. I can wear anything, even a bikini if I wanted to. I had a mamaplasty in November 2009 to have my other breast lifted. I am 16 on top.

What would you say to others just diagnosed?

Approach your treatment a stage at a time. You can't eat an elephant in one bite. Breast cancer is no longer a death sentence. You will come out at the other end.

Irish Independent

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