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Getting cancer at age 28: Irish woman Aisling Gallagher shares her story

Aisling Gallagher knew something was not quite right when she began to feel unwell at the start of lockdown. After being diagnosed with stage 2 colorectal cancer and finding out she will not be able to carry a pregnancy, Aisling is sharing her story to help others seek medical advice


Aisling Gallagher. Photo from Belfast Telegraph

Aisling Gallagher. Photo from Belfast Telegraph

Aisling Gallagher. Photo from Belfast Telegraph

When Aisling Gallagher went to the doctors at the beginning of lockdown she knew something was not right.

She had never had to seek medical advice before for anything out of the ordinary.

But when her bowel habits changed she initially put her symptoms to the back of her mind.

She was going to the toilet more and often needed to go quite urgently and after she had eaten.

The 28-year-old from Crumlin, Antrim, had moved to London and was working as a personal shopper and did not have a GP over there.

But she could never have imagined the shock diagnosis she received of stage 2 colorectal cancer and the prospect of embarking on weeks of treatment and surgery.

It is more commonly a cancer that affects older people and around one in nine people that develop a form of bowel cancer are aged 60 and over.

Aisling is telling her story to try and help others not to feel embarrassed about going to the doctor and the importance of listening to your body.

She was due to come home when lockdown happened and booked to see her GP.

Her symptoms had started to get worse and, when she began passing blood, she knew she had to act.

"I went to the GP because I was scared and I didn't know what was going on," Aisling explained.

"I was due to come home in the first week of March just before lockdown happened.

"I described all the symptoms and got an examination with the doctor and she referred me straight away because she couldn't feel or see anything, so I was referred for a colonoscopy."

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But the symptoms are quite similar to other bowel conditions such as Crohn's disease or Colitis - and that is what the medics initially thought it could be.

She was referred to a consultant in Antrim Area Hospital - but the colonoscopy procedures were not happening at that time due to the lockdown.

Aisling explained: "Everything was over the phone as this was when lockdown happened, talking through symptoms on the phone. They said about Crohn's or colitis.

"And then I went into the hospital a few weeks after that for more bloods and stool samples.

"They weren't doing colonoscopies at the time because they were trying to keep people out of hospitals."

Aisling was then in and out of hospital for bloods and tests in May and June.

But her symptoms were getting progressively worse and she was persistent in pushing for a date to be seen for a colonoscopy, which she got in August.

"My stomach was sore, I wasn't eating very much and was feeling lethargic. I knew something was going on," she added.

"I rang again at the start of August and they looked at my latest tests and I got a phone call to say I was being brought in in two weeks."

On the day of her colonoscopy, doctors were able to see a tumour and Aisling was later given the shock diagnosis of colorectal cancer.

Then everything happened very quickly - she was rushed in to get an MRI scan and CT scan the following week and after getting her full diagnosis she learned her treatment plan would include five weeks of radiotherapy - Monday to Friday - and chemotherapy in tablet form every morning and night on the same days to shrink the tumour.

She will then have surgery to remove it.

And while Aisling knew deep down for some time there had to be something wrong - the shock of the diagnosis was massive.

"You Google everything, which you are not meant to do, and because the symptoms are quite similar to other conditions, as it went on, I was getting worse and the symptoms seemed to suggest it was going to be something more sinister, but you still don't think you are going to have cancer at 28.

"I cried and told all my friends and family, but I just sort of got on with it. There is no point crying about it every day, I took the initial hit and shock and I've been getting on."

But something that was even harder for Aisling to come to terms with was discovering that, as a result of her treatment, she would not be able to carry children.

She added: "I was told I wouldn't be able to carry kids after having the pelvic radiotherapy because it damages your womb and your ovaries.

"That was something that I struggled with more than the actual cancer diagnosis."

She continued: "I had to put it to the back of my head and concentrate on getting better and when it comes to it I'll have to look at my options again.

"It was something that was very hard to hear."

But Aisling is taking everything a day at a time - and says her persistence was key and also leaving any embarrassment at the door.

"You know with your body when something doesn't feel right. At the start I was scared and didn't say anything to anybody," she continued.

"When I went to the GP I thought I'd taken the first step and I just need to be persistent now.

"And obviously it is uncomfortable, you don't want to have to go and get your bum out for everybody but they are there to help you, they don't care, it's their job, and it's over and done with before you can even think about it."

Now with her treatment beginning, Aisling feels that she can see an end in sight, and says it helps to keep her positive.

She also has a huge online following on her Instagram page Galsgoss, where she has more than 10,000 followers - she shared her diagnosis with them and has been overwhelmed by the response.

"It's been amazing, my friends and family have been with me the whole time," she added.

Aisling continued: "I've had so many messages of people going through things that are similar to me or they've booked doctors appointments now from what I've gone through.

"It's overwhelming the amount of people who have said that they are doing things now over stuff they've ignored."

Aisling has also benefited from it hugely, saying people's kindness has meant so much to her.

"People taking that wee bit of time to send you such a supportive message is great and keeps me positive and keeps me going," she added

Belfast Telegraph

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