Megan Ennis was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma four years ago and told it was unlikely she’d ever have children. In advance of the Irish Cancer Society’s Daffodil Day, she talks about facing the disease head-on and the unexpected joy of being a mam
Megan Ennis is 28, engaged to be married and has a beautiful baby son. So far, her story isn’t too unusual, but a few years ago, her current situation seemed almost impossible. In 2017, the Dublin woman woke up with a pain in her chest, and because she was due to go on a trip the following day, decided to go to her GP to get it checked out. She thought she would be prescribed something for a mild ailment and sent on her way, but instead, she was referred straight to hospital.
“I had no symptoms at all until one morning I had some chest pain,” she says. “I was supposed to fly to Manchester the following day with my fiancé, Aaron, as I had bought him tickets to a football match, so I decided to go to the doctor to make sure there was nothing wrong.
“Because I was going to be flying, the doctor sent me to A&E for an X-ray just to rule out the chances of it being a clot. I thought I would be in and out, but I was told that they needed to keep me in overnight. At this point, I still didn’t think it was anything serious and wasn’t at all nervous. I was more concerned about the fact that I was supposed to go to an Ed Sheeran concert that night and was joking with the nurses about whether or not they could get him down to the hospital to sing to me.”
Although she had never been in hospital before, Megan, who has a one-year-old son called Tadhg, was a bit daunted by the prospect of staying overnight, but says she soon made friends with other patients and was still certain that she would be heading to the UK the following day. However, this was not to be.
“I had a CAT scan the next day and then told that I could go home but I was not allowed to fly as I had a collapsed lung,” she says. “They didn’t know what it was from and said it could be from a piece of food getting caught and deflating it or at the other end of the scale, it could be something more serious like lymphoma, so they were going to have to do some more tests.
“I went back in for some more scans and they said they would have to do a lung biopsy and a PET scan. I went home and returned a few days later to have these done and while I was waiting, a doctor came into the room and said she was from the haemoglobin team and had the results of my previous scan. I had been Googling lymphoma and knew that haemoglobin was something to do with the blood, so immediately sensed that there was something wrong.
“I asked her directly if I had cancer and she said that there was some present, but they were not sure what stage it was at and would need to do more tests. As I had already researched the worst-case scenario, I was kind of prepared for the news, but my parents, who were with me, were distraught.”
Friday, March 26, is Daffodil Day, the annual fundraising campaign for the Irish Cancer Society. It is estimated that up to 40,000 people get cancer every year in Ireland, and while it is often thought that the disease mainly affects older people, Megan is an example of how it can and does strike at any age.
“I was just 24 when I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and cancer was the furthest thing from my mind,” she says. “I also didn’t think about my fertility as I hadn’t been planning to have a baby yet, but when I started chemotherapy, I asked them if it would affect me. I was told that because the cancer was so aggressive — it had already increased in a few days and was apparently the weight of a honeydew melon — everything had to happen quickly so there was no time to put a plan in place.
“I was diagnosed on a Friday and began chemo the following Monday and had 96 hours of it per week from May to September. I was kept well-drugged up on anti-nausea medication as the chemo was so intense and I lost my hair two weeks into it, but that was the least of my worries. I just wanted to get it over with.”
Megan went back to her job as a Montessori teacher on a part-time basis while undergoing treatment, but in October was advised to stay at home until after Christmas as the flu season was starting and she would be particularly vulnerable.
“On November 15, 2017, I was given the all-clear and was over the moon,” she says. “But there was still the issue of fertility. I had been given an injection once a month to try and stop early menopause and in January 2018, I was referred to an IVF clinic. I was told initially that I had the fertility rate of a 45-year-old, but they said this could be down to the treatment and might be better in a year.
“This news really hurt as I had always wanted children, so I went back again in January 2019, hoping for the best. But again, I was told that things weren’t looking good and my body didn’t seem to be compatible for IVF. I was advised to come back in September 2019 to look at alternative options, but in June 2019, I got pregnant naturally and last year our baby Tadhg was born.
“Being a mam is amazing, it’s a feeling I can’t really put into words. And being a mam during Covid makes you really appreciate your baby and the time you get to spend with them.” The future is looking good for Megan and she says her experience has shown that cancer can strike at any age and it is vital to seek medical advice if something doesn’t feel right.
“I am doing great and have been cancer-free for the past three years,” she says. “I would encourage people to know their own bodies and all the little twinges. If there is something wrong, go and see the doctor. I know it’s hard with Covid and all that, but if people are concerned, they should insist on being checked out. I am proof that cancer can happen at any age, so don’t leave things to chance.”
And she has a special message for anyone going through cancer now: “Don’t bottle up your feelings. It’s hard enough with all the treatments, hair loss and body changes, so you need to let out your anger, fears and pain. My advice would be to keep a diary of daily life during your cancer journey, so you can look back and see just how far you have come. Also, don’t be afraid to speak up and ask questions if you feel something is wrong — it’s your body, know it and love it. And lastly, don’t forget to laugh. Don’t let your experience be completely negative — find the little things which will make you smile and laugh and try to be positive.
“Also, I know things are hard at the moment, but I would encourage people to go online and support Daffodil Day as cancer is something which affects us all, so you never know when you might need their support.”
Throughout the pandemic, the Irish Cancer Society charity has continued to provide vital services and support to ensure nobody has to go through cancer alone. Fundraising lead Rosemary Simmons says: “This year’s Daffodil Day is our most important ever. Due to restrictions, for the second year running, we can’t host our traditional on-street collections and fundraising events.
“This has had a significant impact on the ability to raise much-needed funds, with Daffodil Day 2020 earnings down by €2.3m. Because of the additional anxieties a cancer diagnosis during Covid brings, cancer patients need your support more than ever before.”
Daffodil Day, kindly supported by Boots, takes place on Friday, March 26.
Anyone with concerns or questions about cancer should contact the Irish Cancer Society support line on freephone: 1800 200 700
⬤ Around 775 people are diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma each year in Ireland.
⬤ It is a cancer of the lymphatic system, which is part of the immune system.
⬤ Lymphoma happens when lymphocyte white blood cells grow in an abnormal way. The abnormal cells start to collect in your lymphatic system, particularly the lymph nodes. This causes swellings, known as lymphomas.
⬤ There are two main types of lymphoma — Hodgkin lymphoma (HL) and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL).
⬤ Hodgkin lymphoma was named after the doctor who first recognised it. It used to be called Hodgkin’s disease. It has a particular appearance under the microscope and contains cells called Reed-Sternberg cells.
⬤ NHL looks different under the microscope — it does not contain Reed-Sternberg cells and there are more thank 60 different types.
⬤ HL and NHL are two different diseases and the treatment for them is not the same.