'Cancer led me to a whole new career'
Caroline Warren left breast cancer behind after a gruelling course of chemotherapy only to be diagnosed with leukemia a year later. The mum of two tells our reporter she found so much relief in a light touch massage therapy, that she trained to be a therapist herself
It started as a sharp pain in her left breast, a bit like pins and needles, which came and went. Then mother-of-two Caroline Warren started to notice little splotches of blood on the nipple area of her nightdress in the mornings.
She never dreamed for a moment that these little signs heralded the beginning of a dual-cancer nightmare that would last for years, and change her life.
After reporting the pain to her GP in December 2011, Caroline, then 38, was sent for a mammogram, which took place within weeks.
The mammogram results however, were worrying, so a lumpectomy was carried out on St Valentine's Day 2012. Once again, the doctors weren't happy.
"They said the lumpectomy didn't clear the margins, which means that when they took it out of my breast the tumour didn't come out cleanly; there was some left. They said it was bigger than they thought," she recalls.
A further operation took place in March but the doctors remained concerned, and the by now shell-shocked Caroline - who had up to then never had as much as broken finger - underwent a mastectomy at Easter, followed by a course of chemotherapy which began in June and lasted until the end of November.
Although Caroline, from Bandon in Co Cork, an accounts technician, struggled to continue working part-time, in March 2013 she had to give up her job completely.
"I was exhausted, my hair was falling out. I really was shattered," she says, recalling that looking after her children, Josh, now aged 14 and Erica, now 11, and simply getting a dinner on the table in the evenings took all her energy.
Once the chemotherapy finished, she expected things to improve, but ironically, that was when everything got tougher. It was really only when the operations and the hospital visits petered out that the full impact of what had happened hit Caroline.
"There's a huge mental strain because you're trying to stay positive for everyone," she recalls.
"The sheer stress and pressure of the whole experience, however, she says, "left me in despair".
But cancer hadn't finished with her yet.
"In September 2013 I noticed I was getting big bruises all over my legs and my hips," she recalls, adding that when she went jogging, she also noticed that she was often short of breath.
She went back to her GP, had some blood tests, and ended up in hospital again.
Almost before she knew it, she had been diagnosed with leukaemia, and been placed in an isolation ward for a total of 98 days, drinking only filtered water and breathing only filtered air, and allowed only one visitor at a time for fear of infection.
This situation continued - with occasional short breaks at home - until February 2014.
During that time Caroline had intensive chemotherapy, along with a succession of other procedures, including blood transfusions and bone-marrow biopsies.
She is currently in very good health, says Caroline, who has just completed the Cork mini-marathon. She undergoes blood tests four times a year and has check-ups with her breast cancer specialist and her oncologist once a year. However it will be 2019 before it is determined before she is officially deemed in remission.
During her cancer journey, Caroline had also heard about Touch Therapy which, she explains, is a kind of light touch massage which focuses on the skin rather than on the muscles.
"It is light touch instead of deep muscle massage. It's also called 'lotioning' because it is like lightly rubbing cream into your skin," she explains.
After receiving a gift voucher for a session of Touch Therapy, which she loved, Caroline did some research to see where Touch Therapy was available. However she says, although it was available in some hotels and big spas, she was looking for a more personal touch in a smaller, more intimate, calming environment.
Eventually she decided that this was a service she might consider providing to other people who had been through a traumatic experience such as cancer - and a whole new phase of life swung into being.
Caroline trained in therapeutic massage, oncology massage, and as a touch therapist.
Last month she set up her own touch therapy service, at the Sirona Clinic in the Cork suburb of Douglas. The service is available to cancer patients and anybody going through a difficult or traumatic experience.
"Patients can avail of a relaxing massage or a facial which will help decrease their stress and help them sleep better and even boost their immune system," she says.
The service is available on Thursdays and Fridays and costs €65 an hour and €40 for half an hour.
* Contact Caroline at touchtherapycentre.ie
METASTATIC BREAST CANCER
• Approximately 1,500-2,000 women are living with metastatic breast cancer in Ireland at any one time
• The incidence of female breast cancer in Ireland is 12.5pc higher than the EU average, with over 2800 new cases diagnosed each year
• Irish mortality rates are the third highest in the EU, with over 710 Irish women dying from breast cancer each year.
• Metastatic breast cancer is a common, treatable, life- threatening, life-limiting illness
• It is the most advanced stage of breast cancer
• Average survival is two to three years although many women go on to live much longer
Health & Living