'I had just taken a teaching job in Dubai when a biopsy revealed I had cancer' - Teacher (26) on frightening diagnosis
A Donegal teacher was preparing to begin a new life in Dubai when she received a frightening cancer diagnosis that would turn her life upside down.
Breidín Boyle (26) was set to begin a job in the UAE last summer but the teacher was shocked to be diagnosed with thyroid cancer just a fortnight before she was due to move.
The Glenties woman had been concerned about a lump in her throat for a number of weeks and decided to have it investigated before she left Donegal for Dubai.
After examining the lump, Breidín's doctor referred her to the Galway Clinic, where it was removed during a routine operation. Two tumours were discovered during this procedure and a biopsy revealed that they were malignant. The young teacher was diagnosed with papillary thyroid carcinoma, the most common type of thyroid cancer, in July 2016.
Speaking to Independent.ie Breidín said: "I didn't really have any symptoms, but I noticed a lump in my throat. When I asked people about it, they couldn't see it, but I knew it was there and I could feel it when I swallowed and while I slept. It was beginning to bother me.
"I'm a teacher, and I had just gotten a teaching job in Dubai which was so exciting. I was conscious though of getting myself checked out before I went and I remember saying to my mum 'I need to get this lump sorted out before I go.'
"I couldn't believe I had cancer. At 25, you really just don't consider that you could have cancer. A biopsy revealed that I had malignant tumours on my thyroid and five weeks later, last July, I was scheduled for an operation to remove my whole thyroid," she said.
The diagnosis came at a particularly difficult time for Breidín as she had recently lost her grandmother. While the teacher's plans to move to Dubai were put on hold indefinitely following her diagnosis, Breidín said she feels fortunate it was discovered when it was.
"I was disappointed about it initially and obviously being told you have cancer one of the scariest things you could ever be told, but now I have such a positive look on the whole thing. If I hadn't gotten the lump checked before I went to Dubai, it could have been so much worse," she said.
After the operation to remove her thyroid, Breidín underwent radioactive iodine treatment to kill any remaining cancer cells in her body. This treatment involves ingesting radioactive iodine, which targets thyroid cancer cells that haven't been removed through surgery. However, patients often must be placed in isolation to prevent others from being exposed to radiation. In Breidín's case, the teacher was placed in an isolation room in St Luke's Hospital in Dublin for three days.
"I had a quiet few days definitely but it wasn't too bad. I went into the isolated cell on Tuesday and came out on Friday. After you take the iodine tablets, you become radioactive and to protect others you're placed in this cordoned off section of the hospital. Even your dinner is passed through to you through a trap door, and your phone has to have a special cover on it. I was lucky to not have any bad side effects, because so many thyroid cancer patients do have a hard time," she said.
Prior to her diagnosis, Breidín had shed 3 stone (19kg) through Weight Watchers, and when she was feeling better, she was keen to continue the process with a new focus - her long-term health.
"I have always battled with my weight ever since I was since I was young. When I went to college I piled it on," said Breidín.
"I originally joined Weight Watchers in 2014 and I managed to lose about three stone before I was diagnosed which I was delighted with.
"After my operations, I had put on about ten pounds which I had worked so hard to lose at Weight Watchers, but I really wasn't thinking about it. After my operations, when I began to feel a bit better, I rejoined. After the stress of my diagnosis, I just felt the need to regain some of my energy back and to feel better. I felt like I had put all my hard work to waste."
The teacher is now celebrating reaching her goal weight with the lifestyle club, and has lost almost four stone (25kg) in total. Breidín also began a new teaching job in Donegal earlier this year.
"My weight loss is completely down to my leader Brid Griffin in the Donegal town group, she's so inspiring. You'd nearly feel like running home after the class she's so motivational. It's great to have gotten to my goal weight. I have loads of energy now, and I really feel great. It's such a fantastic thing to feel good in your own skin," she said.
Breidín said she struggled to find anyone who shared her experience after she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and worried that she may not be able to have children after reading about the disease online. However, the teacher said she was delighted to see Sile Seoige, a fellow thyroid cancer survivor, announce her pregnancy in February.
"I had heard that it can be difficult to have children after thyroid cancer, but I was so fortunate to be put in touch with another woman from Donegal who went through the same thing about ten years ago and she has a family so that was a comfort.
"When I was diagnosed, the only other person I knew that had been through this was Sile Seoige, and I think she's pregnant at the moment so it's not something I worry about so much anymore," she said.