Friday 17 January 2020

'As I nursed my dying mum, I couldn't tell her my breast cancer was back'

Adrienne Roche will celebrate the end of a tough five years of cancer treatment when she takes part in the Vhi Women's Mini Marathon

Adrienne Roche (48) will run the VHI Women's Mini Marathon for the Gary Kelly Centre Cancer Support Centre. Photo: Ciara Wilkinson.
Adrienne Roche (48) will run the VHI Women's Mini Marathon for the Gary Kelly Centre Cancer Support Centre. Photo: Ciara Wilkinson.

Joanna Kiernan

June 6 will be a poignant day for Meath resident Adrienne Roche (48), as she takes part in her first Vhi's Women's Mini Marathon alongside her 28-year-old daughter Avril. Over the last five years, Adrienne has wanted to take part in the event, however, this year will be the first time she is well enough to do so following her battle with breast cancer.

"I am getting there now and I am over it, please God. I have two more small procedures to do for more reconstruction, but this year is my year to be finished it all," says Adrienne.

"So part of the reason for me doing the Vhi's Women's Mini Marathon is to get fit enough for both that and for my final operations," Adrienne explains. "My daughter did it the year I got sick in 2011 and I promised her I would do it the following year, but then everything went pear-shaped."

Adrienne was 43 when she first discovered a lump on her left breast.

"It was the May bank holiday weekend in 2011 and I woke up with a feeling that something was sticking into my left arm," Adrienne says. "I actually thought I was after hurting myself as I was painting the house at the time, so I got into the shower and I realised it was a lump in my left breast."

The following Tuesday, Adrienne went to see her GP, who advised that she see a specialist as soon as possible and a short time later she underwent a triple assessment, which included a mammogram, an ultrasound and biopsies at Beaumont Hospital under the care of consultant surgeon Mr Mike Allen.

When Adrienne returned for her results on May 24 2011, she was told that she had a highly aggressive triple negative breast cancer.

"I remember Mr Allen telling me about the treatment and asking what I wanted to do and once I had decided, he asked when I wanted it all done and I said 'yesterday'," Adrienne explains.

Adrienne's subsequent treatment involved a lumpectomy, followed by chemo and radiotherapy.

"I started a programme of radium from September 27 2011 up until the end of November and after that I thought I was all done, I just had to go back for mammogram check-ups every couple of months," Adrienne explains.

The following June, things were looking up as Adrienne had another clear mammogram, which meant that she would not have to have another until December.

"Two days after that mammogram my parents came home from Spain. I met them at the airport; I was driving again and starting to get my independence back a bit. Days later, my mum was in hospital and was later diagnosed with brain and lung cancer," Adrienne says.

"So the whole process started again then with mum; mum got through her treatment, but was deteriorating as we got towards December and in March 2013 we were told mum only had a few months to live.

"Then I went back in June 2013 and I was re-diagnosed with cancer in the right breast," Adrienne adds. "It was a major shock and I don't know how I got through that period to be honest. Mum was at home with me so what could I do?

"The assessment the doctors gave me was that it was a ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), which normally people can walk around with and be okay, but because of the aggressive nature of my previous cancer, it set off alarm bells for them and they told me I would need to have a double mastectomy and reconstruction because they were afraid that it would develop very quickly."

Adrienne chose to spend the last few weeks so that she could be with her mother and never told her the news. "I explained that mum was dying at that time to the doctors and that I wanted to spend the last few weeks with her and they said that was okay, but that I couldn't leave it too long," Adrienne says. "I went home and I never told mum; I just felt that she didn't need that on top of everything else."

Adrienne was also concerned about her daughter Avril, who had cared for her and was now caring for her grandmother.

"Avril was my rock the first time and at this stage she was looking after my mum, sleeping on the floor beside her; I didn't know how she would cope with the news," Adrienne remembers.

Four weeks later Adrienne's mother passed away and she now had to face her surgery.

"I was numb, but I have always been very much project based in terms of my work life, so once I had a plan I could cope better when it came to going through it all," she says.

Adrienne had a double mastectomy and DIEP flap reconstruction the following November. "It is a very tough procedure. Walking afterwards was difficult because they take flesh from your stomach and everything is pulled tight, so that took some time to get over," Adrienne explains.

"I had a few setbacks with infections, but I got through and I had great support. My daughter was fabulous and once again went through it all with me. Then the doctors said that they were happy that they had gotten everything, but that they had to make me aware that the next place the cancer could go would be to my ovaries."

Adrienne was advised to have total hysterectomy as a preventative method, which she underwent in January 2015 and later this year she will have her final two reconstruction procedures.

"My daughter was only 22 when all of this started and she has been the person who got me through all of it. She is fantastic," Adrienne explains. "So we are going to do the Vhi Women's Mini Marathon together this year for the Gary Kelly Cancer Support Centre because when you have been there, it's great to be able to get out there and do it for others. I have got out the other side, poor mum didn't and other people didn't; so to be able to give something back for all that I have got is wonderful."

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