Wednesday 16 October 2019

‘I presumed it was just another cyst, not breast cancer’ - woman on shock diagnosis while recovering from hysterectomy

Having just recovered from a hysterectomy, Sinead McArville was devastated to find out she had breast cancer. She tells Arlene Harris that going to the doctor straight away saved her life

Sinead McCarville who has battled breast cancer, pictured near her home in Dublin. Picture: Frank McGrath
Sinead McCarville who has battled breast cancer, pictured near her home in Dublin. Picture: Frank McGrath

Arlene Harris

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer diagnosed amongst Irish women - more than 3,000 cases every year. And while these statistics are alarming, it is reassuring to note that the number of survivors is also rising, with 83pc of those with a breast cancer diagnosis living five years or more.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month when all of us are reminded to pay attention to breast health and seek medical help if we are at all concerned.

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Sinead McArville knows only too well how important this is as last year she made the decision to consult her doctor about what she presumed was a cyst in her right breast. She had no reason to believe it was anything other than benign, but sought advice as a precaution and for this, she is very grateful.

"The year 2018 was very bad for me," says the 40-year-old. "I have always been prone to cysts in my breasts and when I discovered one on the right side, I presumed it was just the same sort of lump I had experienced before. I had just had a hysterectomy due to gynaecological problems so didn't for a moment think that there could be anything else wrong with me but decided to go to the doctor anyway.

"I was referred on for a mammogram and then told that I needed a second one and also an ultrasound - and at this point I began to think that I could be in the danger zone. I remember lying on the bed while I was being scanned and told that the left side was full of cysts but the right side wasn't looking good - I lay there with tears pouring down my face. I still had the stitches from my surgery two weeks previously and I could not believe that there was something else wrong - it just wasn't fair."

READ MORE: 'Nobody can imagine the pain' - Woman who made decision to have breasts removed calls for greater psychological support for cancer patients

The Dublin woman had to undergo a biopsy and when the results came back, the consultant informed her that it was most likely to be cancerous.

"I really broke down when I heard that news," she admits. "I couldn't believe it - I was on my own as I hadn't thought I needed to bring anyone with me and I was inconsolable. I had to go back and tell my mother and my four brothers that I had breast cancer and I remember just roaring crying in front of them as I didn't know how I was going to cope.

"The cancer was confirmed a week later and it was worse than I thought as I had two types - Her 2 and ER positive grade 3. I was booked in for a mastectomy and reconstruction on April 20, 2018 which was my 39th birthday - a day I will never forget. I spent three days in hospital and was then discharged to prepare for chemo which would start at the end of June."

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Regular self-exams and attending for age-appropriate screening are important measures

Sinead, who works in housekeeping at the Mater Hospital in Dublin, says the treatment which followed was very traumatic but she persevered thanks to the medical staff who looked after her and the support of friends and family.

"I started chemo in June and I found it awful right from the start," she admits. "I really didn't cope very well and at one point, wanted to give up on life altogether. Losing my hair was very hard and I suffered with vomiting, nausea, diarrhoea and just generally felt terrible. But I am a fighter and while the hospital suggested that I have some counselling to help me through it, I declined because I am quite stubborn and just wanted to get through it myself.

READ MORE: 'I asked him "am I going to die?"' - school teacher Eimear on her breast cancer diagnosis

"So while I endured months of hell and wanted to throw in the towel many times, I pushed through it for my family who were heartbroken about the whole thing. Because of them, I decided I wasn't going to let it beat me and with their love and support, I was able to keep going. And to be honest, if anything, the experience has made me stronger and more able to cope with whatever else life might throw at me."

After three months, Sinead, who her family refer to as 'the warrior', was back on her feet and out the other side of her ordeal. She says while it was a tough journey, it was far more preferable than 'the alternative' might have been if she hadn't gone to the doctor when she found a suspicious lump.

"My health is now 100pc and I couldn't be happier," she says. "Of course there were days when I felt very low and even felt less of a woman as I had a hysterectomy and lost my right breast, but if I had left things and just ignored the lump, it would be a very different story today.

"I would love to pass on the message, particularly to young girls, but also to women of every age, that a lump should never be ignored. People shouldn't worry about being embarrassed or think they are bothering the doctor by asking to get it checked out. If anyone is at all worried about something, they should seek help straight away.

"Money can't buy health and if you don't act quickly, there may not be time to fix something. Doctors told me that I was a lucky lady to have gone in when I did and now I feel as if I have been given a second chance at life - the care I got was amazing, everyone rallied around to help and support me and now that I am back on my feet, I intend to enjoy every minute - because life is too short to waste it."

READ MORE: 'There was something in her that always mourned'

Last year cancer nurses handled almost 3,000 enquires from breast cancer patients in need of support. And Averil Power, Chief Executive of the Irish Cancer Society, is asking for people to get involved this week by hosting a coffee morning and raising funds for breast cancer research and support for people who are going through the disease.

"Every day in Ireland eight people get a breast cancer diagnosis," she says. "We know that diagnosis can turn your world upside down and that's why the Cancer Nurses on our Freephone Nurseline and in our Daffodil Centres are there to provide care and support to cancer patients when they need it most. But without donations we simply can't help everyone.

"We saw a growing number of breast cancer patients reach out to us for support last year. And we are determined to keep up with this demand but to do this we need to raise more money. That's why we are asking the public to hold a Cups Against Breast Cancer Coffee morning on October 11 to ensure we can continue to be there for those in need."

 

About breast cancer

⬤ Every year, around 3,100 women are diagnosed with breast cancer and around 700 people die from the disease.

⬤ One in 10 women in Ireland will get breast cancer at some stage in their lives.

⬤ It is the second most common cancer in women in Ireland (skin cancer being the most common).

⬤ The numbers of breast cancer survivors are increasing.

⬤ It is most common in women over the age of 50, but can affect younger people.

⬤ Men can also get breast cancer but it is very rare.

⬤ The cause is not fully known, but there are a number of risk factors; the first is gender as it is more common in women, getting older is also a factor as is having a strong family history of the disease.

⬤ Certain benign breast conditions cause a higher risk of breast cancer and women on HRT also have an increased risk.

⬤ The Irish Cancer Society says there is also a small increase in risk in women on the contraceptive pill, those who had their first period before the age of 12, those who have a late menopause (over the age of 55) and those who have not had children.

⬤ Reduce your risk of breast cancer by being a healthy weight, being active, limiting alcohol, quitting smoking and breastfeeding your baby for at least six months if possible.

⬤ For more information on holding a Cups Against Cancer coffee morning, visit cancer.ie/cupsagainstcancer

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