Friday 23 February 2018

'I was told I had cancer and it was spreading - days before my son's birthday' - mum-of-one

Amy Mahon and her son Danton.
Amy Mahon and her son Danton.
Geraldine Gittens

Geraldine Gittens

Thyroid cancer survivor Amy Mahon was busy planning her four-year-old son’s birthday party when she was told that she had cancer – and it was malignant.

The 34-year-old remembers hearing the doctor’s diagnosis, after friends had asked her to get a lump in her neck investigated, but it took days for his words to properly sink in.

“He just said that there was a tumour there. He said it’s malignant, it’s very malignant. I just blocked everything out. He told me about the surgery date and I said ‘oh no, I can’t do that, it’s my son’s birthday party and he’s starting school’. It didn’t sink in. I suppose it was shock.”

However, within a week, the single mother had organised a pre-birthday party for her son Danton and she had surgery to remove her thyroid.

“It had spread to my lymph nodes. Thyroid cancer is a slow-growing cancer and because it had spread to my lymph nodes, [the doctor] was afraid that it would spread.”

“I moved my son’s birthday party forward so we had that. I didn’t sleep much... It sunk in having to tell other people as well and that was hard.”

 “My lymph nodes were removed. The recovery was tough. They replaced my thyroid with a medication, and I had to come off the medication before I could have the treatment, and you get quite sick, your hair changes, and you get really cold, you can’t warm up.”

Keen to shelter her young son from the realities of cancer, Amy explained to her son that she had to go to hospital and that his grandparents would take care of him.

“I didn’t really tell him [about the cancer]. I told him I had a sick neck and I’d be going in to hospital for a bit. He turned five when I was in hospital, a couple of days after the surgery.”

“It affected him in quite a big way. I’m a single parent; I’m his world and his everything. I was really lucky, my mam and dad took over the care of him, and my mum took time off work to help me recover.”

After the surgery, Amy was given radioactive iodine to treat the cancer and reduce the risk of it coming back. For this, she had to be in complete isolation for five days, and in semi-isolation at home for another ten days.

“It’s nuclear medicine. You take brown pills, and they lock the door and you can’t have human contact for five days. It’s radioactive so no one can come into the room.”

“I had to carry a card for if I was going to the airport and if I set off a nuclear alarm. And I was told no pregnancy for a year.”

“I spent ten days in semi-isolation at home. My son couldn’t have any close contact with me so I couldn’t give him a hug or be beside him for two weeks.”

“Christmas morning was the first time I could get a hug or a kiss off him. There was fifteen days in total of no contact.”

Now, Amy is five years cancer-free but the removal of her thyroid has resulted in lasting complications.

“I’ve been very lucky. I’ve got a specialist in Tullamore, who’s been so understanding of my health. My scar, for whatever reason, had pulled apart on my neck and was quite wide, and he reconstructed it for me. He wouldn’t normally do it but he cares about your mental well-being as well.”

But Amy says her recovery has changed her life, and she now doesn’t stress about the things she used to.

“I can still get up and take care of my son. I don’t worry or stress about the things I would have before. Little things, you take so much more from them now. Being able to go and do certain things, like being able to sit and have a cuddle and watch a movie with your child. Being able to spend as much time with family.”

“If you haven’t got the money to pay a bill, I don’t stress about it, you can do it the month after. If you haven’t got the money to have a really nice car and a house, I don’t stress about it. It’s having the people around you that you love and care about that matters.”

“We’ve a very, very close family, my mum comes to all my appointments with me, and my Dad comes to the important ones.”

Amy was supported by the Irish Cancer Society during her treatment and as a result got involved in the Society’s Relay For Life, Kildare. Relay For Life is a 24 hour event that brings the community together to celebrate the lives of cancer survivors, remember those lost to the disease and fight back by increasing knowledge of cancer and raising money to fund vital research and services of the Society.

For more information on Relay For Life events in Ireland, or to start one in your community, see www.cancer.ie/relayforlife

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