Irish mum (31) who became guardian of young siblings after parents' death shocked by life-threatening diagnosis
A young mum who stepped up to parent her brother and sister at the age of 23 was shocked to be diagnosed with cervical cancer after going for her routine smear.
Kiera Coyle (31) became an official guardian to Caoimhe and Colm, then aged 9 and 13, after their father's death four years ago and said her recent cancer diagnosis brought up familiar feelings of panic for her siblings, who had lost both of their parents at a young age.
Derry City woman Kiera, who is also mum to Riley (8), Conor (2) and Quinn (1), was diagnosed with cervical cancer in October after a routine smear prompted doctors to carry out a biopsy.
Speaking to Independent.ie, Kiera said: "My mum died when my youngest, Riley, was just six-months-old. After that my younger brother and sister Colm and Caoimhe, continued to live with my dad but he struggled.
"He was suffering from renal failure and as his health declined he became unable to cope with the children. Social Services became involved because they were missing days as school and we had to decide what was best for them. It was decided that they would live with me.
"After my Daddy died, my brother Kieran and I went for a guardianship order for the kids and luckily that was granted in the High Court in Belfast."
Clerical worker Kiera and her partner John welcomed daughter Quinn in October 2015, just 14 months after her second son Conor (2). Although she had been due a cervical smear in between the births, the mum became caught up with the two new babies and put off going for her appointment until August 2016.
The routine smear picked up abnormal results and Kiera went on to have a biopsy. In October, Kiera was asked to come into the hospital for the results of the test, which she knew was unusual.
"My smear did show that I had abnormal cells, but it was something that a few of my aunties had been diagnosed with before and I knew the procedure to get rid of them was relatively simple. I wasn't told a biopsy had been done, so when they called me in for an appointment I knew that something was up. When they asked me if I was on my own I knew something was really wrong," she said.
Kiera was diagnosed with stage one B one cervical cancer and doctors advised her to undergo a radical hysterectomy to prevent the spread of the disease to her other vital organs.
A radical hysterectomy involves the removal of the uterus, the tissues that hold it in place, the cervix and inches of the upper vagina, a surgery Kiera underwent in December.
Kiera said that although everyone was telling her she was "lucky" to already have three children of her own she did not feel that way. The mum said her diagnosis had a deep impact on her siblings who had already experienced the loss of their parents, and the news panicked Caoimhe, now aged 15.
"All people could say was how lucky I was, 'Oh you’re so lucky you already have kids', 'You’re lucky this was caught when it was', but I didn’t feel so lucky. I felt like if one more person told me how lucky I was I was going to scream 'I HAVE CANCER'.
"Yes I had kids, but I wasn’t sure I was finished having them yet and I didn’t feel lucky at all.
"I was also so afraid of telling Caoimhe and Colm particularly because anyone who has ever been close to them has died. When I told Caoimhe, she really panicked but I just told her that it was just an operation and everything would be fine afterwards. I didn't know that myself but it's what I had to say. I couldn't tell my little boy, he’s only eight and I didn’t want to scare him. I just told him Mummy had to get an operation on her tummy."
Although Kiera’s operation went to plan, she suffered complications in the weeks afterwards when her bowel twisted on New Year's Eve as a result of a stomach bug. Fortunately, Kiera avoided another massive surgery, but was forced to spend a week in St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin.
While she admits the last few months have been very difficult, the mum-of-three and her family are celebrating the news that she is free from cancer and does not need to undergo chemotherapy or radiation. Kiera will have to attend check-ups every three months to ensure the cancer does not return, however she could experience other side effects from the surgery.
"I could go into menopause earlier now and I’m at a high risk of lymphodema, which means I can’t shave, exfoliate or even take a hot shower. After my surgery I was told I couldn't lift anything heavier than 2L of milk, which was so hard considering I have two small babies at home," she said.
Kiera hopes her story will encourage other women to keep on top of their routine smears, which she said saved her life.
"Yes, it’s a bit embarrassing, it’s a bit uncomfortable but it’s something you just have to do, isn't it? I didn't have any symptoms and I was diagnosed with cancer. It's so important to be aware of what’s going on in your body and the smear allows you to do that," said Kiera.
For more information on national screening programme CervicalCheck visit cervicalcheck.ie.