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'The day I got cancer diagnosis I went into survival mode'

On World Cancer Day, Jill Murphy shares her story and urges every woman, regardless of age, to visit their GP if they have concerns

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Coming out stronger: Jill is mourning the loss of her long, blonde hair but is happy to have emerged from her toughest year ever with a new “great perspective” on life. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Coming out stronger: Jill is mourning the loss of her long, blonde hair but is happy to have emerged from her toughest year ever with a new “great perspective” on life. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Coming out stronger: Jill is mourning the loss of her long, blonde hair but is happy to have emerged from her toughest year ever with a new “great perspective” on life. Photo: Steve Humphreys

At just 27, Jill Murphy had a double mastectomy and had her eggs frozen after being diagnosed with breast cancer.

Today she's asking every woman, regardless of age, to visit their GP if they have concerns.

Jill (28) had been a gym-goer, who loved to look her best and didn't worry too much about the future.

But after enduring the toughest year of her life, the wellness worker from Killiney, Dublin, has managed to come out the other end stronger and more reflective.

As part of World Cancer Day today, Jill is reminding all young women to examine their breasts regularly for lumps and to be mindful of any symptoms such as tiredness, which can be indicators that something could be wrong.

"In 2018 I found a lump around April or May time," Jill said. "I got it checked with a GP but I was 26 at the time, so I didn't think cancer would affect me. But I was also feeling really tired. I was a gym-goer and I ate really well, so it didn't make sense why I was so tired.

"I almost didn't ask my GP to check the lump, as I was feeling embarrassed about it.

"I felt silly, due to my age. It was literally towards the end of the appointment, when I asked could she check the lump. She checked and said, 'You have quite a large lump'."

Jill was referred to Breastcheck in June and was then referred to get a biopsy and ultrasound as a public patient. "But my mum said I had private insurance, so just get it checked quickly."

She went to a private appointment at St Vincent's Hospital in Dublin within a week and "on that day I had a gut feeling I had cancer". "All of my friends and family were saying, 'You're so young' and not to worry, but I was asking myself deep down, 'What if...?'

"I was told to bring someone to get the results. It was August 27, 2018, and it was two weeks after my 27th birthday.

"They diagnosed me with bilateral breast cancer. Nothing prepared me for hearing the words on the day.

"I felt like someone else was being told the news, surely it couldn't be me.

"It was genuinely like an out of body experience. Previous to that, I thought if I got that news, I'd cry - but on the day, I went into survival mode. I wanted to know what to do to get it sorted, I had something wrong and I wanted to get better.

"It's that thinking that gets you through it. My poor mother was so upset. I'll never forget it. It was a strange day but a switch flicked in me and I just wanted to do everything to get better."

The treatment plan ahead for such a young woman seemed brutal.

"They told me it was surgery, a double mastectomy. I was 27, that was so tough," Jill said.

"I was single, I was an avid gym-goer, my body was so important to me, my image was so important to me. I asked how was this possible, I was worried that my breasts wouldn't look or feel like mine. Then I was told I'd have to get my eggs frozen and have chemotherapy."

She started chemo in December 2018 and finished in May last year, then had radiotherapy until July.

"I lost my hair, my eyelashes and eyebrows. It made me not look at myself," she said. "I hated losing my hair. It had been long and blonde and I'd loved it. Now it's growing back, it's short and brown.

"The second bout of chemo was horrendous, I felt fatigued and had nausea.

"When I finished the treatment I had a brand new take on life, I'm enjoying life and doing new things.

"I have a great perspective on life. I don't sweat the small stuff any more. Nothing will faze me."

Irish Independent