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'My heart was breaking, I knew exactly what she was going through': Mum and daughter survive cancer together

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Mother and daughter Donna and Lyndsey Connolly, who have both battled cancer and got the all-clear. Photo: El Keegan

Mother and daughter Donna and Lyndsey Connolly, who have both battled cancer and got the all-clear. Photo: El Keegan

Mother and daughter Donna and Lyndsey Connolly, who have both battled cancer and got the all-clear. Photo: El Keegan

When Lyndsey Connolly was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma aged just 25, mum Donna did everything in her power to see her daughter through it. There was just one other thing in the way - Donna had just gone into remission from her own cancer fight

Lyndsey Connolly and her mother Donna are very close and have always had a great bond. But while they have similar personalities and a lot in common, the fact that they have both survived the trauma of cancer is what really cemented their relationship.

As Daffodil Day approaches, each remembers how the other helped them through the hardest days of their lives.

"My mother is amazing and I really don't think I could have survived the last year or so without her," says 27-year-old Lyndsey.

"She had a really tough time with breast cancer in 2010 and was really only in remission when I became ill in October 2013.

"I was very run down for a while and kept making excuses for my symptoms - putting everything down to the stress of working nights.

"I work in Laura Lynn House and seemed to be forever sick with either a chest or throat infection. My boss insisted I get a flu jab to see me through the winter and the next day, I had the most horrendous headache.

"Mum said she would take me to the doctor and even though I argued that I was fine, she insisted - and thank God she did as I was diagnosed with meningitis."

Donna's decisive action may have saved her daughter's life because not only was Lyndsey suffering from meningitis, but scans also revealed that she had a tumour in her chest.

"For some reason the doctor in A&E decided to send me for a chest X-ray which picked up some abnormalities," says Lyndsey.

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Mother and daughter Donna and Lyndsey Connolly, who have both battled cancer and got the all-clear. Photo: El Keegan

Mother and daughter Donna and Lyndsey Connolly, who have both battled cancer and got the all-clear. Photo: El Keegan

Mother and daughter Donna and Lyndsey Connolly, who have both battled cancer and got the all-clear. Photo: El Keegan

"I was then sent for a scan and having studied cancer in college before I started nursing, I began to suspect that this is what I had."

The Dublin woman's suspicions were confirmed when a subsequent biopsy revealed she had Hodgkin's lymphoma. Being so young, she had a hard road ahead of her as both her fertility and her future life hang in the balance.

But throughout it all, it was her family (father Don and brother Gary) but in particular her mother, who made life bearable and gave her hope.

"I was utterly devastated when I was diagnosed in November 2013 and because of my age, the first thing I was told to do was to have my eggs harvested at the HARI clinic as the treatment I was about to embark on could affect my fertility," says Lyndsey.

"That procedure was strangely the hardest thing of all as the realisation of why I was doing it suddenly hit me.

"Then when that was done, I had to start a really tough chemotherapy programme called ABVD - I couldn't have radiotherapy because of where the tumour was located in my chest, so had to have chemo for almost seven months which was really difficult - I had every side effect imaginable, from vomiting and blood clots to severe pain. It was really tough going.

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Daffodil Day

Daffodil Day

Daffodil Day

"But throughout it all, my family stayed by my side and mum, in particular gave every ounce of energy she had to help get me on my feet again."

Watching her daughter go through chemotherapy was particularly difficult for Donna as she knew only too well how gruesome the treatment can be.

"I would have given anything to have taken Lyndsey's place during her treatment," says the 57-year-old. "When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 and had to go through surgery and chemo, it was a horrible time but I was so caught up with getting better that I didn't realise how hard it was for the family to watch me suffer.

"So when my 25-year-old daughter was diagnosed and went through hell during her treatment, my heart was breaking as I knew exactly what she was going through.

"People said to me that it was great that I could give her encouragement as I had been through it before, but in fact I think this made it worse as I knew how awful it was for her."

March 15 was the first Mother's Day since Lyndsey recovered from cancer - and while she remembers how, during her darkest hours, Donna was always by her side - she also wishes she was around more often when her mother was sick.

"I was so ill after my third round of chemo that I wanted to die," she admits. "Mum did everything for me - she got into the bed beside me and held me through the pain, she spoon-fed me soup and looked after every aspect of my care - she was incredible.

"I fought against my illness in the beginning, but eventually I just gave in and let her mind me and thankfully she helped me to come through the nightmare.

"But I was in college in Scotland when she was diagnosed and still regret that I wasn't there enough to help her in the same way. I rang home all the time and visited when I could, but I know she kept the worst of it from me.

"That just sums up her personality as she would always be thinking of me and the rest of the family before she worried about herself.

"It was an awful time and I'm not sure I was of much use as I was terrified that she would die and I really didn't think I would be able to cope without her in my life."

But Donna says despite the distance between them when she was ill, Lyndsey helped enormously with her recovery.

"Lyndsey was away at university when I discovered something that didn't feel right in my left breast," recalls the mother-of-two.

"I went to the doctor who thought it was a cyst but was sent for a mammogram and ultrasound to be on the safe side. I tried to keep it from Lyndsey initially as although tests showed that I had breast cancer,

"I had to have an MRI because there was some confusion over the size of the tumour. This revealed that it was just over 5cm which meant I would be better off having a mastectomy rather than just a lumpectomy.

"Lyndsey came home for the surgery and although she was obviously very shocked, she was a great comfort to me. I had to have eight cycles of chemotherapy followed by 25 of radiation.

"Lyndsey came back home again during that time and while there wasn't a whole lot she could do to stop the physical pain, she made me feel better by being so positive about the future and encouraging me to stay strong.

"She just had a way of saying the right thing and knowing that sometimes all I needed was to be hugged and reassured."

Thankfully Lyndsey and her mother have been given the all clear from cancer and both feel their individual ordeals have made them stronger as people and closer to each other.

"As of June 27 2014, I am officially in remission," says Lyndsey. "One of the doctors who treated me made a promise that he would do everything he could to cure me and sure enough, he kept his word.

"I don't know what the future holds for me now, whether the cancer will come back or whether I will ever be able to have children but all I know is that I beat the disease that was trying to kill me and that knowledge is like an enormous weight being lifted off my shoulders.

"We all think that cancer won't touch us personally and it happened to our family twice - but Mum and I fought our hardest and both of us won the battle. She is such a strong woman and I really don't think I could have done it without her."

"When Lyndsey got sick, I was so worried that it was my fault," admits Donna. "Doctors reassured me that that wasn't the case, but I felt so guilty and it was awful watching my brilliant girl being so ill.

"But she is a fighter and has come out the other side stronger than ever - we are so proud of her and while I wouldn't wish cancer on anyone, we have become even closer because of our experiences and how we helped each other through.

"I would advise anyone else going through this to stay positive, whether for yourself or for a loved one and stick together as it's the best way to fight this."

"My mum is my best friend," says Lyndsey. "She's always there to pick me up when I fall, to celebrate all my triumphs, hold my hand throughout all my struggles and is my biggest cheerleader - I would be so lost without her."

* The Irish Cancer Society's Daffodil Day takes place on Friday, March 27. Visit cancer.ie or call 1850 60 60 60 to find out how you can get involved.

Health & Living