Opinion

Wednesday 19 December 2018

Today of all days, women need to read these nine facts about breast cancer

On breast health day, cancer survivor Tara Byrne tells of her battle to overcome disease

Tara Byrne

TODAY is European Breast Health Day. It’s a very important day for me as I am a member of Europa Donna Ireland, a volunteer-run organisation advocating better services for breast cancer.

I became involved when I found myself immersed in the world of breast cancer.

My journey started in 2010 when I was 35 years old, living life at 100pc, busy in my role as managing director. I never considered that I could be at risk of breast cancer.

I was lucky to accidentally find a  cluster in my breast. I felt I was young and didn't need to check. I didn't panic and wouldn't consider myself a drama queen,  but I instinctively knew it was serious.

It occurred on May Bank Holiday 2010.

After a GP appointment later that week, I underwent a mammogram, ultrasound, biopsy and MRI within 10 days. I was going through the process alone but when my consultant suggested that I bring someone with me for the results, I figured it was major.

I'd no reason to believe that I was ill. I didn't feel sick in any way, just tired in the preceding weeks, but I put  that down to a busy schedule.

Once diagnosed, a whirlwind of consultant appointments followed. I had by then told my family and their support was and is an immense help.

It is important to have a second pair of ears at these emotional appointments.. My cancer was diagnosed as aggressive and I was advised to have a mastectomy plus lymph node removal together with reconstruction, all happening on June 9.

An enthusiastic and fit regular exerciser, I now found myself at home with limited movement of the upper body. Then my long treatment plan began, which involved physiotherapy, chemotherapy, herceptin treatment followed by tamoxifen for five years.

My energy levels were extremely low during chemotherapy but I pushed myself to walk three to four days each week. Walking was slow and tough but fresh air was vital to my recovery. A year of side effects continued but I kept focused on returning to good health.

Three months after surgery, I was diagnosed with lymphoedema, a chronic swelling in my arm/hand, which can arise after lymph node removal. This was difficult to accept as it is an irreversible, lifelong condition. I was fitted with a compression garment, worn daily.

I tried to lighten my cancer challenge by calling my wig ‘Tina’ (Turner) and my lymphoedema sleeve my ‘Lady Gaga’ accessory.

My lymphoedema diagnosis prompted me to seek out exercise that augmented the treatment and I found the Plurabelle Paddlers. This Breast Cancer support group meets every Saturday in the Grand Canal Dock, Dublin. We paddle in ‘dragon boats’ which are 40ft long and seat 20 people

(www.plurabellepaddlers.com).

I am back exercising regularly and am currently studying to be a Pilates instructor.

I believe cancer patients need unambiguous messages highlighting the importance of exercising during and after treatment.

I had fitness on my side before my diagnosis, which I believe made my recovery easier

Europa Donna offers the following advice – the ‘nine things you should know about breast cancer'.

Not every fact is a fit for me or everyone but – today of all days – read this list:

1. More women get breast cancer than any other cancer.

 

2. More than 25,000 women are alive in Ireland having had breast cancer.

 

3. Your risk of getting breast cancer increases as you get older.

 

4. Most women who get breast cancer don't have it in their family.

 

5. About one third of breast cancer cases are related to being overweight and inactive.

 

6. It is very important to look out for breast changes and get them checked as soon as |possible.

 

7. A mammogram can find cancer up to four years before a woman would notice a sign herself.

 

8. Most women who get checked do not have breast cancer but need to be aware from their 20s and attend their breast screening from their 50s.

 

9. A specialist breast centre is the best place to go if you have breast cancer.

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