47-year-old Maria Murphy was playing with her boisterous 4-year-old son in June 2021 when she noticed something unusual about her breast.
“It was such a random thing, I was playing with Alex - he is a very strong child - we play gymnastics and mess around and he jumps on me. One particular day he jumped on my chest and when I put my hand up to where it felt tender, I could feel this tiny little lump, the shape of a small almond towards the breast bone.
It was in such an unusual place that I thought I might be imagining it and that it was part of my rib! I always thought if a lump was sinister it would have to be in a fleshy part of your breast, but I have now learnt not to assume anything. During the day I could still feel the lump, so I made an appointment with my GP to be on the safe side”
Maria says her GP was not overly concerned but referred her for a triple assessment for peace of mind.
“Three weeks later I went in for a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy. The team in the hospital thought everything looked fine – the mammogram didn’t show anything, and the ultrasound was unexciting – the only reason they took a biopsy was because the radiologist could feel the lump I was talking about, so it made it easy to take the biopsy.
I met with the surgeon to review the results and was told I would get a call the following Friday to confirm that everything was in order. I didn’t really think much of it that week until Thursday evening I had a voicemail saying that instead of phoning me the next morning could I come in and see the surgeon instead. I knew then that something was wrong.”
Maria was diagnosed with Invasive Lobular Carcinoma, which is difficult to detect, and which is why it didn’t show up on the mammogram. Even the doctors were astonished with the result.
“This was the scariest part and I think it really freaked my friends out - knowing that this could be in your body and not be able to detect it. The word cancer is so huge, I just thought ‘I need to get that word out of my head’ so I changed my mind set to ‘I have an illness that requires medical attention.’ I’m quite a pragmatic person so I wanted as much information as possible so that I could get started putting a plan in place with the surgical team.”
On the 6th of September 2021 Maria underwent a mastectomy and DIEP reconstruction of her left breast. She says the results from her surgery have been incredible and she cannot thank her medical team enough for the fantastic care she has received.
“I practiced a lot of meditation and deep breathing ahead of my surgery and that really helped. I then spent the week afterwards in hospital, including three nights in the high dependency unit, but the doctors are really happy with how I recovered, and I’m thrilled that the following Monday I got the all clear. The biggest positive so far has been the response from my friends, family, neighbours, crèche mums, even people I don’t know! It’s such a wonderful feeling to have that support and love.”
One last test was required – the Oncotype DX report. This is used to determine the likelihood of a future cancer recurrence. The oncology team then decide whether precautionary chemotherapy would be required.
On 21st of October 2021 Maria received her results and the score was 12 out of 100 which is considered an excellent outcome, so she does not need any chemotherapy or radiotherapy. She also has a clean bill of health from her surgeon and physiotherapist and was started on the drug ‘Tamoxifen’ which suppresses the Oestrogen hormone.
“The type of breast cancer that I had was Oestrogen Receptor Positive, which means that the tumours were feeding off the Oestrogen in my body.”
"I really hope me speaking about my diagnosis has made people think more about their breast health and how we need to advocate for ourselves and our health needs.”
Just before she received her cancer diagnosis, Maria had just set up her own fashion design business. While she was awaiting surgery she continued to design and brought out a range of sweatshirts with 50% of the proceeds going to the Irish Cancer Society. The motto is ‘I’m Making Lemonade’ (because life gave her lemons!)
In October Maria decided to pursue an opportunity to run her own stand at ‘Gifted’, the Irish Design Fair that is held in Dublin each year.
“People thought I was mad for doing it so soon after everything but it was a great distraction.”
Today Maria says she believes she feels better with each passing day.
“I am back to my Pilates classes and my teacher told me she couldn’t notice any difference in my strength levels. This was something I was convinced would be affected after the Diep reconstruction. I now feel so mentally strong, knowing I could come through that and be okay. I know also I was extremely lucky with the way my diagnosis turned out.
Her words of advice this Breast Cancer Awareness month are to act immediately if you notice anything unusual in your body “I found the lump and acted straight away. I never imagined something like this - there is no history of cancer in my family. My consultant called it the ‘negative lottery’ – there was really nothing that caused it or that I could have done to stop it. I really hope me speaking about my diagnosis has made people think more about their breast health and how we need to advocate for ourselves and our health needs.”
Maria is delighted to be supporting the Irish Cancer Society's Care For Your Pair campaign for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. To learn more about the campaign, visit: cancer.ie/careforyourpair #CareForYourPair
Host a Big Pink Breakfast
Host a Big Pink Breakfast this October to support breast cancer patients and their families across Ireland.
Find out more at: Cancer.ie/CareForYourPair