Mum-of-two Anita Clarke from Tipperary is passionate about encouraging other women to avail of their Breast Check appointment: 'I turned 52 in 2019. When I originally called Breast Check after I turned 50, I learnt that they had left the area. So when my appointment came around again, I made sure to attend.'
'I had no symptoms. The check was just something else on my to-do list, along with my trip to Specsavers and the dentist.'
Following her appointment however, Anita was called to an appointment in Galway and told something had shown up in her scans. After further tests, Anita was diagnosed with stage two her2 positive, invasive lobular breast cancer.
'When I initially heard the news, I tried to remain calm. I asked them if the cancer was treatable, and if I had a good chance of survival. They told me it was treatable, and that I should survive it. At that point I decided to put my trust in them and the treatment plan.'
'After that I started thinking about work. Not long before, I had started working as a substitute primary school teacher. This was my lifetime ambition and I was finally doing it. I was worried my diagnosis might affect my hiring potential,' Anita recalls.
'I asked them if the cancer was treatable, and if I had a good chance of survival.
They told me it was, and that I should survive it. At that point I decided to put my trust in them and the treatment plan.'
Anita was booking in for surgery, a wide local excision. This was followed by a second operation, as the surgeon did not get clear margins during the first surgery.
'At first they weren’t sure would I need chemotherapy and radiation, but I got advice that because it was my first cancer diagnosis, I should throw everything at it and do all the treatment,' she says.
Anita was then booked in for six rounds of chemotherapy, followed by radiation and Herceptin injections. Unfortunately, Anita experienced an extreme reaction to the treatment: 'Chemo was brutal for me. At one point my doctor wanted me to stop treatment. I couldn’t get out of bed or stay up on my feet, I had pain up and down my legs. I would say I am pretty stubborn when it comes to not letting things get the best of me, but I had never experienced anything like this.'
Anita tells others going through something similar to reach out to the supports available: 'During my treatment, I was also going through a separation with my husband. It was a really difficult time, in some ways my cancer took a back seat.'
'I was not able to work, so I was on an illness benefit, which was about €164 a week. When I was having chemotherapy I used the Irish Cancer Society Volunteer Driver Service -- that was such a godsend. I don’t know how I would have managed without it. The drivers were brilliant, just the best thing ever. I also availed of the free counselling over the phone, it was good to be able to have someone to speak with through it all.'
Daffodil Day 2023
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