Nicola Lyons-Duffin, 50, is from Bray, Co. Wicklow. Nicola was diagnosed with breast cancer in July 2016. Nicola recalls feeling something wasn’t quite right:

“I had just finished a gym class and was going to Woodies to pick paint for my bedroom. On studying the paint choices, I folded my arms and literally had my hand resting under my armpit and it was then I felt a lump. Immediately, I was concerned. This was different, not sore at all and big enough too. I left the shop without the paint and rang my mother.

“I didn’t ring the doctor immediately in the hope that the lump would disappear but, of course, it didn’t. So, the next day when I saw my doctor, she very calmly told me that it needed to be looked at. I noticed the word urgent on the letter so I knew what she was thinking. What I was thinking was that I don’t have time for this. I’m too busy. I knew that it was a process and there was no way around it. A week later I was diagnosed.

“Thinking back about that time, I was doing a lot. I had started running. I was doing gym classes and there had been times that I felt unusually tired. I had felt faint on a couple of occasions but I put it down to doing too much as I’m always on the go. It goes to show that we should listen to our bodies.”

Nicola underwent a triple assessment which is a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy. A diagnosis of breast cancer was confirmed:

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My life quite literally changed overnight.

“I went from being a relatively healthy person to having cancer. I found the transition very hard, thrown into a whirlwind of appointments, scans, procedures, and more scans.”

Nicola’s treatment plan involved chemotherapy, every two weeks for eight weeks, followed by a different chemo drug for another eight weeks, followed by surgery and then radiotherapy. It was around this time that the suggestion of a clinical trial was mentioned to Nicola:

“When my oncologist first mentioned possibly taking part in the Penelope B trial, I was a little dubious if I’m honest. It was 52 more weeks of treatment with another drug. After a while, I thought okay Nicola, this is cancer. Let’s throw everything at it, so I did. Having qualified for the trial, I honestly felt so looked after. It was an added security.

“When you finish your standard treatment plan, it can be a little unnerving as at least when you’re in the hospital bubble you feel safe, so I had the added benefit of one whole year being minded and monitored very carefully.

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I was proud that I participated in a trial that can potentially save lives.

Nicola recalls experiencing some side effects: “Whilst I was on the trial, I felt good although my bloods showed that my white cell count had dropped considerably which indicated that I was on the actual drug and not the placebo. They altered the dosage and that corrected it to some degree. I felt fine. I was probably a little tired but nothing too debilitating.

“My advice to anyone would be to speak to your study doctor. Take away the literature and read it. Write down the questions because you’ll forget. My attitude today is one of utter gratefulness. Cancer is scary but it’s a mental battle so you need to get your head around it and stay positive. My kids are my driving force so they kept me going. It’s not easy and it affects everyone close to you too. You need strong people around you, so no negative Nancys! My mother is 91 years’ young and quite simply an amazing woman. I needed her, just to have a cup of tea. She always had me in tears of laughter. Still does!”

As for the future, Nicola says: “I have travelled a good bit, seen a lot of great places, done what I wanted but I’m not finished. My hopes and aspirations are quite simply to be here for a very long time. I want to enjoy my time and make the most of every day. I have learned that life can be very short. I have lost a lot of good friends on my cancer journey. This is one of the hardest parts of cancer – not everyone survives. I’m blessed to be here. Some say lucky. Either way, I’ll not waste my time.”

Nicola loves to walk her dogs, to socialise whenever that happens again, and also enjoys a spot of Pilates. She is also a keen shopper and loves her style.

Nicola is married to Paul Duffin, and has one son Aaron and daughter Robyn Duffin Lyons. Nicola concludes: “My husband is definitely up there with my best achievements in life. He’s a good man, he has certainly made me a better person. My kids too. They are my everything. I’m very proud of them.”

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Roz, a cancer nurse

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