Leona Connolly had been feeling well when her yearly mammogram showed that she had a lump in her breast. A biopsy revealed that the lump was a tumour and Leona was diagnosed with invasive ductal breast cancer in December 2018. “I had felt nothing and I was in great form,” recalls Leona, who lives in Dublin. “It was found only because I went in for that routine mammogram.”
Her treatment plan began with surgery and chemotherapy. “I had HER2-positive breast cancer and I started my chemo, which was every two weeks with four sessions of AC. Then I had 12 weeks of Taxol and I had a year of Herceptin every three weeks,” Leona explains. She also had four weeks of radiotherapy and she eventually finished her treatment in May 2020.
Leona has found that life after cancer has not been without difficulties, after developing some side effects because of treatment.
“What happened with me was that I was great for about a year and then I developed lymphoedema. I had a lot of my lymph nodes under my arm taken out in my second surgery and I developed lymphoedema so my arm would blow up and go down,” says Leona. “To be honest, I didn’t really deal with it, which is a lesson in itself. I thought it might go away. My neutrophils, which are part of the white cells, never really recovered after chemotherapy and I now have a condition called chronic neutropenia. In the last year and a half, I have been hospitalised three times with severe cellulitis. I’m on penicillin and an antiviral for the next two years to try and keep these infections at bay.” Leona is also on hormone therapy drug Tamoxifen, and one of the side effects from this is joint pain.
“People talk about the cancer and they talk about the shock of it and they talk about going through it but you don’t hear about the longer term as much,” she says.
“There’s an expectation that you have, and that others have, that you can get your life back now that the cancer is gone. When I was having my chemotherapy, I remember a nurse asking me how I was doing with it with all and I told her I was good. She gave me some advice. She said that when all of this is over, if you feel like you’re not coping with the end of it and going from having four hospital appointments a week to nothing for a year, make sure you talk to somebody. I thought she was crazy – why would I want to talk to someone when it’s all over? But she was right. Treatment is so full on and then you’re done, and it’s ‘am I on my own with this?’”
She is grateful for the tremendous support of her family and friends throughout, and she wants to share her story in the hope that it might help somebody else reading this.
“It’s vital to look after yourself after cancer,” she says. “I am not complaining and I’m glad to be here to tell my story but after treatment, people need to follow up on side effects like lympodoema. That’s very important.”
Contact the Irish Cancer Society Support Line
If you have worries or concerns about cancer, you can speak confidentially to an Irish Cancer Society Cancer Nurse through the Freephone Support Line on 1800 200 700.
Monday to Friday, 9.00am - 5.00pm
For more information