Care For Your Pair - Catriona Kavanagh's story

'I would always say to women, check yourself at least once a month. Early detection is the best treatment out there.'

Catriona Kavanagh from Co. Wicklow was diagnosed with HER2+ Oestrogen breast cancer in May 2019, aged 38.

The mum-of-one had noticed a lump under her right breast when applying deodorant, so made an appointment with her GP the following day. After an examination, her GP referred her to St Vincent’s Hospital for a triple assessment. One week later, Catriona heard the devastating news that she had breast cancer. The tumour was 6.2cm in length and had spread to her lymph nodes.

“It turned my life upside down. I was only 38. You just don’t expect it. I think telling my parents was probably the hardest part. They hate to see anyone getting sick before them. I was devastated but when my doctor told me it wasn’t a death sentence, that gave me a great boost,” Catriona says.

In June 2019, Catriona began chemotherapy treatment. Unfortunately, she contracted pneumonia, resulting in her being hospitalised for three weeks. Her chemotherapy finished just before Christmas 2019. In January 2020, she underwent a right breast mastectomy and full lymph node clearance, before starting radiotherapy in February 2020. Catriona finished her treatment just a few weeks after the coronavirus pandemic hit Ireland. She says that the hardest part of finishing treatment at that time was the anxiety around being so medically vulnerable.

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"I didn’t see anybody and I had to be so, so careful. I had fear and anxiety throughout, and having virtual calls instead of appointments meant that I didn’t have that reassurance of speaking to my medical team face-to-face. I’m finding it tougher now to get my life back."

Catriona Kavanagh
Care for your Pair

Catriona’s treatment forced her into early menopause, meaning she cannot have any more children; something she says has been tough to deal with.

During her treatment, Catriona and her son Aaron availed of free counselling through her local cancer centre to deal with the emotional impact of her diagnosis, something she believes was incredibly beneficial.

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"I personally found it so good to talk to someone outside or friends and family; someone who knew how to help me emotionally, physically and mentally. Counselling helped me to overcome the fear of reoccurrence, my anxiety, and it was then I could see the huge difference and weight lifted from me.”

Catriona Kavanagh
Catriona Kavanagh

"Aaron was just 11-years-old and an only child, so for him it was brilliant. I could see the smile coming back on his face every time he walked out from his sessions. He opened up so much more to Mary, the counsellor. These wonderful people are there to help and guide you, and I would encourage anyone impacted by a cancer diagnosis to reach out for help."

Catriona is a hairdresser by trade but is yet to return to work post-diagnosis. She plans to take the rest of this year off work to recover her body and mind, and recently returned to running and yoga. She is also busy planning her wedding to partner John, which is set to take place in Greece in 2023!

Catriona's advice this breast cancer awareness month:

“I would always say to women check yourself at least once a month. Early detection is the best treatment out there. You know your own body - so if you notice anything unusual at all, go get it checked out.”

Care For Your Pair

Learn more about breast health and about how you can support breast cancer patients this October.

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