"Early detection is so important, I would never have dreamt that I would have cancer. There is no history in my family so it’s easy to dismiss a pain or an ache." -Breast cancer survivor Ciara
38 year old Ciara Ní Ghairbhí from Baile an Fheirtéaraigh in Co. Kerry was diagnosed with Ductal carcinoma in situ breast cancer in December 2020.
She admits that she considered her symptoms- a small lump and some stabbing pain in her left breast as slight, and only mentioned them in passing whilst visiting her doctor on another matter.
I wasn’t overly concerned, I had some stabbing pain and a slight lump, but I just put it down to my periods. I mentioned it in passing to my doctor, who thankfully referred me swiftly to the breast care clinic. Everything initially looked ok, so we all just assumed I see them again when I was 50 when called for screening, but luckily the radiographer decided to take a look at my right breast too”.
The Friday before Christmas day 2020, Ciara received a call asking her to attend the Bons Secours Hospital in Cork on the following Monday. She said she knew something was up. It was here she was told that cancer had been detected in her right breast. “I had absolutely no symptoms on this breast, which was definitely the scariest part of the journey”.
“I was by myself, and heard the words, Breast Cancer, DCIS and pre-cancerous cells. I’m generally quite a practical person, but there was a lot of information given to me and I had no idea what was ahead of me as I due to have more tests after Christmas to assess the matter further. I am fit, healthy and in my mind too young for cancer, I was naive. I soon learned that cancer knows no boundaries."
Ciara admits that Christmas was an extremely stressful and worrying time for her. She decided to keep her diagnosis to herself and chose not to tell her family and close friends until after Christmas day.
“I didn’t tell anyone until after Christmas day because I didn’t want to upset them. When I broke the news it was really difficult- seeing everyone else’s emotions- the stress, the worry, the upset and the unknown.”
Two weeks after Christmas, Ciara’s treatment plan was confirmed- a mastectomy which would be followed by radiotherapy. Unfortunately, she was unable to access reconstruction post-surgery due to Covid-19 restrictions, but Ciara hopes to undergo breast reconstruction in the coming months.
“When I heard I would lose my breast that shook me to the core. I was devastated, sad and so upset at the loss of my breast which I had come to see as part of my identity, physique and womanhood. Yet, I was positive, hopeful and determined to overcome this and navigate the road less travelled as I knew it. One week later my breast was removed. Overall my treatment was fairly ok, but I did find the process tough and challenging.” she says. “Entering the hospital doors alone for surgery due to Covid-19 restrictions on a bleak January morning was a vulnerable place to be, yet the warmth of the medical staff made it all so much easier.”
Ciara praises the support she received from the Irish Cancer Society during her treatment. She availed of the Society’sTravel2Care fund, which subsidised her fuel costs travelling from Kerry to Cork each day for treatment. She also contacted the Irish Cancer Society Support Line, who referred her for counselling through her local cancer centre.
“The nurses on the Support Line were fantastic; they referred me for free counselling in my local Arc centre. I would really encourage considering counselling if you are affected by cancer. It’s so important to check in with yourself and acknowledge the emotions that you are feeling at the time. Losing my breast was and still continues to be a grieving process. It was real and cuttingly raw. I was also dealing with a huge amount of shock- my world changed overnight, I was facing into such unknowns and counselling gave me a safe, confidential space, helping me to cope with all of that.” I highly recommend availing of this support.
Ciara is delighted to be supporting the Irish Cancer Society’s ‘Care for your Pair’ campaign this Breast Cancer Awareness month; she encourages all women to know the signs of breast cancer, to check themselves regularly, and to chat to two friends about doing the same.
Ciara is an advocate for wider access to the screening programme as part of an approach that encourages women to visit their GP if they notice anything out of the ordinary.
“Screening at 50 is too late, I advocate for this to be changed- cancer knows no age boundaries. I encourage all women to seek medical support as soon as you feel something is, as in my case, slightly off. I also encourage all women not to be afraid to ask questions. Early detection can make all the difference. I have met amazing people on my journey thus far and am hugely grateful for all the available supports for cancer patients. I cannot speak highly enough of the professional care I have received in the Bons Secours Hospital Cork and Cork University Hospital”.
Though we live in a world that dreams of ending, that always seems about to give in, something that will not acknowledge conclusion insists that we forever begin.
(Begin- Brendan Kennelly)
Learn more about breast health and about how you can support breast cancer patients this October.
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