Edwina’s story – ‘If I didn’t check myself I could have missed my lump’

Last year I found a lump in my left breast and went to see my doctor. I was 37 and it didn't seem like anything to worry about. My doctor wasn't too concerned but I was referred for a mammogram as a precaution.

I rang my doctor afterwards as I thought I could feel a lump in my armpit and I was moved up the list for a mammogram. There is a history of breast lumps and cysts in my family so I wasn't really worried.

I went for a mammogram and ultrasound and biopsy, then went up a week later for the results where I was shocked to find out I had stage three breast cancer and was node positive. I was devastated.

My father had died from cancer in January 2018 so I had an idea of the journey ahead of me. 

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"It was all a whirlwind with CT scans, MRIs and a bone scan.”

Edwina Hayes

As the cancer had grown so quickly they were very thorough.

I found out I had a 4.9cm lump in my breast and a 5.8cm mass in my nodes. I started chemotherapy soon after, and although I'm terrified of needles the team were incredible with me. I was in my own room as I struggled seeing other people getting treatment, but they were all so amazing and supportive in the Dunmanyway Unit.

I finished chemo on 9 February and had my surgery on 18 March. I also had a lumpectomy and axillary node removal. There are lots of physio exercises after surgery which really help, and it's so important to keep doing them. You can feel like you're making no progress, but then there's a huge improvement.

Finishing chemo

Three weeks after surgery I got my pathology results showing the chemo had initially worked, prior to moving on to radiotherapy. I had a setback earlier this year when further tests came back with the shock discovery that my cancer was hormone negative, despite previous genetic testing indicating the opposite.

I started on a course of oral anti-cancer medication to complement the course of treatment I was on so that every eventuality could be covered. I did experience quite a severe form of the expected side-effects from the medications, but felt better after a break and I recently went back to my job teaching in a secondary school on the anniversary of my first day of chemo.

Going through treatment during the pandemic is tough. You are cocooning and the only time you see people is when you’re in hospital.

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“I have a wonderful partner Leonard who was by my side every step of the way."

Edwina Hayes
Edwina Hayes

He has done everything for me and I don't know what I would have done without him through this. It was so hard not being able to do my usual day to day jobs and he took them all on. He was my rock and my shoulder to cry on.

Fertility preservation has also been a big issue for me, and I would like to see more women being given earlier access to ensure greater peace of mind about their fertility prior to starting treatment.

Check yourself

It’s so important for people to check themselves. If I didn't do this I may have missed my lump and everything could have been different. If you feel that something is wrong don't let your age tell you it can't happen to you.

During chemotherapy I raised funds for the Irish Cancer Society by walking on my treadmill in between chemo cycles. I completed a few 5Ks this way and logged this on Twitter. I raised just over €1,200 with the amazing Simon Zebo donating €500 to me, and I had him, ARC Cork and the Irish Cancer Society cheering me on. This support was so important to me as I wanted to stay positive and try to do some good during treatment.

The pandemic has affected us all so it’s really important to keep raising vital funds for the work of charities like the Irish Cancer Society. I also completed their Marathon in a Month challenge before my diagnosis last year raising €600 in honour of my dad. His journey was so important to me as I wanted to make him proud and stay as positive as he did while going through treatment.

Care For Your Pair

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

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