'I have cancer, this is my news, and this is what is going on with me at the moment.'
Emma Higginson from Tralee, Co Kerry was due to move back to her life in London with her partner and son when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2021.
Emma and her partner Paul were living in London when their son Joel was born on Valentine’s Day, 2020. Within four weeks, London went into its first lockdown, then Paul was furloughed from work. Not long after Paul decided to go back to college, so the family came back to Tralee to complete the year’s study in Ireland.
Emma recalls the moment she noticed something unusual: “I had just finished breastfeeding Joel, and I couldn’t stop itching something on my breast and I found a big, hard lump. I then went to see my GP and was referred to the Breast Clinic in Cork. Three weeks later, the consultant examined me and conducted an ultrasound, I ended up needing ten biopsies.
“At that point I still didn’t really feel anything was wrong. I knew that they just had to check everything out and be careful. The next week, they asked me to come up to Cork for the results. It was only when I arrived at the hospital that I started to become nervous and get butterflies in my tummy. They whisked me in before all the other women waiting and there was a consultant and a nurse sitting there waiting for me," Emma adds.
Emma recalls hearing the news of her diagnosis: “They told me the biopsy had shown that there was cancer present. They also found pre-cancerous cells toward the back of my breast and the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes. I was in total shock, totally dumbfounded."
"After this, they asked me was I planning on having more children, then more tears started to fall. You are in shock about the diagnosis and your own health and then suddenly you have to think about this other element. I hadn’t necessarily planned to have another baby at that point. My little boy wasn’t even a year and a half then. I was just getting used to having him around.”
Emma had fertility preservation treatment, she was then prescribed 16 rounds of chemotherapy, 4 rounds of AC, and every two weeks, followed by 12 rounds of Taxol on a weekly basis. Emma has just finished her second round of Taxol, she will have either a lumpectomy or mastectomy in November, then radiation. Emma will then undergo hormone treatment for five years.
Emma used the Irish Cancer Society website to find information and support: “I find it always has the answers to any question I have. I know that I can trust what I am reading and know I am getting accurate advice,” she notes.
When discussing her young son, Emma laughs, “He is oblivious to the whole thing. Even when I lost my hair, he never batted an eyelid. I was afraid he wouldn’t recognise me. He is funny, yesterday he took off my turban and placed his teddy bear puppy dog atop my head!”
Emma mentions something she has learned so far from her experience: “For me, I have found talking about my cancer so important. I found some people are afraid to say the word ‘cancer’ to me. I don’t think it should be so taboo. It’s affected so many people, when you think about it. It’s okay to talk about it and discuss it, it almost just makes it scarier if we don’t do that."
Emma acknowledges that not everyone feels this way about being diagnosed: “Some people don’t want to talk about it at all, I understand that. For me however, I want people to feel confident and comfortable to talk to me about it. I have cancer, this is my news, and this is what is going on with me at the moment.”
Learn more about breast health and about how you can support breast cancer patients this October.
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