In February 2020, one week before her youngest son’s fourth birthday, Louise Collins from Dunshauglin in Co. Meath noticed a small ridge on the side of her left breast. She knew it was something new but wasn’t overly concerned, so put it out of her mind with the upcoming birthday celebrations.
The following week, she visited her GP, who referred her to the Triple Assessment Clinic in the Mater Hospital. However, two days before her appointment, Louise was notified by the hospital that her appointment was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
A few days later, Louise began to panic and rang around hospitals herself to see if she could get an appointment.
She says, “It was a battle to get an appointment, but my own instinct was saying, 'Don’t leave this.'
“I had such a stressful week. The oncologist rang me on the Saturday. I was on my own and he told me over the phone that I had breast cancer. It was absolutely devastating. At 38, it was the last thing I expected, and with Covid-19 it couldn’t have been worse."
Louise and her husband Fergal have three children - Aaron, aged 4, and twins Dylan and Reece, aged 5. She stresses how difficult going through cancer during lockdown was, particularly because they couldn’t have any extended family support due to restrictions. It also meant that Louise had to attend all of her appointments alone and had no visitors during her lengthy hospital stays.
Louise's twins, who were due to start school in September 2020, had to remain at home due to her being high risk.
She tells how her husband Fergal has been her rock throughout it all:
“My husband was my hero. He cut my hair and shaved my head. He did stuff a couple in their thirties shouldn't have to do. We will never take anything for granted again."
Louise’s treatment plan included 16 cycles of chemotherapy and a mastectomy. Her chemo began in April and was extremely difficult. Side effects included extreme exhaustion, persistent nausea and hair loss. Unfortunately, during her chemotherapy, the doctors discovered a blood clot on her heart. This delayed her planned follow-up mastectomy, which was deferred until November 2020.
Louise finished radiotherapy earlier this year and is doing well. Reece and Dylan began junior infants in mid-November 2020, and Aaron has started at Nursery. Louise feels reality is beginning to resume after a nightmare 2020.
Although Louise and her family have had an extremely challenging year, she is so grateful for the support she received from the Irish Cancer Society’s Online & Phone Counselling and Survivor Support services.
She says, “Without the support we got from the Irish Cancer Society, I really don’t think myself, Fergal or the boys could have gotten through it as well."
Learn more about breast health and about how you can support breast cancer patients this October.
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