Clinical nurse specialist Marie from Limerick shares her experience and some words of support for others with metastatic breast cancer
My name is Marie Byrne, I am a clinical nurse specialist in infection prevention and control at University Hospital Limerick and I was diagnosed with breast cancer in August 2020. I then found out in April 2021 that I had metastatic breast cancer.
I felt frozen in time and numb with fear. I was in total shock and unable to comprehend what I would have to face in my future. How could I tell my children, my family, and my friends? I received reassurance from my oncology team that there were many treatments. But I would not be cured. It was the most painful reality.
I grieved for days, weeks and months, consumed with the worst case scenarios. I did not know what to think, what to do and how to cope. What would happen to my job and my career? The importance I had placed on everything I ever knew and planned for became blurred and insignificant.
I surrounded myself in a bubble of a few close friends and family and reached out to counselling services with the Irish Cancer Society. It was self-preservation, taking each day slowly. Counselling has walked with me through these troubling days. It has taught me that it’s ok to cry: it is ok to cry and to grieve. There is nothing wrong with it.
Grief can be uncontrollable, even today it comes and it goes. Remember that. But some day when you are stronger you have to make a decision about your outlook on life: do you spend the rest of your life grieving or the rest of your life living? Every day I wake up I have to make that decision. It’s very difficult to learn to live in the moment because you’re constantly planning, and I have found that I’ve got better at it. The current moment is the only moment we have. We all forget that. Why waste it.
I'm also thankful for my wonderful husband who always supports me, and who tells me to "get out from inside your head" and gets me to live in the moment every day.
I occupy my time with the best that life has to offer - the simple pleasures of life that Covid has made us all appreciate. So weekly I plan nice things to look forward to: walks when I feel up to it, nice lunches, meeting friends and family for coffee, and reunions with old friends, all of which has helped me immensely.
I love the feeling of fresh air on my face and listening to the sound of the breeze through the leaves. It reminds me of the sound of the ocean when you can’t make it to the beach. It’s my form of meditation. On good days in my mind I take a holiday from metastatic breast cancer and pretend it never happened to me. That’s ok too. Life continues: laundry, cooking and cleaning. Take things easy, rest and take as much help as you can get.
Getting reassurance and hugs from friends and family, and advice from the oncology team gives you hope. Cancer treatments have improved immensely which equally gives hope. There are new drugs being developed all the time. It’s incredible to hear the strength of other voices, particularly Vicky Phelan who has been impacted by cervical cancer. Her and many others’ remarkable stories are inspirational to patients with metastatic breast cancer.
For me six months later, I am in a better place coming out of my bubble and thankfully I feel well on my current treatment. As difficult as it is sometimes, I take one day at a time and do my best. That’s all any of us can do.
I am encouraging all women to take the opportunity to have a mammogram, considering the delays that have occurred during the pandemic. Health surveillance improves outcomes. If you are worried or unsure, stop what you’re doing right now and make an appointment. Go with your gut feeling. Check yourself regularly and place your health first because your family and your friends need you too much.
You are precious. Life is precious. So don’t delay.
Learn more about breast health and about how you can support breast cancer patients this October.
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