'The hair loss is difficult to deal with but it’s a small price to pay.'
It was during a spot of virtual Zumba in her living room that Martina Balfe began noticing a pain in her chest.
“I was doing Zumba classes on Zoom at home with my daughter during the lockdown and I just got a pain in the side of my chest. At first I thought it was just my underwear digging into me, and over the weekend that turned into tremendous pain so I went to the doctor on Monday,” says Martina.
“I’ve been getting blood tests and scans for ovarian cancer over the last 20 years since my mother passed away from it so I was due to go in anyway, so I mentioned to him about the pain and he had a feel and said it was a lump and that he wasn’t happy with it.
The timing of the diagnosis she was about to receive in the middle of lockdown meant an already difficult experience became all the more isolating for Martina.
“That was at the end of March this year, they told me to come back in three weeks’ time and to bring someone with me as I was on my own then with Covid restrictions. I went back and was diagnosed on 7 April with a 6.5 centimetre grade 3 tumour, and I was told it was triple negative breast cancer, a rare, aggressive cancer, that’s harder to treat that usually effects younger women,” she recalls.
The treatment plan was six months of aggressive chemotherapy, surgery and then radiation treatment afterwards.
Thankfully, things have been progressing reasonably well since then for her.
“The hair loss is difficult to deal with but it’s a small price to pay.”
Martina is an advocate for wider access to the screening programme as part of an approach that encourages women to keep on top of their health and pinpoint any worrying signs, and she believes women need to be listened to when they have concerns to share.
“The breast screening starts for women aged 50 and over yet many breast cancers are also found in women under 50. Women should be asking their GPs to check their breasts regularly. It takes minutes. A lot of women don’t know what they are looking for when doing breast checks themselves, and there is some helpful information on this on the Irish Cancer Society’s website.”
The 48-year-old Clonee woman also had a negative experience of hospital car parking, being forced to sometimes take the train to chemotherapy sessions as a result.
“Car parking is a nuisance. It’s expensive and you might go in and not even get a space, so I’m relying on family and friends to drop me in and collect me. I’ve been going in on the train to get my chemo on many occasions.
“When I was seeing the oncologist for the first time to get my treatment plan my husband had to leave three times to feed the meter outside the Mater Hospital. It’s a real added stress for people.”
Learn more about breast health and about how you can support breast cancer patients this October.
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