“It’s been a journey I never imagined myself being on, going through two cancer diagnoses in three years, before the age of 40,” says Emer Kelly. The Celbridge-based mother-of-two first noticed that a mole had begun to change on her arm in February 2018.
She visited a doctor – not her usual GP – who said it was a wart and advised her to burn it off. “When I did that, this ‘jellybean’ like spot grew where the mole was,” Emer says. “At that point, I discovered I was pregnant with my second child and I foolishly thought that I couldn’t do anything about the growth while I was pregnant.” When she visited another doctor, she was told that the ‘jellybean’ was likely to be scar tissue and that she needed to see a dermatologist.
A week later, the referral arrived and the appointment with the dermatologist was scheduled for January 2020, over a year and a half away. "I shudder to think what would have happened if I had not seeked a further opinion."
“My message is: don’t sit and wait.
With the mole change, I thought I couldn’t do anything because I was pregnant. Perhaps if I’d seen a dermatologist at the beginning, it may never have come to anything.”
In October 2018, Emer celebrated the arrival of her second child. When she brought her baby daughter to a new GP for vaccinations, the doctor noticed her arm and told her the growth would have to be removed. Emer told him of her previous appointment however her GP advised that this needed more urgent attention. In February 2019 when Emer's baby was just four months old, Emer was seen in St James’s Hospital where a biopsy indicated the growth was melanoma and that cancer was also present in some of her lymph nodes. "This diagnosis was so traumatic and from the first biopsy I could not lift my newborn so I needed so much help at home. For me the most important thing was to keep life as normal as possible for my two girls, which was very challenging for us all." Emer had lymph node removal surgery and a skin graft, followed by radiotherapy.
In summer 2020, during covid lockdown, Emer started to experience muscular chest pain when she did certain movements, as she was having scans every six months in St James's which were coming back clear she didn't over worry. In January of 2022 she mentioned the continuing pain in her chest to her dermatologist, he sent her for a mammogram, which also indicated no abnormalities. However, a subsequent ultrasound showed shadows in her left breast. Following 3 biopsies Emer was then diagnosed with estrogen receptor (ER) breast cancer. “It was the same side as my melanoma but it was unrelated. I was in total disbelief that once again I was being told I had cancer, there was no history of breast cancer in my family so I could hardly believe what I was hearing. I had no lump or bump, no "typical breast cancer symptoms" it was just a collection of cells, which for me was scary because I might still be living my life as normal now not knowing it was there.”
Emer had a mastectomy and a reconstruction in June 2022, followed by three months of chemotherapy. She is currently recovering from her treatment and she will continue taking hormone therapy for the next few years. "It has been a challenging year once again for myself and my family but I am really looking forward to Christmas this year and family time. I now take one month at a time and don't sweat the small stuff."
"I would say to everyone please be vigilant and don't let changes in your body go unchecked and seek a second opinion if you are not satisfied. To anyone recently diagnosed, please go easy on yourself, allow yourself to be upset and angry, seek help and support, there are great support services available through the Irish Cancer Society. Take all the help that is offered, whatever it may be. People want to assist, so accept graciously even if you are feeling well. There are brighter days ahead if you allow them."
Daffodil Day 2023
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