Mary O’Callaghan, who lives in North County Dublin, was completely shocked to receive a breast cancer diagnosis three years ago. “I had no symptoms and it’s one of the reasons I want to share my story. I had a healthy lifestyle- a good diet, plenty of exercise and I had never smoked. People might expect to find a lump or have a discharge or all of the things we know to look out for but I had no symptoms at all.”
She was visiting her GP in August 2019 for something unrelated when it came up in conversation that Mary’s younger sister, who lives in the US, had been diagnosed with breast cancer two years earlier. She had not told the family until she had finished treatment because she didn’t want to worry them. Mary’s doctor immediately sent her for a mammogram and this is how her breast cancer was subsequently discovered.
Her diagnosis was invasive ductal breast cancer, oestrogen receptor positive, HER 2 negative, grade 2. “Because of where it was located, I’d have never found the lump, or if I did, it might have been too late,” she says.
“It could so easily have been a different outcome. I was privileged to have had excellent care from a highly motivated and skilled team. I also wish to share my story with others to show that everyone’s cancer journey is different and that we must all be vigilant no matter what our age is - I am 74. It is imperative that older women continue with their mammograms despite the cut-off age of 69 for breast cancer screening.”
Mary began her treatment, which included two surgeries and both chemotherapy and radiation simultaneously. “Some days I was having chemo in the Bons Secours Hospital and then going straight into Beaumont for radiation,” she says. “It was heavy going but I’m blessed with a very good supportive husband and family.” She then started on Tamoxifen, which was switched to Arimidex, as this had fewer side effects for her.
“Don’t waste a minute and enjoy whatever you’re doing at every moment. Life is even more precious after a life-changing event, and good health is attainable with a good diet, exercise and loving support.”
Mary also adds, “I think the more we share our story, the less intimidating it becomes for people who are scared that they might have breast cancer. Younger people are more open and more inclined to share things with others. Talking about breast cancer has, thankfully, become more normalised due to social media and better communication.
My generation or older, may still feel that there is some stigma attached to breast cancer and they don’t feel comfortable talking about it. I want people of my age group to know that it is ok to talk about it, and that support is there for them .”
Mary is delighted to be supporting the Irish Cancer Society's Care For Your Pair campaign for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. To learn more about the campaign, visit: cancer.ie/careforyourpair #CareForYourPair
Host a Big Pink Breakfast
Host a Big Pink Breakfast this October to support breast cancer patients and their families across Ireland.
Find out more at: Cancer.ie/CareForYourPair