Helen Flynn from Co. Galway was diagnosed with Her 2 positive breast cancer in October 2020 aged 44.
The mum-of-two had been experiencing chronic fatigue and loss of appetite for about 12 months prior to her diagnosis, but she put that down to trauma and stress as herself and her children had spent two and a half years in Galway’s homeless services.
In September 2020 things were looking up for the Flynn family, they had recently secured their own tenancy and her children, Oisín who was 10 at the time and Tom Óg who was 7, who both have autism had been accepted in to a local school with fantastic ASD services.
Helen had noticed what she describes as a “strange and peculiar feeling” in her breast a few months previous. She booked in to see her GP about it, but later cancelled with appointment with the announcement of the first Covid lockdown that March.
In October that year she once again noticed a “very unusual sensation” in her breast so she contacted her GP, who referred her for an urgent triple assessment.
Unfortunately, on the 28th October Helen received the heart-breaking news that she had breast cancer. She says: “I felt utterly devastated. We had already been through so much as a family, and I had just began to think that we could move forward as a family, having secured our new tenancy and gotten the boys into a suitable school for their additional needs.
Helen grew up in an orphanage, and at that stage had only quite recently by that stage made contact with her late mother, from whom she had been estranged, and who had been through the same cancer diagnosis.
As Helen is a lone parent and has no immediate family, she relied heavily on her local community to provide vital support and care for her and her young children while she went through her cancer treatment. Oisín and Tom Óg were looked after by a foster family when Helen was attending chemotherapy appointments and other hospital stays. She says that her local community in Galway have been an incredible support to them throughout her illness.
“I am very proud to be a part of this incredible community and have been blown away by the generosity everyone has shown us. Complete strangers have given us such support. I have been lifted and carried by people and I don’t even know their names," she said.
Going through cancer during Covid was extremely distressing for Helen and she says: “A cancer diagnosis is a very isolating and terrifying thing, but with the added layer of Covid it has been so tough. Cancer has utterly devastated our world. Mum the carer should not get sick and I’ve had to cope with the role reversal - my children have had to care for me.”
Throughout her treatment Helen availed of the Irish Cancer Society Volunteer Driver Service, which provides free transport to and from chemotherapy treatment. She says that the additional support has been a “huge help”.
Helen finished her treatment in January 2022 but still engages with her local Cancer Care West resource centre, where she takes part in weekly rehabilitation classes. She also continues to receive lymphatic drainage massages after being diagnosed with lymphoedema resulting from the removal of the lymph nodes in her right arm.
Helen’s biggest message is: “I advise all lone parents and single women without the benefit of partners to trust their gut instinct from a very early stage and present to their GP for an objective assessment of the many lumps and bumps women carry in their constantly-changing breasts.”
The Irish Cancer Society Support Line is open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm for support and advice on any cancer related issue.