Karen Sugrue 2

‘I haven’t been able to hug anyone’

Karen’s story of receiving a cancer diagnosis during a global pandemic

Tell us your story at tellus@irishcancer.ie

Limerick lecturer Karen Sugrue was diagnosed with breast cancer and began her treatment during the coronavirus pandemic.

Karen (44) noticed a lump in her breast by what she calls ‘dumb luck’ when her finger twitched against it.

That discovery happened on Friday April 24th and on Monday she was able to see her GP – just 23 days later Karen began chemotherapy in the University Hospital Limerick.

“When the system works it really works and it has worked for me,” Karen said – and she wants to encourage others to engage with the health system if they need care during coronavirus.

The outbreak of coronavirus has had an impact on the number of people attending their GP with suspected cancer symptoms, as well an on emergency department attendances.

Karen Sugrue 2

Karen said it is understandable that there is a lot of fear around the health system at the moment – however she says that her experience has left her in awe of the front line staff.

“There isn’t a department of the hospital I haven’t been in in preparation for chemotherapy and everywhere is taking great caution, and being very careful – and they are so kind in spite of their own stress they must be feeling on the front line,” she said.

As an active and healthy young woman it was the last thing on her radar to ever think about a potential cancer diagnosis.

However, Karen said, “My experience is that it’s quite empowering to find it and be able to access the help you need. As I tell my kids this is an illness like any other and I am getting treatment. The treatment is quite strong, but I feel lucky to live in a place and at a time when I am able to get access to it”.

Hearing a cancer diagnosis and undergoing diagnostics, tests and treatment in the context of a global pandemic has added layers of complexity to Karen’s experience.

Karen said she has found there are a “lot of variables that wouldn’t have applied before”.

“I haven’t been able to hug anyone – I know my mam would love to give me a hug and my friends,” she said. As a hugger Karen is looking forward to catching up on all the hugs she is missing out on at the moment!

The issue of cocooning with two children, aged 9 and 12, has also been a difficult one to navigate – something Karen suspects many people across Ireland are struggling with at the moment.

The kindness from people is also something that Karen said she has been really struck by, as well as the number of people who have been in touch to say that they also had cancer but never told anyone.

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For Karen speaking about her experience has been empowering and she really hopes that other women will feel empowered to speak out about their health experiences, but also to reach out for medical advice and help if they need it.

She would also like to raise awareness about the importance of self-examination and being vigilant to potential signs and symptoms of cancer at all ages. Even with the best of intentions she said she would often think ‘I must check myself’ if moved by a story but a lot of the time forgetfulness would kick in.

The Irish Cancer Society has a number of resources available to help you become symptom aware, as well as resources to help anyone cocooning or undergoing treatment at the moment. Our Support Line is also open 7 days a week.

We want to help highlight the experiences of people living with and beyond cancer during the coronavirus pandemic. If you would like to be involved you can email us at tellus@irishcancer.ie

Contact the Irish Cancer Society Support Line

If you or someone in your life is undergoing cancer treatment and are concerned about the coronavirus, you can speak confidentially to an Irish Cancer Society Cancer Nurse through the Freephone Support Line on 1800 200 700.

Monday to Thursday: 9am - 8pm, Friday to Sunday: 9am - 5pm