Helen McGonagle was initially hesitant to attend her Breast Check appointment in November 2017 “I was very busy at the time and if I am honest when I received the appointment notice, it wasn’t extremely convenient for me.

However last minute I decided that I better go and get checked out. So I went and had my mammogram, then the next week I got a letter calling me back for further tests and potentially a biopsy.”

Helen was alarmed to receive a call back as she had a family history of breast cancer “I had no symptoms but I decided to bring my husband with me in case, I am so glad I did because that day they told me although they couldn’t be sure yet, they were pretty certain it was cancer.”

Helen’s results confirmed it was breast cancer and she was then scheduled for a lumpectomy” I remember the day I was discharged following the surgery I had my daughter’s play to attend, I didn’t want to tell many people just yet about the diagnosis. The nurse gave me a sling so I could put my arm across my breast so that way no one would get too close to me. That was what I needed at that time and it was a real life saver.” Says Helen, who is a music librarian.

quotations Created with Sketch.

“I thought the worst was over for me, but I actually found the next period so much harder. "

Helen began her chemotherapy treatment, once every three weeks followed by twenty-four sessions of radiotherapy. 

“Throughout my treatment I found great comfort in the Irish Cancer Society’s website. I would sometimes find myself on different scary online forums late at night when I couldn’t sleep but I would always bring myself back to the Society’s website to get reassurance.” Recalls the Cork local.

Helen discusses the difficulties she faced following her active treatment “I thought the worst was over for me, but I actually found the next period so much harder. I began taking Tamoxifen in September 2018 and felt like I went into menopause overnight. 

I had every symptom going – night sweats, day sweats, vaginal bleeding, eye dryness, vaginal dryness. I felt like I couldn’t even sit down without discomfort. It was horrendous. I ended up having to come off Tamoxifen in December 2020. ” 

If I could go back I would like to have been better prepared for the side effects of hormone treatment and the meaning of the label ‘may cause menopausal symptoms’. I had no idea what I was getting into.” Helen says.

“My mother now has secondary breast cancer and has been using the Irish Cancer Society Volunteer Driver service. It has been an absolute life saver for my family. She lives near Dublin and I live in Cork and neither of my siblings live nearby her either.

I thought moving on from my cancer diagnosis would be quicker than it has been. I have been going to some counselling but four years on, I am still coming to terms with it. I had gene testing done for the BRCA gene, thankfully that was negative.”

Share your story

If you would like to share your story you can contact us at tellus@irishcancer.ie 

Contact the Irish Cancer Society Support Line

If you have worries or concerns about cancer, you can speak confidentially to an Irish Cancer Society Cancer Nurse through the Freephone Support Line on 1800 200 700.

Monday to Friday, 9.00am - 5.00pm

Roz, Cancer Nurseline

For more information

Icon: Phone



Icon: Email