Nollaig Feehan
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"I was just so shocked, and I could barely say the words ‘breast cancer’ when I came home to tell my husband” 

- Nollaig

In April 2024, Nollaig Feehan decided to check her breasts, prompted to do so by a friend who is currently going through breast cancer treatment. Nollaig, who is 45 years old and living in Mallow in Cork, had previously had a clear mammogram 20 months before. 

“I remember thinking, ‘I should do a check.’ I thought I was someone who did check but now I realise that I hadn’t been checking regularly.” 

When she found a lump, she was not overly concerned – she’d had lumps checked before, and they had proved not to be anything to be concerned about. But this lump was bigger and so two days later, she made an appointment with her GP. 

The mother-of-one was referred for a mammogram where they did a biopsy on the day. She got the results a week and a half later, where she was told she had triple negative breast cancer, grade 2 with further tests required to determine the staging. At this point, it appeared that the cancer was localised. 

“I was really upset, and I remember thinking, ‘how are they going to treat this?.’ I was just so shocked, and I could barely say the words ‘breast cancer’ when I came home to tell my husband,” she says. “I couldn’t stop crying.”

The following day, she met her medical consultant. “He didn’t have any additional results, but I felt so much better after my one-hour consultation with him. I remember thinking that I was going to sleep that night and not wake up crying,” she says. “He walked me through the treatment plan and told me what would be happening over the next while.” 

Nollaig has been working for a pharmaceutical company for the last 12 years, her work focusing on targeted therapies for blood cancers. “This gives me knowledge about some cancers, but it didn’t prepare me for what it’s like to now be a cancer patient,” she says. 

In the days after her diagnosis, she looked up the kind of research articles that she would usually read in the course of her work. “I found those too depressing,” she says. “It’s all about survival rates and statistics and they don’t always look good. From then on, I promised myself I’d stop reading those, and only read things like cancer and nutrition, for example. I suppose I'm finding out more from other people who are going through this and it’s interesting to hear their take on the drugs they are on and what side effects they got, so I’m trying to use that information now instead of doing my own research.” 

Her treatment plan will involve two 12-week rounds of chemotherapy and after that, surgery options will be considered, depending on genetic testing and how large the tumour is after chemotherapy. “I’m just focusing on week by week at the moment,” she says. 

When she returned to the hospital for further scans, she visited the Irish Cancer Society Daffodil Centre there. “I picked up lots of booklets and I did find them helpful, on things like emotional wellbeing during cancer. I even picked the ones that explained the chemo as well because I just wanted to make sure I wasn't missing anything. I found all these useful, even just helping to explain it in layman’s terms to my family,” she says. “I’ve also checked the Irish Cancer Society website a lot, and I plan on using more of the services.” 

The message she would like to get across is that regularly checking your breasts and availing of screening is important. “I felt very guilty at the start that I hadn't found this lump earlier,” she says. “It probably was there and obvious, but I'm lucky that it's still localised.”

She is also trying to stay positive. “I remember one of the first days after my diagnosis, trying to find people to follow on Instagram who are going through this and someone had a post saying worrying won’t change the outcome, and that’s really stuck with me.” 

She also advises against relying on Google for information. “We all like to Google and think we’re medics but I don’t think it’s a good idea because you might find some depressing articles, and they may not be relevant to your situation,” she says. “I think it’s more helpful to talk to other people to have it, and to get professional support.”