When 46-year-old Aileen Murphy found a lump in her breast in August of last year, she went to have it assessed straight away rather than wait for her routine scheduled mammogram the following month.
Aileen’s instincts that something might be wrong were correct, and soon after she was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer.
She chose to move from her home in Cork to be with her parents in Limerick while she received treatment there. It all moved very quickly: her lump was removed, and she began chemotherapy in October.
“I finished chemo on 28th February and had wonderful plans to spend a week with family celebrating the end of it, but that all changed,” said Aileen who, as an extremely medically vulnerable person, began cocooning with her parents amid the Covid-19 outbreak.
Strange as it may seem, Aileen says that even during this very uncertain time she was still able to enjoy the camaraderie involved in going for her weekly chemotherapy sessions and catching up with the other patients.
She began radiotherapy at the end of April, and over the course of her treatment Aileen found this to be a very different experience in the hospital.
“Personally I found it different going through radiotherapy without the supports I had during chemotherapy like being able to bring someone in with me, but the sunshine did help on my daily hospital trips.
“The staff were extremely careful due to my infection risk. I would ring the hospital and let them know I was outside, have my temperature checked and be asked some questions about how I was feeling.
“I came in one door and out a different one to make sure I wasn’t in contact with anyone, and all the furniture and equipment was constantly being cleaned. They made me feel very safe.
“The staff are learning a new way of dealing with patients and they are trying to make it as easy as possible. They're fantastic.”
Despite the isolation of being cocooned Aileen says she still feels very connected to friends outside her home through video calls and the occasional social-distanced conversations over coffee.
Aileen says she has been fortunate with the tremendous support she has received from family, friends and even strangers throughout her cancer journey, both before and during the current pandemic.
“People have just been wonderful. Even with friendships where I hadn't much contact previously, this experience has strengthened my connections with them ironically.
“From the incredible local pharmacy worker who has helped with bringing my prescriptions, to the gifts, flowers and packages I’ve received in the post- I’ve experienced such kindness it’s made me cry tears of happiness.
“For instance, I’ll always remember my first day of chemotherapy. I was a ball of nerves but I got a lift from the Irish Cancer Society Volunteer Driver, and she was just so nice and calming and relaxing- the difference she made for me was amazing.”
Some 10 months on Aileen is now finished her radiotherapy, and she has advice for anyone in the same position as her who notices an unusual change in their body.
“You know your own body better than anyone else. GPs and the health service is still here for us, so don’t delay in getting yourself checked out.”
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 Friday, 9.00am - 5.00pm