During the summer of 2007, Rachel O’Mahony took the opportunity to have a health screening, which was offered via her work. A breast check was included in the screening and Rachel, who was generally in good health, mentioned to her doctor that she had recently been experiencing some breast tenderness.
Rachel was then referred to a breast surgeon, and 10 days before this appointment, Rachel found a tiny, pea-sized lump on her breast. She recalls not being overly concerned. “I was not feeling unwell and I was fit, healthy and active,” says Rachel, who lives in Co Clare. However, after a triple assessment, she was told that she had breast cancer. “It was a huge shock,” she says. “I was watching it play out like an out of body experience. I was thinking, is this happening? Has the surgeon really said those words?”
The following week, she underwent a mastectomy and also had some lymph nodes removed. This was followed by chemotherapy and radiotherapy and she also took part in a clinical trial for the cancer drug Lapatinib. Although she was eventually taken off this drug, she was still monitored as part of the trial and she is a patient advocate for research that looks at new ways to prevent, detect or treat cancer.
“I received a lot of support during my journey, so it’s nice to be able to give back."
“I am passionate about clinical trials and sometimes they’re not offered and there’s little awareness there so I would say to people, ask your doctor, get the information so you can make a decision and see what’s right for you,” says Rachel. “I’m very aware that my own Mum only got seven months after she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and my Aunt who also sadly passed away from cancer, didn’t get the same chance. There’s so much progress being made in research and treatment plans and targeted treatments and I’ve met so many people over the years who are living beyond cancer, and living well.”
Because of chemotherapy, Rachel went through early age menopause aged 38 and two years later, she had her ovaries removed. “We didn’t have children, and there were challenges with that, but you always hope, and that was now gone,” says Rachel.
She continued with hormone treatments for another 10 years and today, Rachel is back to full health and fitness. She is always happy to share what she learned from her own experience with other people who have received a cancer diagnosis.
“I received a lot of support during my journey, so it’s nice to be able to give back. Everyone is going to experience it differently but little pieces of advice really helped me. A friend’s Aunt who had breast cancer advised me to get my wig before I started chemo because I’d be in a good mindset to do it then, and this was a great tip. I suggest to people to have a notebook and record how you’re feeling every day, so you can tell your doctor on your chemotherapy visits because you can forget things. You’ll see a pattern emerging from your notes and that will allow you to plan, for example on day 8 after chemo, the fog is lifting. That gives you a bit of hope as well.”
Something that also helped her was receiving a text from a friend. “I always say that people may not feel like talking to you, they mightn’t feel well but just send a text to say you’re thinking of them and that will just brighten up their day.”
During her treatment, Rachel used the services of Inis Aoibhinn in Galway, which accommodates cancer patients who are receiving radiotherapy treatment at UHG. “They offered the most wonderful support there and different workshops like wellness and mindfulness. I found that just invaluable,” says Rachel.
Rachel adds: “Your support will come from everyone around you, your family, your friends and the hospital. They’re all championing you to be well and that’s what gets you through. There is so much access now, that you can also go online and see all the supports that are out there for you.”
Rachel is delighted to be supporting Daffodil Day 2022 and when asked about a day that cancer took from her she says: "We visit Dingle many times a year as it holds a very special place in our hearts. A very good family friend who lives there was celebrating her 60th birthday, organised by her daughter and son. Her granddaughter, who is our beautiful goddaughter who we adore, was also going to be there. We weren’t able to attend because I wasn’t well. It was a family gathering and we are always included, which we truly appreciate. We missed out on her special day but thankfully, we have had many more memorable days with her and the family since and for which I am very grateful."
Cancer takes so much from so many, this Daffodil Day we are taking back from cancer so that one day cancer can take no more.
You make that happen.
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
For more information