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Dublin: 9 °C Thursday 4 June, 2020

'That phonecall gave me strength': How the Irish Cancer Society supports people like Caitríona

The organisation is operating a support line seven days a week, for anyone worried or affected by cancer.

Breast cancer survivor Caitríona Plunkett.
Breast cancer survivor Caitríona Plunkett.
Image: Andres Poveda

CAITRÍONA PLUNKETT’S TRIPLE negative breast cancer diagnosis came in June 2016, on the same week she turned 35. “It was a whirlwind,” she recalled in an interview with the Irish Cancer Society.

“I just remember the consultant telling me, ‘I’m very sorry but there are cancer cells present’.”

Three and a half years on and following chemotherapy, a mastectomy to remove her right breast and a reconstruction, Plunkett is now a breast cancer survivor – and a volunteer with the Irish Cancer Society. The mother of two credits the charity’s Cancer Nurseline for helping her navigate the tough days and weeks following her diagnosis:

“It really is a strange time, you’re stuck in an odd timewarp where you’re getting a diagnosis, and then you’re getting a treatment plan, and people are talking a new language. Everything is happening so quickly, yet so slowly.

…I remember I googled ‘cancer helpline’ and the number for the Nurseline came up, 1800 200 700. My head was racing, but the person at the other end of the line calmed me and told me to just take it all day by day. 

“That call gave me the strength to go into my appointment the following day… I was able to go through appointment after appointment, scan after scan, session after session of chemotherapy, and just take it day by day. Those simple words had a huge impact.”

Comfort, advice and support

There’s a massive value in being able to speak to someone who can not only offer a friendly ear, but who can answer your questions and share the “proper facts”, says Plunkett:

It is when you have the information that you can feel empowered and take back control.

That balance of practical advice and reassurance is something Plunkett now tries her best to offer others, as part of her volunteering work with the Irish Cancer Society’s Survivor Support service. 

The service allows those who have recently had a cancer diagnosis, or those who are facing a possible diagnosis, to have one-on-one conversations with someone who truly understands what they are going through.

Someone who knows what you’re going through 

All Survivor Support volunteers have had a cancer diagnosis at some point in their lives. Volunteers are carefully selected, and trained by the Irish Cancer Society to help others during what can be an incredibly overwhelming time.

“You have the support of your friends and family, but sometimes you just want to talk to somebody who you don’t know,” says Plunkett. “[The service] offers a confidential space where people can speak and not be judged, and where they can talk things through.”

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She says she often finds herself sharing those powerful words she heard back in 2016:

It’s something I always say to any of the ladies I get to work with… just take it day by day.

The Irish Cancer Society knows the value of support at worrying times.

The charity is now operating a Support Line seven days a week for anyone worried or affected by cancer with information on any cancer related issue, including concerns about coronavirus, advice on financial or employment matters, to arrange free cancer counselling or to speak to a Cancer Nurse.

The support line can be contacted on Freephone 1800 200 700 or at cancer.ie.

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