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Dublin: 15 °C Monday 3 August, 2020
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'This week I had to receive the results of my latest scan on my own'

Holly Kennedy is doing her best to handle her treatment for breast cancer, while all around her has changed.

Holly Kennedy

MY NAME IS Holly Kennedy and I am thirty-five years old. I live in Dublin with my husband Derek and our young son Andrew, age three. I am currently battling breast cancer for the second time. 

In December 2016 I was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer. I went through thirteen months of treatment including chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy. 

My diagnosis meant life as I knew it completely changed. I went from going to mum and baby playgroups to going to chemo and being one of the youngest women there. It was surreal and at the beginning, I found it incredibly difficult mentally.

Life changed overnight

In the first few weeks, the only place I found relief from the nightmare was while I slept. Eventually, I started to learn to live again by learning to focus on the positives of my situation. Writing has always been therapeutic for me so I started an online magazine to provide non-medical cancer support at happymagazine.ie.

I began to write there every day and slowly I learnt how to be happy again, during cancer. When my treatment was finally complete, instead of returning to my corporate role as a graphic designer for a global food company, I decided to listen to my heart – I took a redundancy offer and set about turning Happy Magazine into a free hard-copy magazine for all cancer patients in Ireland.

With the help of an army of supportive businesses and volunteers, last year we launched three print issues – 15,000 magazines were distributed to over 90 cancer support locations nationwide. The feedback was incredible and I started to work on plans for the business to expand to the UK, start wellness events and more.

holly-kennedy-25092018-photograph-fran-veale Kennedy set up Happy Magazine as means of support for those with cancer. Source: ©Fran Veale

I was cancer-free for almost two years, until last summer when I started to experience some pain in my side at night. When it didn’t resolve after a few weeks I reverted back to my Oncology team and they ran some scans. Unfortunately, the cancer was back, in my liver, lungs and bones. 

Again, life as we knew it was shattered once more. I was devastated that the cancer was back. I had just started to feel like I had got my life back, that I was finally shaking off the cancer cloud that had visited us – but alas, I had not. I started chemo again right away and have been having treatment for the past seven months.

My family and friends rallied around us again and this time, many of my Happy Magazine readers, most of whom I have never met, did too, with incredible gestures of support.

Their encouragement helped to convince me that I have fought this fight once before and that I will do it again. We jumped into action almost right away. My husband and I set about working with my oncology team and other health professionals to build a robust treatment plan for me, covering everything from pain management and nutrition to sleep aids. The magazine was put on hold. Getting well again became my new full-time job once more.

How has Covid-19 affected us?

We are grateful that Covid-19 has not affected us too much so far. Like so many other families, the three of us are staying home every day and trying to make the best of the situation. Our biggest concern is one of us contracting Covid-19 while I’m vulnerable during chemo. 

Currently, my body has little to no immune system as it is wiped out each time I have a chemo infusion. Before Covid-19 we were limiting my contact with anyone who was sick with even just a cold, now we are completely isolating ourselves from everyone outside of our little family unit of 3 and it seems we will need to do this for some time yet.

As with the rest of the country, our son’s playschool is closed. I’m sad for him as he was really starting to enjoy the activities they did and seeing his little pals every day. My husband is a self-employed mechanic with a workshop in Dublin. He has also closed until we are through the crisis. 

Cocooning family

We haven’t seen my parents (who live in Roscommon) since our last visit in February or my brother and his fiancée since early March. I really miss them all and our regular family get-togethers where we put the world to rights.

My husband’s mom lives near us and is normally a huge help to us with our son, she is now cocooning too as she is over 70 and we have not had close contact with her either for weeks. We call or text her every day and do video calls to keep her in touch with her grandson, but it’s difficult for us all not to be together in person.

I attend my weekly hospital appointments on my own now – before Covid-19 my husband would always have accompanied me for support and to drive me home after receiving my infusions, but now I drive myself. This week I had to receive the results of my latest scan on my own.

Managed isolation

Covid-19 has obviously meant no visits from friends and that has been hard too. A cuppa and a chat with a positive pal really helps me get out of my own head. I also miss simple things like being able to pop into the shops myself for a few things – my husband is doing all of our shopping now.

Going for a drive, a meal out or a little day trip would usually be our sanity saviours after each chemo is over but now we’re trying to find new ways of feeling better at home. 

Covid-19 has also meant increased health expenses for us. We’ve invested in extra supplements to help support my body, and high-quality vitamins for my husband and son to help strengthen their immune systems too. Like many others, we’ve also bought supplies of masks, gloves and hand sanitisers.

We had planned a short break to Cork for March. It was supposed to be a little lift to keep us motivated through my gruelling chemo schedule. I was dreaming about delicious hotel breakfasts and going for a massage – but this is on hold for now. 

Treatment on hold

I’m in the process of being enrolled for a potentially life-saving cancer trial in San Francisco, but this too is on hold for us for the foreseeable future due to the current travel restrictions.

There are two of us here in Ireland with similar diagnoses so currently the trial organisers are investigating if there is a way that they can enrol us without the need for regular travel to the US.

They are trying to find a laboratory here or in Europe that could do the relevant blood work monitoring that they need. We’ve also been in touch with Breast Cancer Ireland to see if there is any way that they can help, either with the trial blood work or with securing compassionate use of any other new cancer drugs, so we are hopeful for some positive news from them soon.

I just pray that time will be on my side and this will happen when it’s meant to. 

We had also started planning a budget holiday to the UK in July, but seeing how desperate the situation is there now, we’ve abandoned these plans. Right now, nobody knows what the world will quite look like in three or six months time. We’ve all been plunged into this frightening and uncertain situation together.

It isn’t easy but my cancer diagnosis has really taught my husband and me what is important in life. We strive to make the best of each day, no matter what is happening.

We work hard on our personal goals and maintaining strong, positive mindsets. We’re not stuck at home, we’re safe at home and we still have so much to be grateful for. There are opportunities for happiness in every minute and we try not to waste any of them.

Breast Cancer Ireland – text “Cure” to 50300 to donate €4.00 to Breast Cancer Ireland across most network operators. Helpline: 076 680 5278.

Holly Kennedy is the Editor of Happy Magazine, a dedicated cancer support magazine for Ireland. Find it online and read their print editions at happymagazine.ie.

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