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Column: ‘I was in work one day and diagnosed with cancer the next’

Being told you have a tumour can be a devastating shock, but there is no need to face the battle alone, says cancer survivor Sheila Hyde.

Sheila Hyde

I WAS DIAGNOSED with breast cancer in January 2011. I experienced pain in my right breast, so I went to the GP even though I thought that it was just a pulled muscle from lifting my little girl. The GP sent me to the breast care clinic where I had a mammogram. They did a biopsy and confirmed I had cancer.

It was a devastating shock to me. There was little time to let it sink in. As soon as I was diagnosed with cancer I was referred immediately for treatment. I had a mastectomy, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and finally hormone treatment.

I have two small children, so my main concern was them. My little boy was nine at the time and my little girl was five. I had to pick a time that I was calm to talk to them about it – I didn’t want them to be frightened. I was sure to use the word cancer because I wanted them to know the name of the illness I had.

I explained to them that I would be getting treatment, but that it would make me better. I told them that I wouldn’t be around as much to play with them and that our routine and life would have to change as I would be getting help to get well again. I wanted to be honest with them, so I told them that I would lose my hair. I knew this might be frightening to them, as it was something I was not looking forward to myself. I wanted to tell them before I started to lose it so that they would be prepared.

My children wore hats to support me

When I did go bald they accepted it very well. My little boy was great. He looked after me and made sure all my needs were met. My little girl was also wonderful as she used to massage my head regularly. They both wore hats to support me, so it actually turned out to be a very positive thing for us as a family. My husband was tremendous. He took on all the parental roles as I just wasn’t physically able.

Following my treatment, people were coming up and telling me how well I looked. They would assume I was feeling much better and everyone was very optimistic and enthusiastic about how positively my treatment had gone.

However, I didn’t feel all that better. People seemed to think that once cancer survivors have gotten through treatment that they must feel well again, but it wasn’t like that for me. I felt about 60 per cent better, but I felt I had another 40 per cent to go. I was exhausted and I couldn’t understand why I was so tired. It upset me.

I was worried that this was how I might feel forever. I called into the Daffodil Centre and shared my feelings with the cancer survival services. The cancer information service nurse explained to me that it was completely normal to feel this way after treatment and she told me I wasn’t alone. I thought it was just me. I was very reassured to hear that I wouldn’t feel like this for the rest of my life and that I was normal.

She provided me with information about after care treatment and gave me some great books that were a real help to me. They weren’t long and complicated, but short and simple. During treatment I found my concentration very poor. I couldn’t read any books throughout the year. I found the pamphlets were very appropriate and to the point. They gave me the information I needed.

Getting support

The nurse then referred me to the survivors’ support programme. It was the turning point for me – it was the best thing I could have done. I was put in touch with a woman my own age who had had a mastectomy. She had gone through the exact same treatment as me. Previous to this I had only been speaking to women that had a lumpectomy.

I can’t specify how important it is that people who have gone through cancer talk to people who have gone through the same treatment.

It was so helpful to hear that you are not the only one experiencing the same symptoms and feelings. We spoke for ages and I felt I could tell her everything. I told here about the exhaustion I was experiencing and she told me it took here a full two years to get over it. That was so reassuring to me. I felt I could stop feeling guilty about being tired all the time. I knew it was normal now.

The Daffodil Centre was somewhere safe for me at a time in my life where everything seemed up in the air. I could drop in at any time and get real answers from real people.

Apart from the illness, the diagnosis comes as a huge shock. There are practical questions you need answered. While you get all the medical jargon from your doctors, there are other questions that come to mind. It may sound stupid when you are dealing with a life-threatening disease, but questions like – how am I going to finance my treatment? Being diagnosed with cancer is something you are just thrown into. I was in work one day and diagnosed with a tumour the next, so it is not something you can plan for financially.

Questions

I had questions about whether I would lose my job, where could I get help, was I entitled to anything through social protection and how do I go about getting a wig? The Daffodil Centre had people on hand to answer all those practical questions about what would happen to the everyday aspects of my life.

When you have survived cancer you embrace every day and make the most of life. It will work out – that is my attitude now. I don’t worry half as much as I used to. I only worry if there is something serious to worry about. I am not wasting my energy worrying about the future anymore, I live everyday as it comes.

If someone is suffering from cancer I would tell them not to go through it alone. Call into your local Daffodil Centre or call the Irish Cancer Society. There is nothing like face to face contact with someone to reassure you that you can get through this.

Sheila Hyde lives in Cork and is a survivor of breast cancer. For more information please call the Irish Cancer Society on 1800 200 700. To get involved in Daffodil Day this year please call 1850 60 60 60.

Read: Daffodil Day campaign aims to raise €3.4m>

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About the author:

Sheila Hyde

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