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'People can live quite happily alongside cancer. I have been doing that for the past 11 years'

Liz Burke writes about her cancer journey on Daffodil Day.

Liz Burke Living with cancer

IF YOUR GUT instinct tells you something’s wrong, it usually is.

In 2007 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I discovered a lump and had a mammogram which instantly showed something was wrong. But I knew that.

Within one week I had the tumour removed, a lumpectomy. I had my nodes checked, they were clear, that was good. And suddenly I was in day care oncology having my first infusion of chemotherapy.

My treatment

I had six sessions of chemotherapy followed by 32 radiotherapy treatments. I was exhausted but couldn’t sleep, nauseated but needed to eat and bald. I got a wig so I wouldn’t be too conspicuous on the school run.

My children were 12, 13 and 15 at the time and I was terrified that they would lose their mother. Now I know everyone says ‘you’d never know that was a wig, it’s so natural looking.’ It wasn’t, it looked like a wig.

I would leave it on the shelf inside the kitchen door as soon as I got home and one day I walked into the kitchen to find the Jack Russell had it in his mouth growling and wrestling with it on kitchen floor thinking it was some sort of animal.

I was devastated

I recovered well following the treatment and things were good. My oncologist was happy.

In 2009 I was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer, some of the cancer cells had travelled to my liver and metastasised there. I was devastated. My oncologist, who is not a man easily defeated, started me on intensive chemotherapy for nine months followed by a maintenance dose for the following two years (the dodgy wig was resurrected).

The chemotherapy would see the liver tumours become inactive. I began to get a glimmer of hope that I might just survive this. And I did. I continued to have a Herceptin infusion every three weeks and things were looking good.

I have CT scans every three months, which can be exhausting. I am always an emotional wreck waiting for the results. I have no patience and want to know instantly.

Horrifying, terrifying

Five years into the three monthly scans I was told: ‘You have a brain tumour’. The oncologist is a straight talker. The breast cancer cells had travelled to my brain. The thought of cancer in my brain was horrific, terrifying.

To make a long story short, I had the tumour removed followed by a very specific stereotactic radiotherapy and eventually I was declared fit and in remission again.

Cancer treatment is not for the faint hearted. I now have three monthly MRIs followed by CT scans and amazingly enough things are good again. The surgeries, the three weekly infusions, the CTs and MRIs have all become part of my normality. It is amazing what you can get used to.

My support system

I have an amazing husband – a saint actually. Three wonderful children, who are now in their twenties who have helped me, laughed with me and cried with me.

It was awful for them I actually think that was the worst thing of all, my beautiful teenage children growing up with a mother with cancer. I felt so sad for them.

I have the best friends in the world who share my black sense of humour and who are the best therapists a girl could ask for.

People survive cancer and people can live quite happily alongside cancer. I have been doing that for the past 11 years. We are lucky we live in an age where new research and new treatments are being constantly discovered.

The money you give on Daffodil Day is funding lifesaving cancer research.

Liz Burke is from Delgany, Co Wicklow. Since 2010 the Irish Cancer Society have invested €25m in research – all of which is from donations like those given on Daffodil Day. Your support saves lives. Buy a daffodil on the day, donate now at cancer.ie/daffodilday or text ‘Daff’ to 50300 to donate €4. Text costs €4. Irish Cancer Society will receive a minimum of €3.60. Service Provider: LIKECHARITY. Helpline: 076 6805278.

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About the author:

Liz Burke  / Living with cancer

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