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"One of the toughest parts was losing my hair... I had pretty long curly hair at the time."

Ruth was diagnosed with breast cancer in June, 2014. She fought hard to beat it.

WHEN RUTH O’SULLIVAN walked into St Vincent’s hospital in June, 2014 she was fairly confident that the news was going to be good.

She had found a lump on her breast by chance a number of weeks before, but nothing sinister had shown up on a number of scans – so all that was left were the biopsy results.

“It was only the biopsy that showed the cancer,” says Ruth.

I went into the hospital on my own to get the results. I hadn’t really told anyone because I didn’t want to be worrying people if it was nothing to worry about.
The first thing the doctor said to me when I came in was, ‘did you come on your own?’ and I knew then that it was bad news.
 As you can imagine it was quite frightening and quite surreal – I really hadn’t expected the news.

Ruth was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer – one of the more aggressive forms. She was lucky that it been diagnosed early, but had to act fast to make sure that it didn’t grow.

Beating cancer for Ruth would be a thee point plan:

  1. Surgery 
  2. Chemotherapy 
  3. Radiotherapy 

Ruth received a lumpectomy in July to remove the tumour. After the surgery, she developed a haematoma (swelling caused by blood gathering outside a blood vessel) and had to be rushed into emergency surgery.

“They discovered then that there were still cancer cells around the area where the tumour had been,” says Ruth.

So they had to go in a third time – which was a bit intense.

After the third surgery, Ruth was told that her margins were clear, and she began her chemotherapy six weeks later.

World Cancer Day

Today is World Cancer Day. The day is designed to raise awareness of an illness that touches almost every person’s life at some stage.

Ireland has the third highest rate of cancer deaths in the EU, new figures compiled by Eurostat reveal, with 30% of deaths in Ireland caused by cancer.

eurostat Source: Eurostat

17% of women in Ireland die from breast cancer. Luckily, Ruth wasn’t one of them.

However, while survival is the ultimate goal, what sometimes gets overlooked is the psychological suffering that come with a diagnosis. Depression, anxiety as well as the physical symptoms can all be part of the battle.

“I was kind of okay after the first session [of chemo],” says Ruth.

“But it all sort of builds up as you go on and I started suffering from the side-effects.”

One of the toughest parts was losing my hair… and I opted to get it all shaved off rather than let it fall out. As it can be quite traumatic when it starts to fall out in clumps.
I had pretty long curly hair at the time so there was a lot of it to take off.

As the chemo went on, Ruth started to suffer from mouth ulcers, electric shocks in her fingertips and extreme fatigue. All of these were dwarfed by extreme bouts of anxiety and depression, which kicked in towards the end of the chemo.

“I had a really bad time with fear and anxiety.”

Not just about cancer but about everything… It’s hard to explain, but I just couldn’t function and I was afraid of everything.
I’d be thinking the worse case scenario was going to happen with everything, it was bizarre.

Ruth attributes this to a combination of the chemotherapy and the reality of her situation – the fact that she actually had cancer and had to fight it – sinking in.

I had been trying to be very strong and upbeat… and I think you can only really hold that for so long and it just started to crack as the reality of the situation hit me.

Recovery

Ruth came through her treatment. Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of the end of her radiation treatment.

However, she says the cancer will always have an effect on her life – that you can’t go through an ordeal like that and not be completely changed by it.

“I’m struggling with depression now and still have anxiety – it’s still a big part of my life,” she says.

It’s about trying to figure out how to go forward from here and deal with the issues that came on the heel of the diagnosis and treatment.
As life goes on, the time extends between what happened and it’s not as raw… so I’m hoping that things will improve over the next while.
“It’s a time thing – allow yourself the time that it takes and that’s just another thing to try figure out and come to terms with.”
Anyone looking for more information on cancer can visit the Irish Cancer Society’s website.

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About the author:

Cormac Fitzgerald

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