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A miraculous journey - my battle with breast cancer

My journey began in a miraculous way. One evening, I picked up a copy of the Herald that had been left lying in the bedroom.

It was a few days old, but something made me sit on the edge of the bed and flick through it. It was Breast Cancer Awareness month and my eyes rested on an article with the heading: 'If you are reading this article and have not checked your breasts in the past month, put the paper down and do so now'.

Although I had had a clear mammogram a year earlier, I automatically did as I was told. I placed my hand on my breast and immediately felt a lump under my fingers. In that split second, my heart stopped. Panic and fear crept over me.

All the things I had heard and feared about breast cancer swirled round in my head. "It can't be cancer. There's so much I have to do," I thought. It was the longest night of my life. And so my journey began . . .

Upon visiting my GP the next morning, she immediately recommended a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy.

Words such as 'mastectomy', 'chemotherapy', 'radiotherapy' entered my life, which saw me stumbling blindly through the first few weeks. The wake-up call had arrived . . .

While the medical teams were doing their job, I found myself deciding on how I would deal with the situation. I sought the advice of a number of alternative health practitioners and began the process of making radical changes to my diet and lifestyle.

I found myself juicing all kinds of green vegetables, wheatgrass, and sprouting various seeds. I was consuming gallons of water and taking various supplements. This was an area I was very interested in prior to getting cancer -- but I had put such changes on the long finger. This would be no longer the case.

I've always had an insatiable lust for life. Along with my family and friends, I love clothes, make-up, tending to my home and garden, taking my dog for a walk, socialising, holidays, attending philosophy classes. I was living life to the full -- and I had plans and hopes for the future.

There was still so much I wanted to do -- seeing my daughter settle down and maybe have children. Cancer wasn't going to stop me, I decided.

My consultant told me he was confident he had removed all the cancer during surgery, the chemotherapy and radiotherapy was my "insurance" in going forward. I had prayed for a second chance -- and my prayers were answered.

There were many humorous moments along the way also, moments that were a reminder that there was a life going on alongside the apparent nightmare that was unfolding around me.

I really was so grateful to the consultant who, having agreed that she had 'concerns' while viewing an ultrasound, gave me a 'tap on the bum' when I had finished dressing, saying: "It is very scary now, Sally, but it will be all right in the end." I clung to these words in the weeks that followed.

After I had surgery, I looked ahead to chemotherapy. Before I began my treatment, a nurse sat me down to discuss the side effects.

When it came to discussing hair loss, she was especially sensitive, but I was actually feeling that this was a small price for another shot at life. My daughter and I had so much fun picking out the wig and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it.

Everyone was amazed at how much it suited me. As I began my chemotherapy, my anxieties were soon put to rest by the cheerful nurses and patients, people who had already formed relationships from meeting over the course of treatment, supporting each other and comparing symptoms.

There was no mention of the word 'economy' on our ward -- we had woken up to a different perspective on life. In the 12 months since that article urged me to examine myself, I have enjoyed the most enriching experience of my life.

While my initiation into this unknown was terrifying, my fears were gradually eroded as I drew on my inner resources and made positive choices about my life. It was not an easy journey but was one which I would like to share with others because of the positivity and generosity I experienced.

What started as a life-threatening illness became, in effect, life-saving.

My story is an attempt to dispel the myths surrounding breast cancer and help others put aside the fear and negativity, in exchange for positivity, hope and an eternal gratitude for life itself.

The treatment is complete, I am returning to work this week, a very different person to the one that left 11 months ago. My health shall be monitored for a further few years.



compassionate

I owe my life to the Herald which ran the article, the GP who wasted no time in moving things along, the gentle and compassionate surgeon who broke the bad news on a cold Friday evening, the bright and cheerful oncologist who guided me through my treatment and my devoted husband, daughter, brothers, sisters and many friends for their patience and care.

Thanks to the nurses, radiotherapists and all the hospital staff, I have never felt better cared for in all my life.

The reason, therefore, for delivering this message and telling my story is to give others similar hope, to show the way you choose to deal with cancer can become positively life-changing or life-threatening, depending on your choice as a human being.

I believe that while we may not have a choice in what life presents, we certainly have a choice in how we meet it. I also felt that at a time when there is so much negativity around, that I wanted to redress the balance in some way by speaking the truth of my experience.

For more information visit www.cancer.ie