Together we are standing up to cancer

Hi, I’m Gráinne, and my husband, Declan, and I have 3 kids, Eve (14), Luke (13), and Ruby
(13), and not forgetting our little dog Cody!
In October 2021, aged 48, I found a lump in my breast. My GP referred me to the Breast
Care Clinic in the Bons, and 4 weeks later I was diagnosed with Stage 1 HER2 positive breast
cancer. My life changed in a heartbeat.
I don’t think anything prepares you for the trauma that is a cancer diagnosis. I felt like I
went into shock, it was like a car crash in my head. I couldn’t absorb any information or
focus on anything anyone was telling me. All I could think about was my kids and how was I
going to tell them!
Declan and I met my oncologist 2 days later and she was a much-needed ray of positivity.
The cancer was very treatable, and we were aiming for a full recovery. Armed with that
information we told the kids, a heart-breaking moment you hope you’ll never have to face.
We reassured them that I was going to be fine, but that the treatment would make my hair
fall out, make me very tired, and make me appear sick, but that it would ultimately make
me better. I joked that I was going to have less hair than their dad, and we all laughed…and
cried.
Just 9 days after my diagnosis I started chemotherapy. It was 25 th November, Thanksgiving
Day, and I found it appropriate that I would start my life-saving treatment on that day. I was
truly grateful; grateful that I found the lump, grateful that it was treatable, grateful for the
caring medical team that formed around me, grateful for my family’s love and support. We
put up our Christmas Tree the next day, in time for the Late Late Toy Show, and we all put
on our Christmas jumpers and took an early family Christmas photo, while I still had hair!
My hair fell out 2 weeks after I started chemotherapy. Massive clumps came out in the
shower. It was devastating. It was such a visible sign, and constant reminder, that I was
sick. Even on the days when I wasn’t feeling too awful, when I looked in the mirror I saw
cancer staring back. I armed myself with wigs, hats and scarves, but I longed for the day I’d
feel my own hair growing back and feel like me again.
4 months of chemotherapy followed, then 2 lumpectomies, 3 weeks of radiotherapy and 6
months of preventative treatment. The side effects of chemotherapy were tough but were
managed well by my oncologist, and I felt well minded. My hair started growing back the
minute I finished chemotherapy and I spent time each day examining it in the mirror, trying
to determine if it had grown more overnight! The surgeries and radiotherapy also took their
physical toll on my body and energy, but I ticked off each stage as another step nearer
returning to full health.
Family, friends and colleagues all rallied around throughout my treatment and I was
overwhelmed by people’s kindness. Gifts and offers of help arrived every day. I felt
completely wrapped in love. Despite all the support I was surrounded by, the emotional
and mental impact of the diagnosis was all-consuming. When I woke in the mornings I often
thought it had all been a dream, and then reality would sink in. It was difficult to fully
absorb what was happening.

Shortly before I finished chemotherapy I discovered Cork Cancer Care Centre, and it had a
massive impact on my mental and emotional wellbeing. I love the bright, colourful,
welcoming space, and the infinite warmth and caring nature of Linda and the team. I went
to counselling, and have had some lovely holistic therapies such as reflexology,
acupuncture, reiki and massage. I have benefitted hugely not only from the treatments
themselves but from the kindness of the volunteer therapists, who give their time so
selflessly and truly don’t realise how amazing they are. I also go to the Centre’s weekly
“Connect and Flourish” support group on Tuesday mornings, where I have met some
incredibly brave and inspiring people on similar journeys. It is both comforting and uplifting
to swap stories and share insights, they are true warriors, they are my heroes! Here there
are no pitying head tilts, no one shifting uncomfortably when you say the word “cancer”,
and no one trying to change the subject to something more pleasant; there is only a shared
understanding, positive support and genuine empathy. In this space it’s ok to laugh, it’s ok
to cry, it’s ok to not be ok, and also it’s ok to be ok! We understand each other, and we all
get it!
It is now one year since I started treatment. I have just had my last preventative treatment
and I am officially no longer a cancer patient. It’s quite overwhelming to reach this
milestone and look back on the emotional and physical rollercoaster that has been the last
12 months. I am so proud of myself and my family for what we have all just gone through,
and we came out stronger and smiling. Although there were the obvious lows associated
with treatment there were far more highs – I had so many memorable moments, I’ve met
some wonderful people, and I am even more aware now of how precious every minute is.
After walking out of my final treatment I bought myself a new watch as a constant reminder
that I have been given the most precious gift of all, more time. I will treasure every second.
I will turn 50 in January and instead of dreading it, I look forward to it with excitement,
knowing that it’s a privilege denied to many. I am blessed!

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