I hate Cancer. I hate what it’s done to my family and to my life, but mostly I hate what it’s done to my future. I’m sorry. I want to write a positive piece here today, but I can’t. Behind my smile is a hurting heart and behind my laugh, I’m falling apart. I’m booked in for a mammogram myself next week and as I’m typing this, I’m trying not to feel my own boobs. In case I find a lump. Because if I have breast cancer-sadly, I’m in the high-risk category – I really can’t deal with it today. I’ve far too much to do. I have a life I really want to hold onto and it’s got really good lately! Then there are deadlines, invoicing, a hungry, teething baby to feed and an event to go to later on. So, if I don’t check right now; everything will be fine – until tomorrow at least, or next week when I’ll have more time to deal with it.
This is the kind of nonsense that goes round and round my head on a regular basis. You see, my family is on cancer repeat. And I keep wondering who’ll be next. Cancer is like Russian roulette. You never know when the gun is loaded and whom it’s going to shoot. Sadly, my Dad and my younger sister Tricia got the bullet. Dad died from renal cancer while Tricia died from breast cancer. She was only 26 years old and a student at NCAD when she found a lump. She did the right thing and had it examined straight away but was never given the standard practice of triple assessment on the lump due to her young age. This led to serious delays in her diagnosis… Three years later she learned the cancer had spread to her liver, which was incurable. And it makes me SO angry.
I’ll never get to see my beautiful sister walk down the aisle with the love of her life, Tim, or see the children she so desperately wanted. I don’t have my Dad either to walk me down the aisle when I get married. They will never know my wonderful boyfriend, Will or my precious little baby, Maxim – born on Tricia’s birthday this year. It hurts so much. Lingering pain has changed me. I’m covered with an element of darkness that just won’t wash away I look at my little six month old son and I get the biggest lump in my throat. I can’t believe he is mine. I want to protect him and keep him safe especially from the big, scary cancer monster. I wish I had a cancer-blocking blankie that I could wrap him up all snuggly and safe and hold him close to my heart forever.
The fear cancer causes is the most debilitating effect of its poisonous personality. I suppose I’m letting you know how I feel because, well, it’s the truth. And if you’re going through something like this, then know that you are not alone. We are all in this together. We all sadly know somebody affected by this terrible disease. We can choose to close our eyes to it, or we can choose to find ways to make a difference. Although it is too late for Tricia, I felt that I had to do something to prevent this happening to other families. That’s why I got involved with NBCRI the National Breast Cancer Research Institute located at the Clinical Science Institute NUI Galway. This is a voluntary charity whose research team are now leaders in the field of breast cancer research internationally. It’s the NBCRI’s research that helps to establish the causes and factors that influence breast cancer and therefore help to develop effective screening, treatments and medication to combat it. I also started the Tricia McCarthy Memorial Scholarship, which honours my sister and pays for a researcher for a year.
But there are silver linings. Being so public with my story has actually managed to save two women’s lives. Orlagh Winters from Kerry and Paula McClean from Dublin say they owe their lives to Tricia. Orlagh went and got checked after hearing Tricia’s story and Paula again went to see her doctor after reading an article I wrote about my sister. Thankfully, following their early diagnosis their treatment has been a success. Tricia herself used to say-If there is one thing I could do it would be to make women, ESPECIALLY younger women aware that you can get breast cancer at any age. For three years, Tricia fought a courageous battle against the cancer with such grace and dignity.Many a time, she was close to death’s door but she always managed to pull through. Despite all the hardships she endured, including long chemo treatments and a mastectomy, she always remained upbeat.
I’m so glad of the time we had when Tricia was sick. The smallest moments made magical memories. The little acts of kindness are engraved in our hearts forever. Family, friends, even strangers – they will surprise you with the kind of love that you didn’t imagine was even possible.mHold on to that love.mHold on to it tightly.
The Ted Kooser poem At the Cancer Clinic transports me straight back to UCHG where Tricia had her treatment for three years and my Mum, my sisters Laura and Anna and I nursed her to death…
‘She is being helped toward the open door
that leads to the examining rooms
by two young women I take to be her sisters.
Each bends to the weight of an arm and steps with the straight, tough bearing of courage.
At what must seem to be a great distance, a nurse holds the door, smiling and calling encouragement.
How patient she is in the crisp white sails of her clothes.
The sick woman peers from under her funny knit cap to watch each foot swing scuffing forward and take its turn under her weight.
There is no restlessness or impatience or anger anywhere in sight.
Grace fills the clean mold of this moment and all the shuffling magazines grow still.‘
I suppose I want to end by mentioning the old cliché about how life is about the journey not just the destination. So if you’re reading this, you know all those things you’ve always wanted to do? You should go do them. Tricia and I loved this Winnie the Pooh quote…
“If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together…there is something you must always remember.
You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.
But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart..
I’ll always be with you.”
So, enough of this pity party.
To everyone reading this, the victims, the survivors, the carers, know that together we can beat this monster. It is important to honour the sad moments and cry. Then leave them behind you and find some great ways to make the best of the journey. The only way to get through it, is to keep on going and put one foot in front of the other. So I’m going to keep on going now and with each step I’ll say “This is for you, Dad and this is for you, Tricia!” I want to walk through my life fast enough so that cancer can’t catch me but at a pace that I can take in all that is so wonderful around me.
I’ll leave the last line to Tricia, who once told a friend,
“I hate cancer. I hate what it has done to my family, my life and my body… But you know I don’t really hate anything.”
By the lovely Triona McCarthy @3namc
This article was originally published 25th October 2013. To donate to breast cancer awareness please click here.