I was 35 years old in 2018 with no history of breast cancer in my family when I first found a pea sized lump in my left breast. 6 weeks later I was diagnosed with Her2 positive, oestrogen positive breast cancer with lymph node involvement. I was devastated, I felt my whole world and the life that I loved had collapsed. I underwent a year of treatment which included 20 weeks of chemotherapy, a mastectomy, 15 rounds of radiation along with a year of the targeted drug Herceptin. It was a very difficult year and I suffered a lot emotionally. I felt I had lost everything. Losing my hair and breast caused me to lose a lot of confidence in myself.
However, after the operation I received the great news that I had a complete response to treatment. It was over, I could get back to my life. I reconnected with friends, went on holidays and went back to the job that I love as a primary school teacher. I did feel very anxious about the cancer returning but I also developed the motto that I had to make the best of the life that I had and enjoy it. I reassured myself that it was unlikely to return and got on with living my best life even though at this stage Covid had hit.
Devastatingly, it did come back. I started getting headaches and feeling extremely tired in October 2020. I had to go to A & E and on Halloween night 2020, I found out that I had a brain tumour. The cancer had returned. I was heartbroken as I knew it was now incurable and the life that I loved would be gone. A few days later I had surgery to remove the tumour followed by 5 days of targeted radiation. This happened during Covid so I had no visitors. I had to come to terms with the fact my prognosis was very poor. Despite this I decided to enjoy what I had, and hoped that research and new treatments could help me live as long as possible, the life that I loved so much with my amazing family and friends.
I needed further brain radiation but I got on with things, lots of walking, meeting friends and I canvassed in the Dublin by-election in 2021. However soon I started to get a very sore leg. I thought that I had overdone things but the pain persisted so much that I could barely walk. More bad news, the cancer had spread to my spine. I needed urgent radiation on my spine. It was very harsh and I ended up having to use a wheelchair and walker for a number of months. I was referred to the Palliative Care team in Harold’s cross. I was heartbroken. I was scared and I hated the upset it caused to my family.
Thankfully , the radiation with some chemotherapy combined did help reduce my tumours and I slowly but determinedly got my mobility back. I had heard and read about this new drug, Enhertu which was having great results for women with Her2 positive brain Mets. I spoke to my wonderful team at St James and after a few months of checking if I was eligible and doing tests I received the fantastic news that I had been accepted for a clinical trial in the Mater Hospital for Enhertu. I started Enhertu with the great team in the Mater in May 2022 and my cancer has remained stable ever since. The treatment is very tiring but I have been able to get my life back in a way which I never thought possible. After my secondary breast cancer diagnosis I thought I was just going to be winding down to die, however my wheelchair is long gone now. I am back working part time in the job that I love so much, I swim, I am involved with Concern debates, I am still involved in local politics, I go on holidays and I get to see my wonderful friends and family who I am so grateful for. I keep an eye on all the cancer research developments to see if there are drugs that will help me in the future. Although it is very difficult, the treatment is exhausting and stressful, I suffer with anxiety and it is a difficult burden to carry. I feel terrified sometimes and I hate the thought of losing my future. However I am lucky to be alive and I am very much living, not just existing. I love the life that I have and I am determined and hopeful that I can keep going for as long as possible. I am now on Enhertu for nearly 2 years, it’s tough treatment and I do have some very bad days but grateful to be still here with my wonderful family and friends who have supported me all the way.