Una Dillon

I’m a primary school teacher living in Kilkenny with my husband Pat and our three sons, Conor (age 14), Andrew (age 12) and Harry (age 10). In May 2019, our world came tumbling down when I received a devastating diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer. This diagnosis came as a huge shock to me as I always saw myself as a strong, active and healthy person.

While shampooing my hair in the shower one day, my arm rubbed off my breast and I felt a sharp pain which lead me to discover a small floating lump in my breast. To this day I am very grateful, that despite having no other alarming symptoms I acted upon it immediately, as I would later discover how extensive the cancer was throughout my body.

After a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy I was diagnosed with HER2-positive, ER-positive breast cancer, which is a very aggressive form of cancer. Upon further investigations of a CT scan, bone scan and MRI, it was discovered that the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes and my liver. Pat and I were utterly devastated and terrified for my future and the future of our family. The pain we felt was so raw, and the words ‘stage 4, ‘terminal’ and ‘incurable’ resonated over and over in our heads.

Initially I underwent 6 months of chemotherapy, which succeeded in shrinking my tumors. I wore the cold cap during my treatment, so I didn’t experience hair loss, which psychologically was huge. Unfortunately, surgery and radiotherapy weren’t an option for me as the cancer was too extensive in my body. My next treatment option was biological therapy, whereby I receive two antibodies, Herceptin and Pertuzumab intravenously every three weeks. These antibodies coat the remaining cancer cells and stop them from multiplying. They only target the cancer cells and leave the normal cells alone which mean I have fewer side-effects than chemotherapy. I will continue to have this treatment every three weeks for the rest of my life. 

My cancer is hormone driven (ER-positive). The estrogen in my body fuels the growth of my cancer. Therefore, I am also on hormone therapy to remove all estrogen from my body. I take a drug called Letrozole daily and Zoladex injections every three months. This hormone therapy quite literally put me into menopause overnight and has added to the side-effects I have to cope with daily.

In February 2020, I was very lucky to be accepted onto a clinical trial called the Caroline 1. I take a drug called Neuratnib daily. Thankfully my tumors have remained stable since I completed my chemo. But unfortunately, with metastatic breast cancer patients, there is a high possibility of it spreading to your bones and other organs. Hence, I have scans every three months to monitor any signs of progression.

Over the last three years I’ve come to realize that you can live a relatively normal life while having ongoing cancer treatment. I’ve learnt to appreciate all I have and try to live each day to the fullest. I try to live in the moment and view each moment spent with family and friends as a gift. While cancer has certainly shaped the person I am today, I won’t let it define me. I know I am one of the lucky ones and I’m extremely grateful to ongoing research and the cancer care I have received and continue to receive. I continually look at new medical research and advancements from across the world, and it gives me hope for my future.