By Trina Cleary
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and ironically, on October 18, 2018 I was diagnosed with breast cancer – Stage 2 Invasive Ductal and Lobular.
I turned 34-years-old two weeks before my diagnosis. I thought I was too young.
As did everyone else – because I assumed breast cancer was an older person's disease – not someone who was active, fit, didn't smoke, did not drink alcohol excessively and ate relatively well.
To say I was devastated was an understatement.
I cried – a lot, but then I decided I would not be overcome by this horrible, negative thing, and I chose to share my entire journey on my Instagram account. The good, the bad and the ugly because breast cancer is not the pretty pink ribbon with smiling models that it is portrayed to be.
So, where did it all begin? In early 2018, I discovered a small, pea sized lump while self examining in the shower. It was movable, deep in the tissue, it rolled under my fingertips and felt like a piece of grizzle.
Nobody ever told me about the importance of self examination. I just know that from a very young age, maybe early teens, it's something I did regularly. Maybe I overheard an adult conversation, maybe I heard or watched something on TV and it just stuck with me.
Early detection is vital. If I knew then what I know now I would have taken myself straight to the doctor and not waited five months.
So what did I do when I found this lump? I ignored it. I figured "it's just a girl thing" and figured it would just go, fear and naivety playing a factor here.
I continued my examinations in the shower, and still Larry the Lump remained. At times it was painful, it grew as the weeks went by. I was worried but brushed it off, again embarrassed, afraid, uneducated.
I eventually went to the GP in August 2018. The lump had grown to a size where I could no longer ignore it. Visibly you could see a difference in the size of both my breasts, my bra was tighter on that breast, the skin stretched, my nipple had started to invert. Whenever I carried out my self examination I had that sinking feeling in my gut and I just knew. That gut feeling is rarely wrong.
My GP was very kind, he felt it was a cyst due to size, my age, lack of family history, the fact it was moveable at that time but referred me to get checked anyway. At that time it measured around 2.5 – 3 cm give or take. That's 2-3 cm growth in five months.
Waiting for my appointment was mentally exhausting. I only told a handful of people but didn't want to worry them with my concerns for fear they were just dismissed, but inwardly I was terrified.
I ended up having to take a week or so off work to try and sort through my own head.
I was anxious, needy, clingy, irritable, paranoid, crying at the drop of a hat, insecure and totally negative during this wait. I felt like I didn't have my own head during that period.
Outwardly you would never have known but inwardly my mind was in overdrive with what ifs? The waiting is almost worse than the diagnosis itself.
Fast forward to October 18, my first life changing appointment.
My mam and sister came with me and all the way to the hospital they kept saying; "It's just a cyst, it will be nothing". I kept quiet because I half had a feeling it wouldn't be that simple. That gut feeling again.
At the hospital, the first consultant thought it was a cyst but he sent me off for a mammogram just to be safe. They ended up doing an ultrasound because 35 is the recommended age for a mammogram, again, I was too young.
I was on that table all of five minutes and I was marched back for a mammogram. It was then I knew, I knew she saw something, I knew because she went to my armpit and immediately stopped. She had seen something here.
I. Just. Knew.
I had another ultrasound and then a biopsy on the lump I had originally found, as well as the newly found lump. The cancer had spread to my lymph node under my arm.
Tears fell from my face the entire time as my mam rubbed my head, the nurse rubbed my leg the entire time and were all so supportive. I couldn't feel anything, just pressure.
Once she was done, I asked why did she feel the need to do a biopsy. Her response: "Ask the question you really want to ask.”
Both mum and I asked: "Is it cancer?"
Her reply was simply, “Yes.”
I felt my world crumble. I felt sick. I felt numb. I felt like it wasn't happening to me. Dream like. All the while thinking – Chemo, my hair, my son and I'm going to die.
I fell to the ground while my mam and my sister held me and we cried and cried and cried. We had the task of breaking the news to my dad, friends and family. And more tears followed.
I let the grief take over, it's part of the process to just start crying at the drop of a hat. To not sleep. To cry in your sleep. To not eat. There is no right or wrong way to deal with getting delivered this news.
You just have to feel the feelings and go with them.
Dealing with a breast cancer diagnosis is not something anyone expects to go through, especially at the mere age of 34.
It's also not a dirty thing, a dirty little secret or anything to be ashamed of.
Fast forward to one year and I’ve just passed my one year cancer anniversary. I finished up my treatment four weeks ago, after eight rounds of chemo, one lumpectomy, one mastectomy and 25 sessions of radiotherapy.
I have been on holiday, I'm back training, I'm back driving and will be phasing back to work next month.
Cancer was certainly the worst thing that has happened to me but I vowed not to let it be a negative thing and to do my best to raise awareness around self check and early detection.
Many disagreed with my choice to be so vocal about it all. I feel that with social media being such a huge part of life now, what better way to raise awareness on such a taboo subject, remove some of the fear of the unknown, a subject, that the only real knowledge people have is what you see in films which isn't always a true representation.
Please, self check once a month, note any changes and take concerns to your GP. Don’t hesitate and brush it off as ‘just a girl thing’.