A SEEMINGLY healthy Markethill woman has described how she had her breast cancer detected by Action Cancer’s screening service.
Kate Comiskey’s life was turned upside down after she made an appointment to attend the Action Cancer Big Bus when it visited her home town in September last year.
The mother-of-three, who was supremely fit, had no symptoms of breast cancer when she attended the clinic.
She said, “In September last year, after seeing an advert in the local paper, I booked a screening appointment on the Action Cancer Big Bus when it visited my home town. I was curious to see what it would entail and as I was the right age (in my 40s) I thought I’d give it a go. As I had no symptoms, no lump or any other changes in my breasts, I wasn’t at all anxious when I received a letter from Action Cancer informing me that I would need to be referred to a specialist breast clinic for further investigation.
“I naively went along to an appointment at the breast clinic alone, confident that this was just a formality. I came home and reported to my husband Patrick that we could be on ‘a rocky road’, but he was unconvinced. In fact his words were, ‘It is inconceivable that someone as healthy as you could be harbouring such cells in their body!’
“He had a fair point as at the time I was fully committed to training for the Dublin Marathon on October 31 and was feeling my fittest. I had completed the Belfast Marathon the previous May and enjoyed it so much that I had signed up for Dublin soon after.”
Kate, who has three sons, David (22), Andrew (19) and Patrick (16), tried to continue with her normal life. In the week between the core biopsy on October 10 and the results on October 17 her training schedule was to run 50 miles. She managed it without a problem.
She continued, “A week after the core biopsy, we received the diagnosis of cancer and were given a date for the operation. I was to go in to hospital on October 31 for surgery preparation and the operation was to take place the next day. The care and compassion of the team of doctors and nurses, not to mention the efficiency of the actions which followed the diagnosis, impressed us immensely. We were shell-shocked, but comforted by the systems in place which clearly indicated that these people knew what they were doing.
“Following the surgery I had six rounds of chemotherapy from the end of November until the end of March and then 20 days of radiotherapy. Looking back, much of it is a haze but throughout I was ‘functioning’ on a level unprecedented in my experience. I kept my aunt and family in Canada in touch by email and was amused by her son’s analysis of all that was going on: ‘Mum told me about your collision with the Big Bus’ was his quip!”
“At home I was supported by family friends, colleagues and my school community. I received deliveries of flowers, cards, gifts, texts, emails, fabulous food and phone calls which made me feel supported and cherished.”
Kate didn’t run the Dublin Marathon, but intends to run again in the future.
She said, “There will be other marathons, I hope. My journey with cancer was certainly not the marathon I had planned but it was one that I managed to get through without hitting the wall.
“I will be eternally grateful to the keen eyes of the two specialists who examined my mammogram taken on the Action Cancer Big Bus. The only indicators of my tumour on the mammogram were some calcifications so thank goodness they wanted to investigate it further.
“Receiving a cancer diagnosis is a shocking blow to any individual. I felt let down by my body. I had, I felt, done everything in my power to defend myself from cancer through my active and healthy lifestyle. Despite the statistics that show the prevalence of cancer, I had still never considered the idea of being personally afflicted by this illness.
“I am beginning to feel that I am out the other side now and even though I still suffer from fatigue and the side effects of the drug Tamoxifen, most days I can find some sort of ‘normal’.
“ I have slowly but surely started to re-integrate myself into my old lifestyle; I am looking forward to becoming more like the old Kate Comiskey again.”
Action Cancer is marking its annual Breast Cancer Awareness Month (BCAM) campaign this month. Celebrating its fifth year in partnership with Northern Ireland’s largest independent pharmacy chain Gordons Chemists, the key message is to encourage women to come forward for breast screening.
Anyone interested in obtaining a breast screening appointment should contact Action Cancer on 028 9080 3344, visit www.actioncancer.org, download Action Cancer’s BreastAware app or call in to your local Gordons Chemist and fill out a breast screening request form.