Breast Cancer – How I took my life back
Chris Clarke from Claremorris has very generously shared her story with us. We are all moved by her courage and by her sheer determination to regain her life. In 2013, just tree years after being diagnosed with breast cancer, Chris cycled 111km in the Mayo Pink Ribbon Cycle and then ran 10km in the West of Ireland Women’s Mini Marathon the next day. Chris is a true inspiration to us all.
In May 2010, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. At 39 years of age, 3 small children (ages 6, 4 & 2) and no family history of breast cancer, it came as a shock but thankfully I am a very positive person. I had not found a lump but I had “extra tissue or muscle” on my left breast which had not always been there. As it was not sore and life was busy with small children I did not go to my doctor for a year after I noticed this extra tissue. When I did I was referred to the Breast Clinic in Galway by my GP. After a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy, I was told I had breast cancer. I would need a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. I was also told that it had travelled to my lymph nodes which came as a very big shock. After various scans I was told that the cancer had not travelled anywhere else which was very reassuring. At this time I asked my oncologist if the cancer was life threatening. When he said no my immediate thought was “hit me with whatever you can, I know I will get through it”. From the date of diagnosis to the date I started chemotherapy was 2 weeks.
As my type of breast cancer was non aggressive I chose to undergo chemotherapy first. I underwent 8 sessions of chemotherapy (every two weeks). Yes it was hard, but the weeks flew by and soon I was having my last session of chemo. The next step was surgery. I underwent a mastectomy and reconstruction. Both surgeries were done on the same day. Surgery was followed by 25 sessions of radiotherapy. I finished my radiotherapy in March 2011. The feeling I had as I walked through the door of the hospital after that last session was bloody fantastic. I was FINISHED all my treatment. My life was mine again and I was going to treasure everything. It was a little hard at first settling back to normality, not having to be at various hospital appointments for treatment as you have so long been told where to go, what to do etc in your treatment.
Back to Health
Looking back on all that I had gone through, the hardest part was getting my body back to normal after the surgery (my back was very, very weak and stiff). I have always loved running and the first question I asked my consultant was “will I be able to run again?”. I couldn’t wait to start back but the year 2012 was very hard and my back was very weak. I still found it very hard just bending down to pick up items from the floor. I used to be very fit and I found it very frustrating being left this way.
Then I saw an ad for the “Mayo Pink Ribbon Cycle”. I decided that I was going to do it. My back could not get any worse and I was adamant I would do the cycle no matter how long it would take me. I wanted to give back something (anything) to Breast Cancer Research after all the help I got in my treatment. As I progressed in my training, my back improved considerably and I decided I would do the 111km cycle. The cycle really helped me to recover from the surgery. I felt good. For the first time in over a year I could bend to pick up items. I then decided to make it a little harder. As I have always loved running, I was going to run for Mayo Pink Ribbon in the West of Ireland Women’s Mini Marathon in Castlebar on the day after the 111km cycle. I like a challenge! A friend of mine and I set out doing the training plan.
The May Bank Holiday weekend arrived with anticipation. We collected our numbers. We were looking forward to our day. We set out on the cycle. It was a great day to say the least. We so loved it. Yes we were glad when we arrived back to Castlebar again. The hills were hard but any hill can be hard. It was a very enjoyable day. We were given everything that we ever thought we could need. Help was on hand for punctures. Food was available at all the stops. We went to the meal supplied on the night of the cycle. It was fabulous and the attention to detail was second to none. The next day we did the 10k run. It was a fabulous weekend of events.
I really enjoyed the cycle and run and it far exceeded any feeling I thought I would ever get. After the Mayo Pink Ribbon cycle and run, I continued with my running. Having completed numerous 5ks, 10ks and 2 half marathons, I fulfilled my dream of completing a marathon, all 26.2 miles in the Dublin City Marathon in October 2013!
My saying is that Breast Cancer took so much from me but also gave it back to me as well. Thank you so much to the Mayo Pink Ribbon Team and also to Breast Cancer Research.
I am a cancer SURVIVOR. Thank god my health is very good. I go for my checkups every 6 months. The word cancer does not automatically have to mean death. Yes it interrupts your life for a while but I have to say I am a better person for cancer coming into my life. I and so many more women and men would not be here today only for the great work being done by Breast Cancer Research, and this can only continue with the monies raised from great charities such as “Mayo Pink Ribbon”. We are hearing so much negativity about charities at this time (managers salaries etc) but where would people such as me be today only for charities like Mayo Pink Ribbon, who incidentally donates every euro that is raised to Breast Cancer Research.
I have signed up for the Mayo Pink Ribbon Cycle and the West of Ireland Women’s Mini Marathon again this year. I am looking forward to the weekend as I know it will once again be a great event.
Thank you so so much MAYO PINK RIBBON TEAM. Your work means so so much. See ye all on May Bank Holiday weekend.