As the cliché has it, life comes at you fast. That’s certainly been the case with Claire, since she discovered a lump on her breast in early September. She told Ryan Tubridy that, in her case, there wasn’t much waiting around, but even so, “every hour felt like a week”. Claire had a triple assessment done in Cork University Hospital a matter of days after seeing her GP. A triple assessment for suspected breast cancer cases involves a physical examination, imaging (a mammogram and/or an ultrasound scan) and a biopsy. Despite telling herself that, at 38 and with no family history, the statistics suggest she should be fine, Claire couldn’t help but be worried:
“Everyone tells you, 9 out of 10 women with any lump, you’re fine, you know, don’t worry. So, I kind of had that in my head. But I was still worried.”
Claire’s worry got worse when, following the ultrasound, the nurse told her she wanted to get the doctor to repeat the exam. That was the moment when Claire felt that things were not going to go as smoothly as she’d hoped. The doctor repeated the ultrasound and told Claire that they would need to perform some biopsies.
“And I remember just asking him, ‘Is what we’re looking at cancer?’ and he said, ‘Yes, it is.’”
As chillingly simple as that. Claire’s husband had come with her, but he was in a waiting room and she told the doctor that she needed a minute to prepare herself to give him the news. In fact, Claire’s entire initial response upon being told that she had breast cancer was to try to figure out how to protect her family and friends from being too devastated by the news of her illness.
“I didn’t know how to face him because I knew that it was going to be awful for him, my kids, my parents. You kind of just – everybody comes into your head and that’s just how I could describe it. I was thinking of, how can I just put one big shield around everybody and make sure that whatever I’m going to go through next won’t hurt them.”
There was a 10-day wait before Claire was brought back to the hospital and told that she’d have to have a mastectomy, which she had a little over two weeks ago. And if that all seems fast to you, it’s because it was:
“Everything from going to the GP to my surgery, was just under three weeks.”
After the sort of three weeks that most people don’t dare imagine, Claire told Ryan that her recovery is going well. But her attitude to it all is nothing short of remarkable, as when she gave this answer to Ryan’s question about her relationship with her mirror:
“When I see myself, instead of going what I’ve lost, I’m looking at that that scar has given me a chance to see my children grow up. That scar has given me a chance to have wonderful memories over the years with my husband and my friends and my family, so, in a way, it’s a sign of life.”
Claire’s extraordinary chat with Ryan is well worth listening to in full and you can do that by going here.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Niall Ó Sioradáin
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