Wednesday 20 February 2019

Cancer survivor Mary full of praise for Relay for Life

Mary O'Brien is looking forward to Relay for Life
Mary O'Brien is looking forward to Relay for Life

Brendan Keane

Relay for Life takes place this coming weekend in Pairc Charman, Wexford, and it promises to be a fantastic free family-fun event.

A 24-hour initiative it brings the whole community together to celebrate the lives of cancer survivors, to remember loved ones who have passed away and to fight back by increasing knowledge of cancer and raising money to fund the vital research and services of the Irish Cancer Society.

Receiving a cancer diagnosis is a life-changing event for most people but one survivor who spoke to this newspaper pointed out it need not change the person just aspects of their life.

Mary O'Brien, from Blackwater is a mother-of-two who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in June, 2015.

A nurse by profession, Mary, who works in Wexford General Hospital, said she didn't feel particularly unwell at the time.

'I just had a bit of a dose like the flu,' she said.

She got a colleague in the hospital to do her bloods and when the results came back her marks were raised.

'I spoke to the gynaecologist and got a scan which showed two large tumours,' she said.

Mary almost immediately started her treatment in St Vincent's Hospital, Dublin, and she also received chemotherapy in University Hospital, Waterford.

'You get on with things and you do have support when you're going through it,' she said, with regard to what it's like to begin a path of treatment.

However, she said it's when the treatment stops that things can become difficult because up to that point a person can be pre-occupied with the schedule of treatment.

'It's when it stops and that support is gone that it becomes difficult because the structure is gone,' she said.

'I thought that in three months I'd be right-as-rain but three months later and I was more tired than ever.'

When she was due to go back to work Mary had another scan and she discovered 'there was something else'.

'It was ovarian again,' she said.

However, this time there were complications with the treatment including her getting a clot which put her out of action 'for months'.

In November she had another scan resulting in a third diagnosis during Christmas week.

'In January I started another course of chemo and that finished in May,' said Mary.

'The latest scan showed that things are holding their own at the moment and I'm being monitored,' she added.

The emotional impact of a diagnosis can be difficult for the person with cancer and their family and friends.

'I suppose because I was a nurse I was able to distance myself from it and stand back and look at it,' she said.

'I lost my hair the first time around but after that it began to grow back and things like that give you positivity.'

Mary attended the Hope Centre in Enniscorthy which she describes as being like the wardrobe in Narnia.

'You go in there and it's like entering a different world because it's such a fun-filled place with lots of positivity.'

That was also where she met Gay Murphy the woman behind the Relay for Life initiative.

'The Hope Centre gives people huge support and you do need that,' said Mary.

'It's when the treatment ends that you actually really begin to think about your situation,' she added.

'In some ways you mourn the loss of the life you had when you're diagnosed because life does change but you as a person don't have to change.'

Mary went on to comment that while life itself is uncertain for everybody being diagnosed with cancer makes that uncertainty become real.

'It's a huge emotional struggle and I am very proud of my children because they achieved very good results in their exams despite the fact they had to go through this journey too,' she said.

Mary is lucky to have great support in her husband, Brendan, and their children Connor and Aoife.

When she was first diagnosed she told people she was going for treatment for cysts but after surgery she was very open with everybody about her diagnosis.

'However, life goes on as normal and people are very good,' she said.

'I was overwhelmed by the level of support I received from friends and colleagues,' she added.

Mary emphasised the fact that medicine has advanced enormously and that receiving a cancer diagnosis nowadays does not mean a death sentence.

'It's not like what it used to be and just because you get cancer nowadays doesn't mean it's the end,' she said.

Mary worked in oncology and said that gave her a different perspective than other people might have although she did comment: 'I thought I knew everything but I found out I really knew nothing.'

She is really looking forward to the Relay for Life initiative and said it will be a great family event.

'It's so full of positivity and it's just such a wonderful event I really hope as many people as possible attend,' she said.

'It's about survivorship and it shows that people do survive; if you get a diagnosis now it does not mean that's the end anymore.'

She said Relay for Life is something positive that came out of something negative.

'It's great to see that happen,' she said.

'There will be a lot of children's entertainment at it but the emphasis will be on fun,' she added.

'It's a lovely, positive, fun event and it brings people together.'

To give your support to campaign go to the Irish Cancer Society website or text CANCER to 50300.

Wexford People

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