Catriona received a double cancer diagnosis in late 2016 at the age of 46. Since then she’s undergone extensive treatment and continued to try live life to the full. Despite a number of side effects, she takes on challenges and events to raise funds and give something back. There are still mountains to climb but Catriona’s continuing to meet the challenge head on.
Catriona is sharing her story to highlight World Cancer Day on 4th February and to help support Cancer Care at the Mater Public Hospital.
“It was back in August 2016, when I was preparing for a night shift in my role as a carer that the pain struck and this journey started. It was an immersive pain that just rose up through my stomach and I felt like I was going to pass out. I rang the D Doc and talked to a nurse. She asked some background questions but wasn’t happy with the answers. She told me to go straight to A&E fearing a burst appendix, so my husband drove me to Beaumont initially.
My first tests ruled out the appendicitis and doctors thought I might have an infection, maybe diverticulitis. But as I was an active runner with a pretty standard diet it meant this was unlikely. So they decided on an ultrasound. The lady carrying out the ultrasound seemed to have only just started when she stepped out to get a doctor. Soon there was a bowel and stomach consultant and a gynecologist around to talk to me, and I mentioned that I though perhaps I have started going through the menopause. However, they sent me for a CT Scan and were quickly talking about potentially having tumours, it didn’t seem real. We had a family holiday booked for three weeks-time, our first in five years, and my first thought was being gutted that I had to cancel it.
I was referred to the Mater and allowed home on a Wednesday, and by Thursday I was meeting the consultant. My husband was with me and I remember asking – so, do I have cancer? Professor Brennan explained that I did, he said I had three tumours that were the size of small coconuts. He advised they were slow growing and had been there some time. I was just amazed I hadn’t felt anything. When I look back some of it makes sense – one of the things with ovarian cancer is that you don’t seem to lose weight, and I was doing so much running but the weight stayed on.
I was operated on the following Tuesday, just 10 days after I first felt the pain. The Mater team were brilliant and thankfully the op went well, but when they were checking the tissue afterwards they found I had endometrial cancer as well. Endometrial is very fast growing and had I not had the ovarian cancer it might not have been spotted in time – so I count my blessings that things happened the way they did.
Eight weeks after the surgery, I was ready to start chemotherapy. For six months I had sessions every three weeks with one week break, it was tough! They were long days and, of course, there are side-effects. I had the usual hair loss, which is really hard to deal with. I had to get a port because my veins shut down. And I developed some peripheral neuropathy, where the extremities of my hands and feet went numb and were painful to touch – although it eased over time, I still experience that now.
To keep myself going during the treatment, I gave myself a goal of completing the Killarney Half Marathon. It was something I had done the previous year before I was sick and it was a target to hold on to. 12 weeks after my treatment I managed to complete it. Colleagues from my running club, Balbriggan Road Runners, came down to support me and some offered to run it with me, but I knew it was something I needed to complete on my own. It was a hugely emotional experience.
Since then I’ve gone on to complete more half marathons and two full marathons, the most recent as part of the Mater marathon team last October. I suppose I’d say about myself, I’m slow but I go. Completing these challenges allows me to raise funds for the Mater and all the other wonderful services that have supported me, it’s a way of giving back.
I continue to attend the hospital as an outpatient, they are very vigilant and I am regularly tested due to some genetic indicators that show I could be prone to other cancers in the future. I know I would not be here without the support of the Mater team, and I’ll always be thankful for that.
My attitude to the future is that I can only control now, and I can only control me, and I’ll try to keep running and stay fit to battle anything else that comes along. I also have the amazing support of my husband Liam, my kids and my family and that helps carry me through.
My next ambition is to run the marathon in Rome next year, another goal, another target and, hopefully, another way of moving forward.”
Update – 23 March 2023:
We’re delighted to report that Catriona completed the Rome Marathon and knocked 32 minutes of her previous best time – what a hero!
Catriona is sharing her story to highlight World Cancer Day on 4th February. If you want to make a donation to support the work of the Mater Foundation in you can do so by clicking the link below.