A regular and avid gym goer, Edita was a little taken aback when she woke with a pain in her breast in December 2014. Since then, she’s faced concerning results from her mammograms three times, plus the discovery of the BRAC 1 gene. Today she shares her story, and talks of her desire to always look forward and battle for her future.
“I’ve lived in the lovely village of Ballinlough, near Kells, in County Meath since 2008. I’m married to a Dub, and although he’s been here 25 years, we’re both still ‘blow-ins’, I suppose 😊. Phil and I tied the knot in October 2014. It was just two months later that I woke one morning at 6am and when turning over in the bed, felt a sharp pain in my breast. I thought there was a lump there. I said it to Phil and we both thought – maybe it’s a cyst – but he got me to make a GP appointment straight away.
“Things moved at speed after that, my GP referred me to the Mater and I was there 2 weeks later for my appointment. The mammogram was quite quick and I didn’t feel a lot of discomfort – in fact, it felt like the cyst had gone. However, as I was putting my clothes on, they asked me to wait. It turned out they were anxious to do a follow up ultrasound straight away.
“The concern wasn’t with the breast that had originally been sore, but the other side. Looking at the image it was like someone had spilled salt all over it… it was full of white dots. The did a biopsy and organised for me to see a consultant. I asked him not to wrap me in cotton wool, but to let me know what was happening. I was going to need a mastectomy.
“I had my procedure in April 2015. And they did a reconstruction the same day by taking tissue and muscle from my back. That was probably the sorest part. I recovered quite quickly though. My body and general health was good and I think this helped me.
“And, that was it until August 2018. While having a mammogram check, I was referred for another ultrasound. They felt there was something unusual in the skin tissue of the reconstructed breast. They continued to monitor it closely and in December after another ultrasound and biopsy, breast cancer was confirmed again.
“This time I was under the care of the wonderful Dr. Walsh. She sent me for BRAC gene testing – a test that looks for DNA changes which increase the risk of breast or ovarian cancer. Even though I wasn’t aware of any breast cancer in my family, it turned out I had a very strong reading for the BRAC 1 gene. Testing was organised for my other family members and it showed my daughter, one of my sisters and my brother and my late brother’s daughter carry the gene. This was a shock, but at least made us aware.
“My second mastectomy was followed up by radiotherapy, and I was put on tamoxifen as my cancer was oestrogen fed. I needed to have my breast reconstructed again, as it became very hard and tender, after the radiotherapy. Once again though my recovery went well and I got back to my usual routine very quickly.
“Things were good, and I even took on the Mater Hospital Foundation’s ‘Squat Challenge’ to support breast cancer care in 2021. That same year, because of the identification of the BRAC 1 gene, I had my ovaries and tubes removed.
“Fast forward to this summer and once again my mammogram required a follow up ultrasound. This time the concern was in my other breast and, unfortunately, it was cancer. For the third time, I underwent a mastectomy and reconstruction, but on this occasion there was also some concerns about changes in my bones. Chemotherapy was required – it was the first time I’d had it – and I found that a really tough battle. It was the only time I cried during any of my treatments. I cut off my hair in advance and tried to keep exercising to maintain some control. I even took on the 3000 Squats challenge again for the Mater Foundation… maybe I’m just a glutton for punishment 😊.
“As things stand, I’m cancer free. I’ll be closely monitored over the coming months to ensure that remains the case. The team at the Mater have looked after me really well. The staff, whether it’s doctors, nurses, students, catering, they are all amazing. I’m 52 now and plan to have another twenty years, at least. I don’t feel sorry for myself or have never thought ‘why me?’, especially when I see others with young kids battling this disease. For me, my next goal is to get back to the gym – I find it so positive for my mental health – and to keep planning my future.”
Edita Hyland, Ballinlough, Co. Meath.
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