Jennifer's Breast Cancer Story | Part 1 - Diagnosis

Jennifer's Breast Cancer Story | Part 1 - Diagnosis

As I read the all too frequent stories of women either going through or having had a breast cancer experience I am thrown back into my own story and if it were a movie the trailer would talk of a tale of new beginnings – a new looking me, a new outlook, new experiences, and references and a new understanding and empathy for others.    

I remember thinking two things as my 50th birthday was approaching: 

  1.  I was strongly considering letting my hair grow out and embracing my grey (I had been dying my hair since my 20s and was on a treadmill of having to have my roots done every 6 weeks which was not only a pain but was also very costly). 
  2. I really wanted to quit smoking as I didn’t want to be in my 50s and still lighting up.  I remember also thinking, I better get this lump in my right breast checked out – it had changed and was dimpled I noticed, looked a bit like cellulite on my boob.  

I had already attended one that was clear and then missed one and canceled another because I had had a bad experience with the mammogram lady who was very, very rough with me and really hurt me the last time I attended the Breast Check.  

My 50th Birthday was in June and it was a great weekend that made me grateful to have really lovely friends and loved ones and a close and loving family.  I was taking stock of my life after what can only be described as an incredibly stressful couple of years.  At this time, my luck was turning around, I was wondering what the next chapter was going to be like. 

The First Chapter 

But, a few weeks later, I attended the Orchid Breast Clinic in CUH for a Breast Check – I was checked over by a nurse first who left the room to get the Breast Surgeon who, when I asked her if my lump was cancer in her opinion, she immediately said:

“Yes, I am afraid so, but I could be wrong. 

I don’t believe I am but hope that I am”.  

I was alone and weirdly, sort of ok with the news, I did know or think I knew anyway. 

I remember thinking ok, whoever is in charge of this stuff, bring it on, I can do this. 

 From that moment on, the wonderful, kind, caring HSE breast cancer treatment humans and system immediately kicked into action and my cancer story/experience began. 

For me it’s not a journey – I really hate that word nearly as much as I hate the use of “narrative” instead of story or language. 

I was immediately assigned a nurse who walked me to a private waiting room and brought me into the mammogram room – here is my first tip: 

 Tell the nurse who is doing the mammogram that you have sensitive breasts and you are very nervous about the procedure – ask her out straight to be gentle with you. I did and she was, -this time! Mind you, at that stage we all knew I had cancer, actually come to think of it these wonderful, mainly women, were amazing and must have known what I didn’t at that stage, was that, I was going to lose my right breast – my cancer was stage 2 and there were two tumors and it had just started to enter my lymph nodes. 

They wanted me to have a biopsy, ultrasound, and a consultation with Oncology surgeon Prof. Mark Corrigan (who along with a team of other truly remarkable human beings, saved my life).  This was all happening so fast and I had a lot to take in.   

My sister happened to call me while I was in between procedures and I blurted out that I had breast cancer.   

Surreal, the start of an experience that sweeps you along stage by stage with the medical professionals telling you just as much as you need to know step by step, and honestly as much as you can handle when you are in a state of shock.   

-Jennifer O'Connell