Support of survivors key to loving life after breast cancer

Sheila Hyde says the Daffodil Centre and her first meeting with the Survivors Supporting Survivors group was a turning point in her life. Picture: Des Barry

Sheila Hyde is fitter than ever, and now appreciates the simple things, says Louise Roseingrave

ON receiving the news of her breast cancer, Sheila Hyde (46) stumbled out into the garden of the Bons Secours hospital in Cork City. She had declined support from hospital staff

Stunned by her test results, she sat on a bench. She thought of her husband, her two children, her future.

“My head was all over the place. I was in a state of shock. I went in never expecting it. But there is no history of cancer in my family, on either side. It’s completely new,” she said.

Sheila called a friend, who was “always a great support and help” to her. It would not be the only time she’d ask for help.

On March 2, Sheila — now fitter than ever before — will join hundreds of others on the 2014 Kinsale Pink Ribbon Walk for Action Breast Cancer, on behalf of the Irish Cancer Society. She had ‘wonderful’ support from Daffodil Centres at the Bons Secours, and at Cork University Hospital (CUH), during her treatment.

During chemotherapy, the Daffodil Centre put her in touch with the Survivors Supporting Survivors programme, which was a “turning point” for Sheila: the support of a breast-cancer survivor was invaluable.

Sheila’s story began in January 2011. Then aged 43, she was a mother of two children, Denis (then nine) and Linh (five). Married to dairy farmer, Michael Twomey, and living in Whitechurch, Co Cork, she worked part-time in education. Her days revolved around her children — homework, after-school activities, and family life. When she felt a pain in her right breast and underarm, she went to her GP.

“I would always have checked myself, but this pain was not right. It was sudden and getting worse fast. I felt, ‘oh gosh there is something not right’. And it all took off from there,” she said.

Her doctor referred her to a breast care consultant, and within three weeks Sheila was facing major surgery.

“A week later, the consultant told me I probably had cancer. I went back a week later and it was confirmed I had breast cancer. A week after that, I was taken in for a mastectomy. I spent eight days in hospital. Then, I met with the oncologist. A month break after the mastectomy, I started eight sessions of chemotherapy and then, after that, radiotherapy,” she said.

While Sheila struggled through treatment, the household in Whitechurch was suffering. “My husband, Michael, had to take on the role of both parents, look after kids, their lessons, activities. We had great help from neighbours, family and friends, but, ultimately, the responsibility fell on him. He had a huge input during that time. He’s been brilliant,” she said.

On her second treatment of chemotherapy, Sheila started losing her hair. It was on one of those hospital visits that she spotted the Daffodil Centre at the Bons Secours, under construction.

“I’d gotten fantastic books from the Irish Cancer Society on how to talk to your children about what was going on. The advice was concise and helpful, which was great for me, because, at the time, things were quite chaotic and I wasn’t able to take much in. You begin to wonder, ‘should I be feeling better than this’? When the Daffodil Centre put me onto the Survivors Supporting Survivors programme, they matched me up perfectly. They put me through to someone who’d gone through much the same treatment as myself. This was someone I could speak to, who helped alleviate all the fears, the doubts, someone who’d been through this herself,” she said.

Professionals were available to provide confidential support to both Sheila and her family, on topics such as medication and side-effects.

“Professional help was important to me. We can all be experts, googling stuff on the internet, you can access so much information. But to know where the information is coming from — and to know it’s from the experts — that’s vital,” she said.

“People were telling me I was an inspiration, when I didn’t feel that way at all. This was an ailment I’d got, a very serious illness that I just tried to get on with. People would visit me and talk about all sorts of things. And, you know, that was great, too. It’s important to get away from all the medical terminology and appointments and give yourself a break from it, because it’s very hard to live with,” she said.

Now, she attends a breast care consultant and oncologist regularly, to monitor her recovery. Cancer has transformed Sheila’s life.

“It’s not about the big things, it’s about the simple things in life that don’t cost the Earth, mixing with friends and being with the children.

Everyone is so caught up with the rat race of life. For me, cancer was an opportunity to take stock,” she said.

Sheila regularly does yoga and Pilates and has joined a running group. She also attends a weekly literary group.

“I have reinvented a whole new life now and I’m thoroughly enjoying it. I feel absolutely fantastic,” she said.

“If anybody feels that something’s not quite right, get it checked out. It saved my life. If I hadn’t done anything about it, I might not be here today. That’s a scary thought,” she said.

* The Kinsale Pink Ribbon Walk is on March 2; The Kenmare Pink Ribbon Walk is on May 18


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