It would be impossible to let this month pass without mentioning the epidemic that is affecting so many women in Ireland. Breast Cancer. 1 in 10 Irish women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some stage in their lives. For some reason, possibly an increased respect for health as I approach the big four o, or maybe it’s the fact that my mum, my aunt, friends, some neighbours and several acquaintances have all gracefully fought breast cancer over the past while, I have become more aware of its pestering frequent occurrence.
While the specific causes of breast cancer are not yet known, there are contributing factors and guess what, it seems the odds are stacked against a regular girl in today’s Ireland. There is a higher incidence of breast cancer as we get older, for those who don’t have children or started a family a tad on the late side, for women who don’t breast feed, for women under stress and women who consume alcohol regularly. I think back to the summer months and a most enjoyable early bird dinner I shared with nine friends, all the same age bracket, teetering on forty, a few single, some either just starting a family or planning to do so soon, many non-breast feeding advocates and most enjoying a glass or five of vino but all delighted to escape the stress and pressure of everyday life with a sumptuous dinner. I didn’t realise the statistics then that statistically one of those women at the table would be diagnosed with breast cancer at some stage.
In a relatively short period of time Irish women have tackled the breast cancer head on with early detection, surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy and many thereafter opting for reconstruction surgery, the final step to full recovery. As little as twenty or thirty years ago, the words mastectomy and lumpectomy fell heavily on the ears of Irish women, they sounded depressing, and they were. Women were expected to plough through life thereafter feeling incomplete but expected to be grateful for the cure. Reconstruction was considered a selfish and unnecessary step and so thousands of women were left to cope with their impairment along with cancer. But not anymore, because women now are being given the courage and confidence by each other and dynamic, forward-thinking medical teams across the country to proceed with reconstructive surgery and recognise the importance of feeling good about how they want to look.
During my time at home there seemed to be a new diagnosis every week, be it, a friend or a friend or a friend, the bad news kept coming and in a strange way when I left for Doha, I looked forward to living in a cancer free zone for a while because as everyone knows, expats don’t get cancer. Surely those kind of complications are reserved for those living ordinary lives in their countries and expats are immune….I thought.
I was wrong, not six weeks back in Doha and already I know of four women who are undergoing treatment here (all for breast cancer). Initially I was shocked, I thought expats in Qatar were immune and I also thought that such a diagnosis would see the woman and her family return home immediately! ‘Right, that’s it, emigration over, we’re going home, home to be treated’, because you need to be home with cancer, but apparently not, as these women are dealing with it here. (It certainly puts those boasting about giving birth abroad back in their box).
So, cancer can be dealt with on the move and thinking rationally, why not?! The specific chemotherapy formula advised by medics in Qatar, can be approved by your doctors in your home country, just to add a touch of confidence to the mix and off you go, the ordeal will start the same way at home or halfway across the world but one thing has changed women are not taking breast cancer sitting back, we are fighting it one step at a time, if not at our chosen time, at least on our chosen territory.
So a note of acknowledgement to all those who are dealing with breast cancer be it in Qatar or Castletownbere, thank you, Una Hession, Carmel McLoughlin, Esther Flaherty, Cliona Lawless, Lourdes Fourie and Margaret Ryan and thousands more for being brave and showing us that breast cancer is no longer the end of the world, women have taken control of the reins and while the war isn’t won yet, we are getting there one battle at a time.