“Cancer takes away your control, but when you start recovery that’s when you start to take that control back. That’s what I found through the Marie Keating Foundation’s Survive and Thrive programme”
“I remember sitting with my oncology nurse at my review in October and just telling her how unprepared I was to face life after treatment,” Noeleen explains. “She was surprised and kept asking me what I meant but it was the truth. Once you say goodbye to the nurses and the doctors that have been treating you all those months, and you leave the hospital, you’re very much on your own.”
In April 2019, Noeleen felt a lump in her right breast and went to her GP for advice. On the first of May, Noeleen and her two daughters went for a mammogram and biopsy in the Breast Clinic in Letterkenny and it was here she was told she had grade three breast cancer.
“I don’t remember very much from the day,” Noeleen says. “I was the last patient of the day so when they told me, I don’t think I really took it in. I was aware that the two girls were in the waiting room outside and I was grateful for that because I didn’t want them to hear their Mum had cancer from a stranger.”
For the next twelve months, Noeleen went through a series of treatments to treat her cancer including chemo, a lumpectomy and radiotherapy and in June 2020, was told she was officially in remission. She had officially been through 12 months of treatment.
“I always assumed that when I finished treatment that I would just go back to my life as it was. And when my GP told me that that couldn’t happen and I wouldn’t be fit for work for almost a year, I was absolutely devastated.”
Working as a Special Education teacher in her local primary school in Donegal, getting back to “her kids” was something Noeleen looked forward to, but when the side effects of treatment reared their head, it forced Noeleen to take the time to process what she had been through, and how she was going to continue on in her life after cancer.
“The fatigue was terrible. You could be having a great day and then the tiredness just wipes you out. One thing about the Survive and Thrive group was that I was able to talk to people who understood what I was going through, and it made me feel like I wasn’t crazy.”
Struggling to come to term with her “new normal”, Noeleen saw a tweet about the free Survive and Thrive six-week programme online and decided to sign up.
“Having the session on Zoom was amazing. Living in Donegal, I never would have had the opportunity to take part in something like this pre-COVID, and I’m so glad that I did.”
Over the six weeks, Noeleen shared her story, and her struggles, and listed to her peer’s experiences. The structured programme plan and booklet helped Noeleen to co-ordinate her schedule and anticipate the weeks ahead while making constructive progress for her own recovery.
“Helen, Maeve and Paul, our facilitators, were fantastic. They really brought a group of strangers together and made us a community. After the programme ended, we really missed speaking to each other, so we started a Whatsapp group and are still in touch, sharing the good news and the bad news with each other, to this day.”
Noeleen was lucky that she had her three children to help support her during her cancer treatment and recovery, and now, she hopes to share her experience to make others on a cancer journey more prepared for what comes after.
“If I can help even one person get to grips with what to expect after treatment, it will have been worth it. Because I didn’t have that. The Survive and Thrive course made me realise that even though I survived cancer, to really thrive, I needed to be able to accept what my life looks like now, and I’m glad I didn’t have to do that alone.”
The Marie Keating Foundation’s free six week Survive and Thrive workshops help cancer survivors like Noeleen adapt to life after treatment ends while giving everyone the tools they need to manage the side effects of cancer. Due to the spread of COVID-19, these workshops are now being hosted online, and all are welcome. To learn more and sign up for our next series of workshops, visit www.mairekeating.ie