Breast cancer was horrible but I beat it, says Cork mum

To mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month, mum-of-two Liz Muldoon, who was diagnosed with an aggressive form of the disease, shares her story with CHRIS DUNNE
Breast cancer was horrible but I beat it, says Cork mum

Liz Muldoon, and with her husband Keith and daughters Cara 6 and a half and Grace, 4.

WE’VE all possibly been there at some time or another. We’ve been in bed or in the shower thinking our minds might be playing tricks on us. Is that a lump? Or am I imagining it?

When Liz Muldoon, from Roscommon, now living in Frankfield, was in bed one night after a day’s work in April 2019, she found a lump, and she wasn’t imagining it.

What did she think? What did she say?

“I said: “No thank you very much.” I said: “Oh God!”

As a healthy, happy, fit 38 year old mother of two, Liz didn’t want to ever entertain the thought of a lump on her breast or what that might mean.

“My girls, Cara and Grace, were five and two at the time,” says Liz, who is married to Keith.

“They are my two Cork children! I had breast-fed both of them.

“When I went to my GP she said there was definitely something there and I was referred to the Breast Check unit at the Bons, Cork.”

Was Liz worried?

“I had an aunt who had died of stage 4 breast cancer in her 40s. Another aunt had breast cancer but she was OK. So there was some family history there.”

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in Ireland (excluding skin cancers) and 1 in 9 Irish Women will develop breast cancer during their lifetime.

In April, 2019, Liz Muldoon was one of them.

Breast Cancer, when caught early, has the highest net survival rate of 85%.

Liz, diagnosed with triple- negative breast cancer, an aggressive form of the disease, is one of the lucky breast cancer survivors within that percentage.

“When you hear the words said out loud, you are taken aback,” says Liz, who now, 18 months later, is cancer free.

“Then it sinks in and you nearly go into fight mode. You say: ‘OK, what’s the plan?’”

Liz Muldoon, and with her husband Keith and daughters Cara 6 and a half and Grace, 4.
Liz Muldoon, and with her husband Keith and daughters Cara 6 and a half and Grace, 4.

The treatment was planned.

“I refuse to call it a journey,” says Liz.

“A journey is meant to be enjoyable! But I’ve been through this, now I can park it for as long as possible, hopefully forever and just go back to being Liz and being mum again.”

She was concerned that might never happen when she was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer.

“The lump was approximately 2cm and the cancer was progressing as it was.

“Triple-negative breast cancer is one of the most aggressive forms of breast cancer,” says Liz.

“The treatment options are limited.”

But that didn’t mean her cancer wasn’t treatable or curable.

“I was genuinely terrified of radiotherapy treatment and chemotherapy treatment,” says Liz.

“Looking back, I was terrified for my family.”

She is the typical Irish mammy.

“Us Irish mammies don’t think of ourselves,” says Liz.

“Keith has elderly parents and his mum wasn’t very well. I felt he had enough on his plate.

“I felt he was going through enough and needed this like I don’t know what.”

What was she going to tell her own parents?

“They live in Roscommon,” says Liz. “I was afraid the news would kill them. How to tell the girls was my biggest worry.”

What did they say?

“Mammy has a sore boob!”

She had other people to help her sort out her ‘sore boob’.

“Dr Conleth Murphy was like my big brother!” says Liz.

The consultant medical oncologist at the Bons Secours Hospital in Cork is a straight talker.

“He is full of common sense and he’d tell you if you’re talking bull!” says Liz, laughing.

She put her trust in Dr Murphy and why wouldn’t she?

“He is from Roscommon too!” says Liz.

He told her like it was.

“Dr Murphy told me the cancer was very aggressive and that it could be cured. He was telling the truth. I believed him.”

She was willing to go the distance.

“I was willing to jump through hoops and I was willing to do anything for recovery.”

The two Rossies formed a pact to work together to stamp out the cancer that had invaded Liz’s life.

“The five months of chemotherapy seemed like forever,” says Liz.

“There were a few bumps on the road during 48 days and 16 treatments, but they were only bumps. I took it week by week and infusion by infusion. It was tough going and I had a lot of sickness and re-action to the steroids.”

Liz took the inevitable hair-loss and fatigue resulting from the treatment in her stride.

“When you start treatment and you are in the middle of it, you are in fight mode. It was a horrible ordeal, but I got through it.”

Did her mind play tricks on her?

“I was terrified about the potential of the cancer reoccurring,” says Liz.

“I have no doubt that extensive medical research carried out by Breakthrough Cancer played a huge part in the success of my treatment. Raising awareness about the work they do is important. Breakthrough Cancer has achieved incredible development in relation to the treatment of different cancers.”

Liz Muldoon, during treatment.
Liz Muldoon, during treatment.

Liz, a tough Rossie, kicked ass.

“Cancer and subsequent treatments kicked seven shades of s---e out of me,” says Liz.

“But I kicked back! I didn’t feel angry. I just went through it.”

She went through the gruelling treatment successfully.

There was an added bonus.

“When Dr Conleth took away the tissue around the area where the lump had been in November last year; he evened up my boobs! There were no secondaries. It was good news. At the end of November, 2019, I was technically cancer free.”

She could be Liz and she could be mum again.

“It was our best Christmas ever!” say Liz. “The girls were spoilt. And it was lovely.”

Was her mind at ease?

“Past tense for breast cancer is never the case,” says Liz.

“The fear is always there, it’s on your shoulder.

“Am I afraid it could come back? It is very much in the back of my mind,” says Liz.

“But I don’t let it consume me. If I did, I wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning. But the further way from it you get, the easier it gets.”

Liz takes her mind off things by seeking out mindful things.

“I go to the Cork Cancer Care Centre one day a week that has amazing therapies like massage, Reiki and counselling, “says Liz.

“Their services are unbelievable, helping you to recover both mentally as well as physically. The emphasis is on healing rather than curing. You can walk into the living room and meet like-minded people at the Cork Care Centre. No subject is off the table.”

Liz is now in a good place.

“I’m back in mum mode! The girls are back in school and all settled.”

She has other things to occupy her mind.

“I put on a bit of weight during the cancer treatment. With great company and the good weather I’m back walking.

“As my energy came back, I could think about healthy eating and day-to-day health.” Liz values her health and that of her loved ones.

“My parents are relieved it’s all over and that I came through it relatively intact.

“Kids are the best distraction when you don’t feel so great. They don’t really care mum doesn’t feel well. They still need their snacks!

“Kids are the best reality check ever. I think they made me focus on if they were OK; then we’d be ok.” Liz says early detection for the successful treatment of breast cancer is vital.

“If openly discussing a topic such as breast cancer prompts one person to proactively call their GP with something they are worried about and receive a potential cancer diagnosis at an early stage, then that is a good thing.

“Even when life is good; it can throw up the unexpected.Suddenly your focus is shifted,” adds Liz, referring to her breast cancer diagnosis.

“It is hard to put into words. You have your life planned out; you’re plodding along with your nice family of four.” And then bang.

“Yes. You stop and reassess everything. It is a path you never wanted to be on.” Liz is on the right path now.

“I am a better person after it. Dr Murphy said there is no pressure to get back to normal or go back to work. But I will do that all in good time.” In the meantime, it’s party time.

“I’m 40 at Christmas,” says Liz. “The Neven Maguire experience is on the bucket list for the New Year.” Celebration is called for.

“We’re not really party people but I’m very willing to have a big bash!” 

ADVICE FROM THE IRISH CANCER SOCIETY BREAST CANCER SYMPTOMS

  • Symptoms of breast cancer may include any of the following:
  • A change in size or shape — it may be that one breast has become larger.
  • Changes in the nipple — in direction or shape, pulled in or flattened nipple.
  • Changes on or around the nipple — rash, flaky or crusted skin.
  • Changes in the skin — dimpling, puckering or redness.
  • ‘Orange peel’ appearance of the skin caused by unusually enlarged pores.
  • Swelling in your armpit or around your collarbone.
  • A lump, any size, or thickening in your breast.
  • Constant pain in one part of your breast or

armpit.

The Irish Cancer Society says: “If you do notice any change in your breasts, see your doctor as soon as possible. Remember that most breast changes are not cancer and are harmless.

“When your doctor examines your breasts, she or he may be able to reassure you that there is nothing to worry about.

“If the change could be connected with your hormones, your doctor may ask you to come back at a different stage in your menstrual cycle.

“Alternatively, you may be sent to a breast clinic for a more detailed examination. Don’t worry that you may be making an unnecessary fuss and remember that nine out of ten breast lumps are harmless.” 

HOW TO CHECK YOUR BREASTS

  • Know what is normal for you, so that if any unusual changes occur, you will recognise it.
  • Get into the habit of looking at and feeling your breasts from time to time.
  • Look for changes by using a mirror so that you can see the breasts from different angles.
  • Feel for changes - an easy way of feeling your breast is with a soapy hand in the bath or shower. Some women prefer to feel for changes while lying down.

FIVE POINT AWARENESS CODE Know what is normal for you.

  • Know what changes to look for.
  • Look and feel your breasts.
  • Discuss any changes with your GP without delay.
  • Attend routine breast screening if you are aged between 50 and 64.
  • You can r

egister for BreastCheck by calling freephone 1800 45 45 55.

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