VIDEO: We'll turn Cork pink to combat breast cancer

The inaugural Cork Pink Week takes place this October, to raise awareness about breast cancer and funds to buy life-saving equipment for treatment. EMMA CONNOLLY talks to the women behind the event, who have both fought the disease.
VIDEO: We'll turn Cork pink to combat breast cancer
Cork Pink Week will take place from October 1st to 7th. Pictured are organisers Sylvia McHenry and Miriam Healy, at the launch at City Hall, Cork.Pic; Larry Cummins

TWO Cork friends who have battled breast cancer are turning Cork pink to raise awareness of the illness as well as raising vital funds for life-saving equipment for its treatment at Cork University Hospital.

Miriam Healy, Douglas and Sylvia McHenry, of Rochestown, have been friends since their sons started school together over a decade ago.

Miriam got the shock diagnosis two years ago that she had breast cancer while Sylvia got the life-changing news in 2014.

The duo came through it, but not without overcoming challenges, and are now applying their grit and determination to helping others stand up to cancer. Here are their stories:

Sylvia McHenry, organiser of Pink Week
Sylvia McHenry, organiser of Pink Week

SYLVIA'S STORY

I WAS diagnosed with breast cancer in May, 2014, after I had noticed dimpling on my breast and went to my GP who referred me to hospital.

My appointment was at 3pm on a Friday and when I left the hospital at 6pm that evening I knew I had breast cancer.

To be fair, what the consultant said was he was 80% sure that the tests would confirm the same the following week. I knew, my world had tilted — you get that feeling in your stomach. It was a very surreal experience because you never think it is going to be you ‘Sure I don’t get cancer, that’s for other people’.

What followed was a difficult three weeks of tests, biopsies and MRIs. I just wanted the bottom line: how bad was it and what was the plan to deal with it.

At the end of May, I had a Bilateral Mastectomy followed by chemotherapy and radiotherapy. I finished treatment just before Christmas. Looking back, I think I spent that six months in a haze. It’s like you batten down the hatches and get to work, you pull all your reserve resources and you fight from your toes. I used to notice while lying in bed at night my hands were clinched tight shut, knuckles white, as if on high alert! I had to tell myself to breathe.

I’ve been married to John for the past 25 years and we were very lucky because we have incredible family and friends, it was like a warm blanket was put around us.

When I was diagnosed our three boys were aged 18, 16 and 12. There were always extra mummies’ eyes out for them, dinners, cards, texts with the very welcome ending ‘no need to text back’, it was like a hand at your back willing you on.

But for me it wasn’t over yet! I felt paused, I had no breasts. I didn’t lament losing them as they technically were killing me but what I missed most was my shape. So I started the research into reconstruction.

Cork Pink Week will take place from October 1st to 7th. Pictured at the launch at City Hall were  Shane Falvey, CUH Charity, Miriam Healy, organiser; Deputy Lord Mayor Cllr Thomas Moloney, Sylvia McHenry, organiser with Dr Max Ryan, Breast Cancer Unit, CUH.Pic; Larry Cummins
Cork Pink Week will take place from October 1st to 7th. Pictured at the launch at City Hall were  Shane Falvey, CUH Charity, Miriam Healy, organiser; Deputy Lord Mayor Cllr Thomas Moloney, Sylvia McHenry, organiser with Dr Max Ryan, Breast Cancer Unit, CUH.Pic; Larry Cummins

Maybe because I wasn’t ready and still extremely tired but I found it so hard to get this information. There are different types and a whole new language attached to reconstruction: implants, silicon, gel, DIEP Flap, TRAM Flap the list goes on.

I went to three different surgeons and one evening after work I got the train to Dublin to hear a talk and meet with women who all had different type of reconstructions, which I found very informative. I have learned since that there is information out there, I just didn’t know where to find it. I eventually had an eight hour reconstruction surgery in the Cork University Hospital in December, 2015.

Once that cancer key has been turned it will always be at the back of your mind, with any ache or pain you wonder ‘mmm... could it be back’.

This campaign grew out of conversations with others over dinner one night. Information is education, we need to lose the fear, stand up to cancer.

Women and men need to know what to look out for, to know that early detection is vital and in the majority of cases it is treatable.

Miriam Healy from Douglas, organiser of Cork Pink Week.
Miriam Healy from Douglas, organiser of Cork Pink Week.

MIRIAM'S STORY

TWO years ago during a routine mammogram, ‘something’ was discovered. I was 45 years old with four children and worked part time with my husband. I had experienced pain in my breast, as it happened, the other one, a few years back and my GP sent me for a mammogram at the time.

As a result, I was called back every two years and “something” was detected there that wasn’t there two years earlier. There was no lump. I am very grateful that day to whoever carried out the mammogram as the tumour was about 1cm and could not be felt.

It was this early detection that made all the difference. The cancer hadn’t travelled so I didn’t need chemotherapy, just radium. However, at the time I had to travel to Dublin to have it.

I had one child in Leaving Cert, one in Junior Cert, one in first year and one in 5th class. As a mum this was hard.

I think overall breast cancer has a huge effect on the family. The mum runs the house, she answers the questions, makes everything better. Rock that, and you rock the family.

For me personally to leave at such important times in their lives was awful. I wasn’t there to see them through.

The radium was every day, Monday to Friday. I started mid- week so it was over five weeks. I stayed in Dublin, next to the hospital.

Mondays were hard, dropping the kids to school, getting the house ready and leaving in time to make the 5pm appointment with a full week ahead of you. The treatment itself didn’t hurt and it wasn’t uncomfortable it was just unpleasant. I found myself very tired for a long time afterwards and that was difficult to accept. Also I was now ‘different’. Going to the doctor or even a beautician’s, the medical history is always there: you have had cancer. It’s there forever.

I think you want life to go back to normal as quickly as possible and to put it in the past. However, everything takes its time. If I had any advice to give, I would give the same advice that I was given: take as much time as possible and rest. But I don’t think mums do that, do they?

I don’t think I’m back to what I was before I got sick. I was in seventh gear beforehand, all the time now I’m probably in fifth. I don’t think I’ll get back to that manic pace again, most probably because I don’t want to. It took me a few months after treatment to respect the fact that I had been seriously ill and just because I 

felt it was time to get better, didn’t make it so.

I look after myself more and listen to every ache. No matter how hard you try, every now and again you do get a moment of panic and think, is it cancer? Overall though my health is good, thankfully. And I really am grateful for that!

The idea for Cork Pink Week came as all good ideas do, from a dinner party with friends. When we were sick everybody wanted to help. My own daughter wanted to run every race for breast cancer, shave hair, etc. and Sylvia’s kids were the same. So we looked into it. To say the response and encouragement was amazing would be an understatement and it quickly grew from an event into a campaign.

We met with fabulous cancer and support services and we really wanted to make those services aware to everybody in Cork.

Also, we wanted it be a Cork event. Raising money to benefit Cork and to highlight the services in Cork.

We are filling the week with as many pink events as we can, beginning with a family barbeque day at the Sextant/Careys Tool Hire on the quays on Sunday, September 30 and culminating in a Pink Lunch on Sunday, October 7, in City Hall.

October is breast cancer awareness month so we decided this was the natural time to organise something.

Breast cancer is affecting women so much earlier, everybody I know who had it was in their early 40s. So awareness will bring an earlier diagnosis and hopefully a better outcome.

Mary Morrish, Irish Cancer Society, Linda Goggin James, Cork Cancer Care Centre and Maeve Fitzgerald, Marie Keating Foundation at the launch of Cork Pink Week.Pic; Larry Cummins
Mary Morrish, Irish Cancer Society, Linda Goggin James, Cork Cancer Care Centre and Maeve Fitzgerald, Marie Keating Foundation at the launch of Cork Pink Week.Pic; Larry Cummins

Objectives of Cork Pink Week, October 1 to 7 

*To raise Breast Cancer Awareness in Cork:

Information is education and early detection is vital for the treatment and recovery from breast cancer. Commercial and professional organisations will be asked to go Pink for the week with awareness talks taking place in companies and at third level. There will also be various pink events throughout this week.

 *To raise funds for diagnostic machinery in the Breast Care Unit in Cork University Hospital:

If Breast Cancer is detected then you want to have confidence that your consultant has access to the best diagnostic machinery available. “We have spoken to the radiotherapy department in the CUH they are in the process of updating their diagnostic equipment and need extra funds.

"We are having a ‘Pink Lunch’ in the City Hall on the 7th of October to specifically raise funds for this machinery,” explains Sylvia, who works as an SNA.

*To raise awareness of all the Cancer Care Services in Cork and to bring together and advertise all the support services that are available in Cork for cancer patients and their families:

“In our research for this week we visited a lot of the cancer care services in Cork and met the most amazing people doing fantastic work and we feel that cancer patients need to know they are there waiting and willing to support,” said Sylvia.

*To participate/donate or for more information contact: info@corkpinkweek.ie

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