MY DOG Hugo saved me, if it hadn’t been for him I’d never have found the lump.
That’s how Marguerite Kelleher starts her cancer story, which will see her shave her hair to raise funds for Arc House and Marymount before starting chemotherapy later this month.
Marguerite, a mum of two from Upton, recalls grooming her family’s Bernese Mountain dog in September.
“As I was doing it, the brush sort of fell back and hit me in the chest. It was quite sore, so I checked myself a few days later and it was only then I discovered the lump,” she says, admitting to not always being that vigilant with self-checks.
What followed was a referral to Cork University Hospital and a diagnosis of stage 2 breast cancer, two weeks after a biopsy and other tests.
By this point Marguerite said she ‘just knew’ what was coming and had braced herself for it. Nonetheless, it was still a shock.
“The few weeks before this I had been feeling very tired, so much so that I would have needed to go to bed during the day if it had been possible. And that’s very unlike me as I’m a real get up and go person. But that was the only sign of anything being up really.”
Ironically, the day after her diagnosis, she had planned a coffee morning for Marymount, which she went ahead with, with typical determination.
“Everyone told me to cancel it but I’m very stubborn and wouldn’t. I’ve held a few fundraisers for Marymount as my uncle Donal received palliative care there when he was ill and my mam and I, with family, nursed him in the end. Since then I’ve done a coffee morning for them every other year.”
She made the decision to let friends know of her diagnosis the day she got it herself via WhatsApp and was heartened by the support she got.
“People were so good; it was phenomenal really, I was overwhelmed by it,” said Marguerite, who is mum to Ben, aged 14, and Aaron, aged 11.
From diagnosis to treatment, it’s been a whirlwind. She got her diagnosis on September 14 and underwent a lumpectomy on September 20, which also involved lymph nodes being removed from under her right arm.
On medical advice, Marguerite, who is separated, gave up her job as a childminder, the previous day which prompted her to say: “Throughout the whole thing it’s not what cancer has done to me; more like what’s it’s taken from me.”
On September 28, she got the news that her cancer had not spread to her lymph nodes; however, a further test did put her in a high risk category of it recurring.
“Up to this, my treatment plan had been radiotherapy for six weeks and then to take a hormone blocker tablet for five years. But that changed then to chemotherapy which will start in mid-November.”
At that stage Marguerite felt like she wanted to turn things around for herself and make a positive out of the situation.
“I was having my last hair colour done in Cindy’s Salon in Bandon before the chemo started, which will see me lose my hair, and I asked if I could donate my hair to the charity Rapunzel. But the girls told me it had to be hair that wasn’t coloured. So then, as we were having a cup of tea, being there is like being in someone’s sitting room there, we were chatting, staff Sharon and Angel and Noreen a customer, and we came up with a head shave idea for me; and a sponsored waxing for men.”
Her friend and namesake, Marguerite Collins, also from Upton and a mum of three, who had breast cancer seven years ago, has come out the other side. She is also having her head shaved for the Irish Cancer Society.
Marguerite is supporting Arc and Marymount and feels strongly that Arc leaflets should be given to everyone on diagnosis by the consultant.
“I was having a bad week after surgery when it hit me what was ahead and I only came across them when I looked up ‘counselling’ in a google search. I rang them and from the very first moment they were so kind and caring and really just listened.
“It’s so important to deal with your feelings and talk about them.”
Marguerite intends to avail of their services going forward but stresses how lucky she is to have a supportive family, including sister Ann who is an oncology nurse in Manchester.
“But there are days when you don’t want to be whining and when it’s nice to speak to someone outside it all,” she said.
The fundraiser is set to take place on November 17 in Johnny Crowley’s Bar, Innishannon.
“I just said that I wasn’t going to lose my hair in vain; that I was going to control it; that it was going to be my call when I lost it.”
This brave young woman has already chosen not one, but two wigs from Versachi, on the Kinsale Roundabout to replace her shoulder length blonde hair.
“It was quite daunting as your hair really is your crowning glory, but I have selected two different wigs.”
The plan is to start chemo the week after the fundraiser; with one session every three weeks for three months, which will take her to the end of January.
“I’ve a month off and will start radiotherapy in March which is also when my son is making his confirmation.”