MAGS Daly is well able to paddle her own canoe.
Working her way up the catering ladder as chef-manager, the 46-year-old was sailing happily along in life, enjoying her independence.
“I went over to Belgium for a weekend and I stayed there for 11 years!” says the Mallow woman, who is a member of Cork Dragons, who are all breast cancer survivors.
She was totally blown off course when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in August, 2016.
“I came home five years ago, and got work straight away, even though the economic climate here wasn’t great.”
Mags was willing to work hard.
“When I began feeling more tired than usual; I blamed the long hours in the kitchen,” she says. “I took a break and went on holiday. When I was sunbathing, I found a lump on my left breast. I didn’t take much notice, I was convinced it was a cyst and there was time enough to get it looked at when I got home to Cork.”
Mags went to a mobile breast clinic for a check-up.
“I knocked on the door and said I had found a lump. I was asked how old I was, when I said 44, the nurse advised me to go and see my own doctor. He asked me how long the lump was there. I knew after 10 minutes that something was wrong.”
The doctor referred Mags to the breast clinic in CUH.
“I said to Harry, my doctor, that I wouldn’t hold my breath for the appointment, but within three days the letter dropped on the doormat. I had two mammograms at the breast clinic,” says Mags.
It was a very emotional and worrying time.
“When I had four biopsies and an ultrasound, I knew there was something seriously wrong,” says Mags.
“It began to sink in even though there was no history of breast cancer in my family. I wondered how long I’d have to wait for the results.
“I hadn’t told anyone. My mother was in her 70s and she would worry about me.”
Mags was at work when she got the phone call from the breast clinic. “I was told that breast surgeon, Louise Kelly, wanted to see me in the morning,” she recalls.
Time was of the essence.
“Louise was going on holidays; she wanted to see me before she travelled. I knew things were serious. I rang my sister, Sabrina, to tell her the news.
“Louise said ‘There is no easy way to say this. You have got breast cancer’.”
Mags tried to comprehend what she had just heard.
“I said; ‘you must have the wrong file’,” says Mags. “There was no breast cancer history in the family. It wouldn’t sink in.”
But it was true.
“The doctor confirmed my name and address then she explained the next steps.”
Mags had to go the full distance.
“I had four stages of treatment. They were chemotherapy treatment, a mastectomy, radiotherapy treatment and hormone treatment, which continues for 10 years.
“It was very difficult. The worst part of it was I would lose my hair. Then, I had long, thick black shoulder length hair. It seemed I was losing everything.”
She felt isolated, like she was marooned on a desert island.
“I never knew anyone who had breast cancer,” says Mags. “I felt I had no-one to turn to. My dad had already lost his life to cancer and now here I was.”
She was heading into unchartered waters.
Mags started her treatment in the South Infirmary in August, finishing her chemotherapy in December. After a two-week break she had a mastectomy in CUH.
“I was very upset. I thought I’d look like a freak. But Louise had a bit of good news. The same day as the surgery, an implant could be inserted. I felt better and more positive now that it seemed something wasn’t missing. I decided to stay in hospital for a week. I still had drains in and my poor mum would be stressed. I stayed put and the CUH staff were amazing.”
Mags learned she had two tumours, one five and half centimetres underneath her breast and a three and a half centimetre tumour in her breast.
“32 lymph nodes were removed, 15 of those were cancerous. After I came home for a month, I then travelled to St Luke’s Hospital in Dublin to attend Beaumont for radiotherapy treatment. Because one of the tumours was so near my heart, specialised equipment had to be used.”
Mags was nearly home and dry.
“They were the best five weeks of my life,” she says. “I was the only Cork person getting treatment then. People came from all over the country and you didn’t wallow on yourself. There were much worse scenarios than mine.”
Mags’ treatment finished on April 24, 2017, and she got her life back.
“And my hair started to come back in February!” says Mags. “I did buy a wig for €450. But I only wore it four times.”
She took one day at a time to get better.
“I went through all the stages of my treatment one day at a time,” says Mags.
One day she discovered the Cork Dragons.
“I was at a seminar at ARC House. I found ARC House a huge support for me. I spotted a flyer about the Dragons. I had never heard of them, I’d never been on a boat before.”
But she had been on a similar journey as the Dragons.
“I went along to a meeting at the Sextant to see what they had to say,” says Mags.
“I panicked first before opening the door to go in, then I said to myself; ‘what’s wrong with you?’ I swung open the door, I walked in and I said, ‘I’d like to join up with ye’.”
And the rest is history. Two weeks after finishing her radiotherapy treatment, Mags was welcomed with open arms by her Cork Dragon team.
“We’ve all been on the same road,” she says. “The support network is fantastic among the Dragons. You feel the same everyone else felt and they can guide you through any fears or concerns that you have.
“The social life is amazing. Being out on the Dragon boat is the best feeling in the world.”
“I’ve signed up for the 2019 Dragon calendar, “I’m going to be a calendar girl!”
Life changes after cancer.
“You’ll never be what you were,” says Mags. “You say; I’d love to have my old life back. But you have a new life. You have a new lease of life.”
ABOUT CORK DRAGONS
The Cork Dragons were set up in 2012 to support and inspire men and women diagnosed with breast cancer. The members connect with other survivors while engaging in a fun, physical activity, mixed with camaraderie, fresh air, positive endorphins and a feeling of being involved in a new adventure. The Dragons meet on Tuesdays, 6pm and Sundays, 10am at Tequila Jacks, Lapps Quay, Cork.
For more about Cork Pink Week see www.corkpinkweek.ie