I survived cancer, and now I’m helping others

Having beaten cancer, Nuala O'Brien, aged 24 is now reaching out to other young people fighting the disease, and offering them support
I survived cancer, and now I’m helping others
Nuala O'Brien, Ambassador of 'Just Say Cancer' pictured at the Cork Cancer Care Centre recently. Picture: Howard Crowdy

TWENTY-FOUR-year-old Nuala O’Brien from Glanworth has no regrets about being diagnosed with cancer two years ago. Now she has got the all clear she never wants the cancer to return. But she wouldn’t change anything, not even the gruelling and debilitating treatment she had to go through.

“I don’t regret getting cancer as it brought so many people from the Cork Cancer Care Centre into my life. I wouldn’t have got to know Linda Goggin James (General Manager) were it not for the cancer”, Nuala points out.

“Everyone here in the Centre is so positive, that’s why I love it so much.”

The Centre was formerly known as The Girls Club.

“I’m genuinely a much happier person now. I have such a better relationship with my brother, my sister, my mam and dad. It makes you kinder, less judgemental. It takes a lot to bother me now,” Nuala acknowledges.

She is a voluntary Ambassador for the Just Say Cancer group which supports young people with cancer in the 18 to 30 age bracket.

Just Say Cancer forms part of the Cork Cancer Care Centre located at 26, St Paul’s Avenue, off Paul Street, in Cork City.

“We changed the name because it’s bigger than the Girls Club. Now we have men, women and kiddies coming in.

“We’re not just treating the person with cancer; we’re treating the whole family,” Linda Goggin James points out.

Nuala plans to do a regular blog for the Just Say Cancer web page outlining the ups and downs of her treatment. She hopes that young people with cancer will message her on the Just Say Cancer Facebook page so that she can provide them with support and practical help.

Nuala is eager to meet any young person that gets in touch on a one to one basis. In time the plan would be for the group to come together on a social basis.

It took a diagnosis of Stage Four Hodgkin’s Lymphoma last summer for Nuala to set foot inside the door of the Cancer Care Centre. Even then she only went along to stop her mam, Evelyn, from pestering her.

Ambassador of 'Just Say Cancer' Nuala O'Brien and Linda Goggin James, General Manager with one of the 'Blankets of Hope' at the Cork Cancer Care Centre. Picture: Howard Crowdy
Ambassador of 'Just Say Cancer' Nuala O'Brien and Linda Goggin James, General Manager with one of the 'Blankets of Hope' at the Cork Cancer Care Centre. Picture: Howard Crowdy

Marks & Spencer on Merchant’s Quay in Cork gave Evelyn time off work so that she could be with her daughter for every stage of the cancer treatment.

Evelyn had gone along to the Cork Cancer Care Centre to get support and solace when Nuala was initially diagnosed with Stage Two Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system, in October, 2016. She and Linda Goggin James became great friends.

“I had no interest in going to the Centre as I thought the cancer would be gone after six months of treatment and anyway I was up in Carlow IT at the time,” admits Nuala.

During the summer of 2017, Nuala received the devastating news that that cancer had spread to her bones and various organs.

“When you’re told you have Stage 4 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma you straight away think the worst,” Nuala acknowledges.

It was the first time that the full impact of having cancer hit her. She started getting panic attacks and the future looked bleak.

“When I called into the Cancer Care Centre, Ann Dowley Spillane (founder of the Centre), said to me that if you wanted to get your money’s worth out of the chemotherapy, you might as well have the cancer in ten places as in one. It was as if she shook all the negativity out of me,” Nuala recalls.

The young woman regained her positive attitude and started to prepare for the possibility of a bone marrow transplant. Unfortunately, neither her brother, Kieran, aged 27, nor her sister Molly, aged 18, proved to be a match and none was found internationally either.

Instead Nuala was given a stem cell transplant last November using her own bone marrow. She was in isolation for six weeks during which time she was fed through a tube and became so weak that she could hardly walk or do anything for herself.

But it was all worth it. On Valentine’s Day, Nuala was given the all clear, and her recent three month scan showed her to be free of cancer. Nuala is volunteering for the summer with the Cork Cancer Care Centre.

Now that she has finished her two degrees in Carlow IT, she would love to get a job in the area of mental health and mindfulness.

“My dad, Mickie, says he doesn’t know what we would have done if it wasn’t for the Cork Cancer Care Centre,” she says.

“When the Glanworth Bowling Club did a fundraising swim for me, dad was adamant that the cheque for €2,445 should go to the centre here.”

The Cork Cancer Care Centre receives no Government or HSE funding and depends on fundraising and donations from the public to keep its doors open.

The holistic treatments and counselling services it provides are free of charge to men, women and young people with cancer and their immediate families.

Sadly, Ann Dowling Spillane passed away on October I3, 2017, but Linda feels her presence whenever there is a lot of laughter in the Centre.

“I only met Ann last July and she died in October but I felt I knew her forever. I never met anyone like her in my life”, acknowledges Nuala.

To contact Cork Cancer Care Centre: tel. (021) 4949090. or call Linda Goggin James, General Manager on (087) 094 8921

See www.corkcancercarecentre.ie

More in this section

Sponsored Content