I am a fighter... I saw light at the end of the tunnel

A year since she finished chemotherapy, mum of two Radana Motyl, shares her battle against breast cancer with Liz O'Brien, in a bid to help others fighting the disease and to raise awareness
I am a fighter... I saw light at the end of the tunnel
Radana Motyl at the finish line of the Colour Dash.Picture: Larry Cummins

MUM-of-two Radana Motyl noticed a lump in her breast while feeding her daughter. It turned out to be cancerous.

It was her worst nightmare — she had given birth to her second child, a little girl, 17 months earlier, her son had just started junior infants and she and her husband had just been approved a mortgage to buy their very first home.

“The day of my 33rd birthday, the 26th of November, 2015, I was brought in and told I had breast cancer, invasive ductal cancer, stage 2,” she said.

“It was Friday and I was sent home and returned on Monday for further tests... it was the longest weekend of my life.

“I was told that I need chemotherapy first, then the surgery, followed by radiotherapy and biotherapy. I couldn’t believe it.

“This one sentence: ‘Unfortunately you have a cancer’, changed completely my life.”

Reflecting on her journey, one of the many things that helped her stay upbeat was reading other people’s positive cancer stories. Now, exactly one year on, after finishing chemotherapy, she hopes to be able to do the same for someone else by sharing her story. She also wants to raise awareness.

Radana, second left, with friendsMelinda Patasi, Margaret Twomey and Clare O'Leary at the finish line of the Colour Dash.Picture: Larry Cummins
Radana, second left, with friendsMelinda Patasi, Margaret Twomey and Clare O'Leary at the finish line of the Colour Dash.Picture: Larry Cummins

“This disease doesn’t only affect older women, and breast feeding might reduce a risk of cancer, but it gives you no guarantee,” she said.

“I would like to let women know: not to be careless to any symptoms, as early detection can save your life, and that cancer is not always a death sentence anymore.”

Radana is from Slovakia. She came to Ireland 11 years ago and had planned to stay for a year to improve her English, but she met a man, fell in love and married him.

“I met my husband here; he comes from the same country and here we are raising two ‘very Irish’ kids, and Ireland has become our real home.”

The family has just recently moved to Carrigtwohill, after living in Midleton the previous five years.

“After my second child I remember being constantly tired and unwell but I thought it was normal for the woman with two small kids and no family around to help,” she recalled.

“One day, while I was breastfeeding my little girl, I noticed a lump. I thought it was OK, but something inside me was telling me to get it checked. I was sent for an ultra-scan and biopsy.”

Doctors confirmed the news Radana dreaded hearing.

“My little girl was only 17 months old and my son was just after starting junior infants; we had just got our mortgage approval and were ready to buy our very first house.”

Her initial thoughts were for her children — Teo, aged six-and-a-half, “a very outgoing little character who helped me to keep going with all his funny little stories” and Zariah, three, “our boss of the house as we call her, she never misses anything.

“(I thought), my kids are so small, I can’t leave them here and go, they are so attached to me. My stepfather died of cancer 11 years ago, I knew what treatment I was heading to. I couldn’t believe it all — I am vegetarian, I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I am very active.

“I breastfed both my kids, I couldn’t have reduced the risk of getting cancer any better.”

Just three days before Christmas Day in 2015, Radana started chemotherapy. Her mum came to Cork to help make the festive season special for the kids, but it was a sad time.

Radana Motyl is 'hit' with paint by friends after the finish of the Colour Dash.Picture: Larry Cummins
Radana Motyl is 'hit' with paint by friends after the finish of the Colour Dash.Picture: Larry Cummins

Treatment meant Radana lost her curly hair and had to wear a wig — which she hated — but other than that she tolerated chemotherapy well, much to her surprise.

“I went on the vegan diet and it really helped me to manage all the toxic things I was pumped with. Every single day it was a fight to get up but I had no choice, my kids needed me.

“I tried to pretend being not sick but my five-year-old boy saw the real change. I explained to him that I was sick but we all had to be strong. I remember him one day asking me: ‘Mum, will you die?’”

After finishing six-months of chemotherapy, Radana was weak, but a stronger person.

“I discovered real values. I realised how precious my life is and I am so grateful for every single day. 

A month after finishing chemo I had a surgery and got all clear - cancer wasn't anywhere else in my body.” Yoga helps her deal with any reduced movement issues in her arm and hands, which developed after having lymph nodes removed.

In September of last year Radana started daily radiotherapy treatment for five -and-a-half weeks, to reduce the cancer’s chance of returning.

She also started a full time, year-long business studies course in her local community college.

“When I started college course in September I had no choice just to walk in with inch-long hair and pretend that everything is completely OK. But, doing this course was one of my best decisions ever. It really helped me to return back to 'normal' life and I made amazing friends there. It was my psychological therapy, really!” Radana’s curls are slowly growing back, she has now has a business degree, is working part-time in an accounting role that she loves.

“I am a fighter and I saw the light at the end of that tunnel. It was a long journey and has affected every single member of my family, but all I can say is that I have lost a lot, but I think I have got (sic) way more.

“It was a lesson about real values; how to be grateful for every single day; how to make the most of beautiful things; how to show emotions to everyone we love; how not to waste time with small talk and how to love your own life.

“I don't need new shoes every month anymore, I don't need to look perfect anymore, I don't need to please everyone just because what people might think!

“I became free, I also became very strong.” Her friends and family were hugely supportive; husband Martin, was her rock.

“I must say I have an amazing husband who was the one helping me to get through this with his incredible support and love. He was the one who made me to keep up, who told me I was beautiful on the days I really needed it.” While on treatment, Radana decided to participate in charity events to support cancer research and treatment once she ‘won this battle’.

“And I won, this time,” she said.

Just recently, she took part in the Cork Colour Dash 5 km.

“I jogged and walked with my close friends Margaret, Melinda and Clare and my husband Martin. Our friend for years, another Martin, ran the full 5 km.

“Even I am still not feeling strong enough to run full 5 km, it was a big thing for me. as I ran ‘my run’ and my friends ran with me, for me.

“We all got very emotional and I promised myself to run the full 5km next year.” Radana raised €140 for the Irish Cancer Society.

“Every little helps and I feel proud of being a bit helpful for someone fighting this scary disease. My kids will have a memory of their mum being a fighter. I fought for my family.”

 Radana is also looking forward to taking part in the Relay for Life Midleton in August.

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