Living to see another Christmas after cancer

Three years ago this week, Mary Quinn from Midleton in County Cork was diagnosed with abdominal cancer. She talks to CHRIS DUNNE about giving hope to those living with the disease
Living to see another Christmas after cancer

Mary Quinn from Midleton, who was diagnosed with cancer in December three years ago - now is cancer free. Picture: Dan Linehan

WHEN Mary Quinn was told that she had a tumour in her stomach the size of a football, on December 19, 2017, she didn’t think that she’d live to see another Christmas.

However, this year the Midleton mother of one is celebrating Christmas, 2020, filled with hope and joy.

“I thank the Lord and I appreciate every day,” says Mary.

“Back in 2017 I thought I wouldn’t live to see my son’s 18th birthday.”

She never expected a cancer diagnosis.

“I was asked if I could be pregnant,” says Mary, now aged 57. “I said, ‘that is impossible as my husband is dead’.”

She had had a full health check-up previously as a precaution when her cousin had been diagnosed with cancer.

“I had a full M.O.T and nothing showed up,” says Mary.

A close friend called to see her after she returned from a holiday in December and she noticed that her legs seemed to be swollen.

“That didn’t seem unusual as I was on my feet a lot and got tired sometimes,” says Mary.

“My friend recommended that I go to the doctor to check out the cause of the swelling,” says Mary, who looks after her ‘second family’ and who did bar work.”

The GP didn’t waste any time in sending Mary to A&E.

“My friend came with me to the hospital,” says Mary.

Mary Quinn, got her affairs in order as she feared she wouldn't make it.  Picture: Dan Linehan
Mary Quinn, got her affairs in order as she feared she wouldn't make it.  Picture: Dan Linehan

A SHOCKING DIAGNOSIS

“After I had an ultra-sound scan, the doctor realised that I had a large tumour in my stomach. It was the size of a football. I was in shock.

“Things didn’t look good. I thought of my own Mam and Dad that I had lost and who I still grieved for.”

Mary was admitted to CUH where she had another scan and further tests to determine the diagnosis.

“The following evening two junior doctors at the hospital came to see me. “

Mary was in for a bigger shock.

“They told me the tumour was cancerous and that I needed to have an operation to remove the sizeable tumour,” says Mary.

“It was an awful shock to get.”

When she took in the bad news, she knew that she needed her nearest and dearest to be there with her.

“After receiving these pieces of bad news, I requested to be told in advance of any further meetings I might have with doctors,” says Mary.

“I wanted to have support from friendly faces which helped me.”

Mary and Helen met with Dr Matt Hewitt, Consultant Gynaecologist Oncologist.

“He scheduled the operation for the following week. Christmas was coming and he wanted to operate as soon as possible,” says Mary.

“I was hoping to be home for Christmas and I was hoping to recover.”

The operation went well but Mary suffered a TIA (mini-stroke), after the surgery.

That wasn’t good.

“No, that wasn’t good,” says Mary.

“It resulted in all my family being sent for as it was feared the TIA could be fatal.”

More bad news was to follow.

“The following Monday I was told that, despite the operation and the removal of the cancerous tumour, there wasn’t much optimism.”

A FRIGHTENING TIME

Mary didn’t need the stark facts to be spelt out to her.

“I needed to make plans to get my affairs in order.”

How did she cope with the impact of the hammer blows she had to deal with?

Was she on borrowed time?

“Dr Dearbhaile Collins decided she would try me with a round of chemotherapy to see how I’d respond,” says Mary.

“I was home for the weekend before the treatment. Unfortunately I suffered another TIA from a reaction to morphine causing me to be admitted back into hospital a day early.”

Was she fearful, facing chemotherapy treatment knowing the resulting side-effects it can cause — fatigue, nausea and hair-loss?

“I decided to chance it,” says Mary.

She decided something else.

“I was adamant that the disease wouldn’t beat me,” says Mary. 

And it didn’t. And she didn’t lose her hair.

Mary Quinn, is very thankful for the support of her family and friends who helped her through her  illness. Picture: Dan Linehan
Mary Quinn, is very thankful for the support of her family and friends who helped her through her  illness. Picture: Dan Linehan

“I started chemotherapy treatment on the 16th of January,” says Mary.

“It wasn’t without its problems, even though with my particular type of chemotherapy I never lost my hair or I wasn’t particularly sick.”

She paced herself.

“If I was tired, I’d go to bed and I rested in the arm-chair during the day. I had chemo every three weeks until I finished on May 22.”

She had a goal in sight.

“I wanted to go to the Harty Final, the school hurling final.”

She wanted to be independent.

“My son Coleman was going to New York that year with the school. I wanted to be able to drive him to school and to collect him.”

She wanted to re-connect with loved ones.

“The parents of the children that I mind were going away for the weekend and they asked me if I could look after the children. I could.”

Mary got joyful tidings of good news from Dr Matt and Dr Dearbhaille.

“I was told that the chemotherapy had been successful and the remainder of the tumour had totally been shrunk away.”

Was she in a celebratory mood, looking forward to a promising 2018?

“I was very hopeful,” says Mary.

THE CANCER RETURNED

But then she suffered a setback.

“In August, 2018, I had symptoms and during a routine check-up harmful lesions were discovered. I was given pessaries to combat this.”

Mary had to deal with more harrowing news.

“In November, Dr Matt Hewitt informed me that the cancer had returned and I was facing yet another battle,” says Mary.

She was battle-weary.

“I had to undergo radiotherapy which began in January and carried on until March,” says Mary.

“There were three internal sessions of radiotherapy which were awful.

“My appointments continued with Dr Dearbhaille Collins until August, 2020, when she thankfully gave me the all- clear. I didn’t need to see her anymore.”

GOOD NEWS AT LAST

Mary had help healing the battle scars.

“I went through the mill,” she admits. But the troops rallied round.

“I was very grateful for my wide circle of support from my family and friends,” says Mary.

“My neighbours and friends checked in with me every day and I never wanted for anything.

“All the staff at the hospital were a great help to me throughout the process.

“Hopefully, my positive results can offer other people some hope on their journey.”

Mary’s hopes came true.

“I have great faith,” she says. “I went to see the Harty Cup Final and I drove myself!”

Mary, thankful to be alive and well, has raised much-needed funds for cancer research.

“I raised €1,000 for cancer research and I hosted a coffee morning for Marymount, raising €3,000. My dad was looked after there.”

ABOUT BREAKTHROUGH CANCER RESEARCH

Breakthrough Cancer Research is an Irish medical charity focused on working to significantly impact the number of people who can survive the disease. They are based at Glenlee, Western Road, Cork. Lo-call: 1890 998 998, phone:021-422 66 55 or email:info@breakthroughcancerresearch.ie

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