Saying ‘I do’ after my cancer journey

Helen Cuddigan was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019 and has shared her story with us previously. CHRIS DUNNE finds out her latest news — getting wed!
Saying ‘I do’ after my cancer journey

Helen Cuddigan on her wedding day with her children, Louis and Matilda.

SOMETIMES, it’s not all about the journey; more about the destination

When Helen Cuddigan was diagnosed in July, 2019, with ductal breast cancer, she found the diagnosis and subsequent treatment scary.

But having seen her little sister, Clare, and her cousin bravely come through after experiencing the same journey, she knew she’d come to the end of it too and move forward with her life.

“I was blown away by the community spirit,” says Helen who is mum to Louis and Matilda. The family live in Ballycotton.

“Friends and neighbours dropped soup and juice on my doorstep while I was going through chemotherapy. It made a huge difference.”

Apart from her family, friends, and her Ballymaloe family, who stood by her thick and thin, so too did someone else.

“The wonderful Michael and I have actually been friends since when I did the Ballymaloe Cookery course in 1989.”

Something was stirring.

“A friendship turned into romance that surprised us both, but that I am eternally grateful for.”

They married this week in a magical lockdown humanist ceremony in the Drawing room of Ballymaloe House. In accordance with Level 5 restrictions, only their witnesses and Helen’s children were by their sides.

“We did, however, have candles and photos present, representing our families unable to attend and loved ones no longer with us,” Helen said.

The couple cemented their loyalty and devotion to each other, the double-edged pledge made all the sweeter now that Helen is cancer-free.

“Kiwi was there too of course” says Helen, alluding to her loyal canine friend, who walks with her beside the soothing waters of Ballycotton Bay in all weathers.

“Rachel made our praline wedding cake. The day was magical, the kids and our witnesses in the beautiful drawing room,” says Helen who looked resplendent in a magnificent emerald green gown.

“It was an idyllic day.”

Helen, who just two years ago had to hear the news that nobody wants to hear, wants to spread the good news.

“It is so lovely to have good news to share! Michael and I believe it is important for me and others to share our hopeful journey.

The couple are positive thinkers, looking at the glass half-full.

“We are big believers of the power of a positive attitude and what you hold in your mind, you bring into your life.”

Helen, with positive thinking, caught her breast cancer in time.

“Because of my sister, I was watching out and I did the check,” says Helen.

“Routine mammograms didn’t show up anything. When I found a tiny lump, because of my sister’s history, I had an ultra-sound at the Breast Clinic.”

Waiting for the results is not nice.

“I was out of my mind worrying, not sleeping,” says Helen. “The diagnosis is incredibly shocking; but you get on with it.”

What was the treatment plan?

“My treatment schedule, under the watchful eye of Professor Seamus O’Reilly, consisted of eight sessions of chemotherapy fortnightly and my prognosis was excellent, largely because I acted so quickly. So I was one of the lucky ones.”

She was lucky in life and lucky in love.

“Throughout my chemotherapy I was able to continue working at Ballymaloe House in my part-time role as marketing support,” says Helen.

She kept going, even though the going got tough.

“I was wiped out during a treatment week,” says Helen.

“But I was generally well enough during week two to go into the office. With a plan in place and my Ballymaloe family being part of it, things were made so much easier for me.”

Helen was cocooned with tender loving care.

“I am incredibly grateful for the love, support and strength that my family and my Ballymaloe family gave me throughout the scary journey I went through.”

She came full circle.

“Getting married at Ballymaloe House was a dream come true.”

Helen had more than a little help from her friends, who befriend all those who receive a cancer diagnosis.

“The Daffodil centre at CUH and ARC were with me every step of the way,” says Helen.

“They provided an invaluable source of information, guidance and comfort. The Daffodil Centre introduced me to ‘Look Good, Feel Good’ when I was losing my hair, eye-brows and eyelashes. I attended one of their make-up lessons and learned that making an effort to look good made me feel better inside and outside.”

Back in 2019, Helen, pictured centre, wearing a pink short wig, with committee members who organised a Wig and Tash Bash fundraiser in the Blackbird, Ballycotton. Included are Bree Allen, Aine Flynn, Fiona Clark, Margaret Cuddigan and Adrianna Hegarty with seated Cllr Susan McCarthy, Helen Cuddigan and Rachel Allen. Picture: Howard Crowdy
Back in 2019, Helen, pictured centre, wearing a pink short wig, with committee members who organised a Wig and Tash Bash fundraiser in the Blackbird, Ballycotton. Included are Bree Allen, Aine Flynn, Fiona Clark, Margaret Cuddigan and Adrianna Hegarty with seated Cllr Susan McCarthy, Helen Cuddigan and Rachel Allen. Picture: Howard Crowdy

Helen, optimistic and positive, wanted to help others in the same boat as herself. Some of you may remember our WoW! feature all about her Wig & Tash Bash at the Blackbird in Ballycotton, in October, 2019, half way through her treatment — which raised funds for Breast Cancer Ireland.

Helen did go to the ball, resplendent in a fun curly pink wig.

“This was something I wanted to do long before my own diagnosis,” she says.

“In memory of my beautiful friend and BCI ambassador, author Emma Hannigan. The night was a huge success and a welcome distraction. Emma would have loved it too.”

Helen displayed the bright side of life.

“I wore nail varnish to hide the black and blue nails and a big smile and my ‘big girl’ pants, just as Emma would have advocated! And I got on with life as normal.”

With her man by her side and her supporters on-side, Helen won the battle against breast cancer in late November, 2019. But the journey wasn’t over.

“The next stage of my journey was a double mastectomy to reduce the risk of cancer reoccurring,” says Helen.

“Professor Mark Corrigan, who had been so supportive throughout my treatment, informed me that the operation was booked for after Christmas, on Thursday, January 9.

“Having always been a positive, person, I was grateful for everything and everyone in my life, especially my incredible partner Michael and my children Louis and Matilda.”

She hit a bump on the road.

“All of a sudden, out of the blue I hit a slump. I felt paralysed by a dark ‘what now?’ and ‘what the hell was that’ feeling. The guilt of being ‘one of ‘the lucky ones’ consumed me.”

ARC House promptly came to the rescue.

“I rang them and they encouraged me to come in straight away.”

They understood.

“I felt so relieved.”

The counselling and touch therapies provided by the staff and the volunteers of ARC House helped Helen continue her journey and get over the bumps on the road.

Having undergone surgery in early January, she was adamant she’d go to the ball again.

“I’d been involved with organising the annual Ballycotton RNLI Fundraising Gala dinner at Ballymaloe House for the past seven years, I was adamant that I and my new double Ds would be at the Gala Dinner on January 31 st .” The dream team raised €20,000 for Ballycotton RNLI.

Then the pandemic struck.

“I was advised to take extra precautions.”

“I was separated from my Ballymaloe family and with work gone, the world as we knew it changed instantly.”

The fear of the unknown resurfaced.

“After a Mother’s Day picnic last year, I woke up the next morning with a pain in my back and shortness of breath,” says Helen.

“I didn’t know what was wrong.”

She suffered a Pulmonary Embolism.

“I had to say goodbye to Michael and my family going off in the ambulance,” says Helen.

She had a surreal week in isolation in CUH where she once more witnessed the dedication of the hospital staff.

She also witnessed the kindness of friends and neighbours when she got home to Ballycotton.

“Friends and family united and left meals, cake and flowers on our doorstep. It took a village to mind me! I yielded to relaxing, healing and cocooning.”

Continuing her arduous journey towards a happy ending, Helen went through further challenges, having to have a breast implant removed due to infection.

But now she’s on the road to full health and happiness.

“I’m sea swimming at sunrise, keeping fit, walking, loving the beach,” she says.

Mrs and Mr are in their own perfect cocoon.

“Michael is the perfect man to have around you,” says Helen. “That’s why I had to quickly marry him!”

She wants to celebrate the road she has travelled, reaching her happy place: “We look forward to celebrating with family and friends when it is safe to do so.”

It’s lovely to have good news to share! Michael and I believe it is important for me and others to share our hopeful journey.

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