Cork woman: I was diagnosed with breast cancer, aged 22... it can happen any age

Ahead of Daffodil Day on Friday, CHRIS DUNNE talks to Jennifer Sheahan, aged 22, who was diagnosed with breast cancer
Cork woman: I was diagnosed with breast cancer, aged 22... it can happen any age

Jennifer Sheahan, aged 22, who was diagnosed with breast cancer. She has spoken out and shared her story ahead of Daffodil Day this week

BEFORE June last year, MTU student, Jennifer Sheahan from Newmarket, Co Cork, was a happy camper. Studying marketing, she was looking forward to going into her final year in college.

“I was lodging in Deans Hall in Bishopstown and I was enjoying my course in marketing and student life,” says Jennifer.

The world was her oyster. Until her world came crashing down around her. After numerous tests, scans and biopsies, the 22 year old was diagnosed with triple-positive breast cancer and prescribed six rounds of chemotherapy and 14 rounds of immunotherapy.

Jennifer is urging the public to donate to the Irish Cancer Society on Daffodil Day, their annual fundraising campaign, this Friday, March 24.

“I’m 22 and that’s quite young to be diagnosed with breast cancer,” says Jennifer.

“I don’t know anyone else my age who has been diagnosed with breast cancer.

“If you find something, and even if it’s just a cyst, at least you got it checked. You’re better off and I know it’s this thing of ‘Oh, what if it’s cancer and I’ll have to go through all this?’ But it’s better than letting it go, and potentially being given far worse news later on.”

How did Jennifer discover the lump on her breast?

“It was the summer of 2022,” she says.

The Sheahan family: Noreen (left) Jenny (middle) Kate (middle) Jerry (Right)
The Sheahan family: Noreen (left) Jenny (middle) Kate (middle) Jerry (Right)

“I was lying in bed when I decided to perform a quick breast self-check. I didn’t check myself regularly, but I saw online where a regular self- exam was a good idea and that prompted me to do one.”

Jennifer was surprised when she found a small lump on her right breast.

“The lump was so small that I brushed it off a bit,” says Jennifer.

“There was a lot going on in my life at the time; my nana was very sick and she was in hospital; she was fading away. I was very close to my nan,” says Jennifer.

A birthday was looming.

“The 6th of June is my birthday,” says Jennifer.

She didn’t celebrate it that year, 2022.

“My nana passed away the same day,” says Jennifer.

The lump got bigger.

“It was so strange,” says Jennifer.

“I got this itch on my right breast and I put my hand down to scratch it. I thought there was a hardening of the skin and on further investigation I found the lump had got bigger under the skin. At first the lump was small, but it got bigger.”

Was Jennifer frightened?

“It was a bit frightening,” she says. “My stomach dropped.”

 Jenny Sheahan (Left) with her nan, Kitty Keane (Right), who were very close.
 Jenny Sheahan (Left) with her nan, Kitty Keane (Right), who were very close.

Getting a huge shock, Jennifer didn’t quite know what to do next.

“Nana was gone; should I tell my mum or not? I kept it to myself,” she says.

“I rang the GP and I had an appointment the following day. The doctor did an exam. The lump was defined; it had a clear shape. She said it was pointing towards a cyst and that it was very unlikely at my age to have a malignant tumour.”

Jennifer continued to see her doctor.

“I went to my GP for three months on and off because I had a nipple discharge,” says Jennifer.

“Even though she thought the lump was very likely a cyst, she sent me to the breast check clinic in CUH. That was in August. Because of my young age I wasn’t a priority patient. My case wasn’t classed as urgent. I kept going to the doctor because of the nipple discharge.

“I was put on an antibiotic in case of infection. But the discharge didn’t clear. It was stubborn.”

Jennifer realised there was something not right.

Sister Kate (Left) nan Kitty Keane (Middle) Jenny Sheahan (Right)
Sister Kate (Left) nan Kitty Keane (Middle) Jenny Sheahan (Right)

“I thought, there’s something wrong here and I sought a second opinion which saved my life. Because the discharge wasn’t clearing up; and there was a worry of sepsis; my doctor sent a letter to the breast check clinic and I got fast-tracked. I got a breast exam done and I was told the lump was very close to the skin.

“I had a mammogram and a biopsy. Samples were taken from my breast. After that, things snow-balled,” says Jennifer.

The word cancer was mentioned.

“I was called in when they sat me down and told me there were cancerous cells in the tissue that they took from the breast.”

Now Jennifer was really frightened.

“It was a complete blur,” she recalls.

“I knew the discharge was unnatural; now the lump was cause for concern as well.”

A plan was put in place for her.

“I was to start chemotherapy on October; six rounds,” says Jennifer.

It wasn’t all bad news.

“My consultant sent my GP a letter to say the lump was 90% benign, but even the doctor got a shock with the results.”

Only 5% of people Jennifer’s age are diagnosed with triple-positive breast cancer. This is a type of breast cancer in which the tumour cells have estrogen receptors, a larger than normal number of HER2 receptors on their surface.

“Knowing if breast cancer is triple positive may help plan the best treatment, which may include hormone therapy and drugs that target the HER2 receptor.”

Jenny Sheahan post-op
Jenny Sheahan post-op

Jennifer says the diagnosis was a huge shock.

“It was earth-shattering; I was a bit numbed.

“My parents, only half-healed from the passing of nana, were now distraught.”

Jennifer looks on the bright side of life.

“I’m out the other side now from the hardest part. Back then it was hard to see the end of the tunnel.”

She was in good hands.

“The doctors reassured me that my outlook was very good.”

Did Jennifer lose her hair as a result of treatment?

“I didn’t lose my hair, but it thinned out considerably,” she says.

“I shaved my head before my hair got patchy. I didn’t want to see clumps of my hair coming out in the shower.”

Jennifer has help close by as well.

“I had great support at home,” she says.

“And two of my aunts had breast cancer in the past and they advised me.”

“The cancer was grade 3. The receptors on the cancer cells were all positive,” says Jennifer.

What did that mean?

“That was good; the more positive; the more switches can be switched off.”

Jennifer had three different treatments.

“I had hormonal treatment, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy. I finished chemotherapy in February this year.

“Going through chemotherapy, I was cocooned,” says Jennifer.

“It was like Covid all over again. It was tough.”

Jennifer was also on steroids to boost her system. They didn’t have a positive effect.

“I got manic,” she says. “I got psychosis and I kept hearing things. I was awake all the time. I didn’t sleep. My mental health took a hit because of the steroids.

“This can happen because of stress and going through trauma.”

The physical symptoms weren’t as severe as the mental ones.

Sisters Kate (left) Jenny Sheahan (right)
Sisters Kate (left) Jenny Sheahan (right)

“I only got sick once and I didn’t have any nausea after that,” says Jennifer.

“I got used to the treatment and I used to go walking.

“After the first treatment I couldn’t get out of bed, but things got easier from there really.”

She had people to call on while going through her cancer journey.

“During my diagnosis, I used the Irish Cancer Society’s Peer Support Programme and found it so helpful,” says Jennifer.

“Just having that community there makes it a lot more normal, even though it’s not a normal thing. It’s trying to find that sense of normality.”

It must be surreal having a cancer diagnosis at the tender age of 22.

“It’s like you’re having a strange, alternate reality when you receive a diagnosis like this,” says Jennifer.

“Knowing that other people are going through the same and that you’re not alone makes it easier to digest.

“I know it’s tough, but I think there is an awful lot of comfort to be found in the cancer community,” says Jennifer.

“I’m well aware that my story is rare at my age, but if by sharing my story I can help someone, that would be something.

“Being so young, being told you have cancer, is not the most common thing to hear.

“People should be aware that there is no such thing as being too young; do your checks. There are plenty of resources available on how to do a breast check.”

What happened when Jennifer finished her chemotherapy treatment?

“When I finished chemo; I was still getting injections once a month into my thigh.

“That’s for up to 12 months, but the plan might change. Surgery for the lumpectomy was minimal, but my nipple was removed due to abnormal cells. They were pre-cancerous, known as Pagets disease. The nipple was taken plus two lymph nodes. I had a feeling about my nipple; it felt raw. I knew it might have to go.”

 Jenny Sheahan (Left) with nan Kitty Keane (Right).
 Jenny Sheahan (Left) with nan Kitty Keane (Right).

Did she mind that?

“I’m so young, it was a bit daunting,” says Jennifer.

“You know, body image and all that. But my consultant said he can see me back for construction in a year. For now, it’s something I have to adjust to.”

Jennifer has a good attitude.

“A nipple is not essential,” she says. “It’s not like an arm or a leg. While I feel strange about the whole thing, there is great comfort knowing I am not alone, that women and men before me have gone through this.”

Jennifer has support too.

“I’m going to a counsellor once a week for talk therapy,” she says.

“It all still feels a bit surreal, especially talking and writing about it. Talking about it helps me get it out of my system.”

Jennifer also leaned on the Irish Cancer Society for support.

“It’s great to lean on the Irish Cancer Society. “It is a great thing. The cancer nurses are so good. I linked in with the liaison nurse in the CUH who answered all my questions.”

What is Jennifer’s outlook on life now?

“I would say the worries about college and the small worries are gone,” she says.

“Now I take every day when it comes.

“I am a lucky woman. My mum says; nana is ‘looking out for you’. And she is.

Jenny Sheahan with niece Olivia
Jenny Sheahan with niece Olivia

“My sister gave birth to a baby girl, Olivia,” says Jennifer.

“She’s 10 months and flying around.”

Jennifer is flying too.

“This summer, I’ll focus on driving,” she says.

The world is Jennifer’s oyster once again.

The Irish Cancer Society’s Daffodil Day takes place on Friday, March 24. See

If you or a loved one needs support, contact Freephone Support Line on:1800-200-700 or email

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