Ciara lives in Lisburn with her husband Greg and two children Aoibheann (12) and Rory (11). Ciara and Greg married in 2006, five months after Ciara’s mother died of cancer. In 2019, after voluntarily attending Action Cancer for a mammogram Ciara was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Speaking about her cancer diagnosis Ciara said,
I had no symptoms. I was voluntarily attending Action Cancer for mammograms since I turned 40. In March 2019 they detected an abnormality and asked my permission to refer me to the Ulster Hospital.
My appointment at the Ulster Hospital was on 25th April. The surgeon could not feel a mass on examination, so they did an ultrasound scan and fine-needle aspiration. At the end of my appointment, they told me I had cancer and would need an operation to remove it within the next few weeks.
Whilst my cancer diagnosis was a massive shock, I was really surprised by how calm I was. I think this was partly because I wanted to get practical things prepared ahead of my surgery but also because of the wall of support that my family and close friends built around me. The care and treatment provided by South Eastern Trust was first class.
Initially one of the hardest things was telling people. I felt like I was upsetting the people that mattered to me most. I am extremely proud of the resilience my children displayed when I told them I had cancer. I read up on talking to your children about cancer before I broke the news to them. I waited to tell them when I felt the moment was right.
They both had lots of questions in the days that followed. Rory was keen to tell his friends. Initially, I was reluctant but when he asked for a second time, I gave him permission as I realised that he needed to talk to his little circle of support using words that they all understood. My kids’ friends and their parents were exceptionally supportive of us throughout my treatment.
By the time we got to stay in Daisy Lodge, I had gone through two surgeries, 20 weeks of chemotherapy, and was in the midst of daily radiotherapy. To have beautiful food prepared for us by the staff in Daisy Lodge and not to have to clear up after was pure luxury and gave Greg a break from his increased domestic duties. At home, I usually like to serve dinner around 5.30 pm but I was so fatigued by my cancer and treatment there were days that the kids were coming to me asking when dinner would be ready. My responses included ‘Pass me my laptop’ and ‘Daddy will be home soon.’ At Daisy Lodge, we were more relaxed and were able to sit, talk and just be together.
I was tearful when I first arrived at Daisy Lodge because the setting was so stunning and the welcome by Cancer Fund for Children’s staff so warm. I was tearful again when I left because I was overwhelmed by the gentleness and kindness that my family received. It meant so much to the four of us to be together. At home, I was spending a lot of time alone on the sofa or in bed.
I brought my wig with me, but she never came out of the box! At Daisy Lodge, there is no need to explain your baldness. I asked another Mum if her eyelashes were real, and she told me about false lashes designed especially for those with no lashes. We talked for quite some time about lots of other things. I felt extremely at home knowing each family had a parent with cancer.
Cancer continues regardless of the pandemic. We are so lucky to have so many excellent cancer charities in Northern Ireland. I will forever be indebted to Action Cancer for detecting my cancer.
Cancer Fund for Children is a unique charity. It was wonderful to be scooped up by them and taken such great care of. My kids got to attend the first of three sleepovers in the charity’s residential log cabin, Narnia. They were very proud to remind us that they had been at Daisy Lodge more frequently than us. Just like me feeling comfortable around others with a cancer diagnosis, they felt comfortable around other kids of a similar age with a parent who has cancer.
Due to COVID-19, everything moved online. Lovely hot chocolate, instructions, and games arrived from Cancer Fund for Children in the post. It was comforting for me to see other families online. We all quietly knew why there was either no hair or very short hair.
What Cancer Fund for Children does really blows my mind. Whether you are a parent with cancer like me or the parent of a child with cancer Daisy Lodge is an extremely warm and welcome break from what is otherwise one of the toughest challenges you will experience.
Life has changed forever. Sometimes it is hard for me to believe what I have come through and I am so grateful that my cancer was detected early.”
We are so grateful to Ciara for sharing her story. Children and families who are struggling with the emotional impact of cancer need our support now more than ever. Please, donate what you can today to help us support more families like Ciara’s.