RelateCare Supports Breast Cancer Awareness Through Survivor Stories

October was Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and to show our support, we asked cancer survivors at RelateCare to share personal experiences in the hope their stories will inspire others to be vigilant and proactive to ensure early detection.

The latest statistics from Breast Cancer Ireland show that one in nine women in Ireland will be affected by breast cancer during their lifetime; in the USA, the Susan G Komen Foundation report one in eight American women will receive a diagnosis across the same timeframe.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women around the world, and early intervention is critical in the fight against the disease. Increased awareness and screening have raised survival rates in Ireland, the USA and worldwide and over the past 35 years, improvements in early detection and treatment have contributed to significant declines in the overall breast cancer death rate.

As part of RelateCare’s annual support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month 2023, we asked some of our colleagues to share their own experiences with breast cancer to help inform and encourage others how taking action if you have any early signs can make a difference in transforming breast cancer from being often a fatal disease to a treatable long-term illness.

Two notable contributions were from Dierdre Burbridge Elaine Pierce and her mother, Marie. Both are emotional and inspirational and highlight the importance of recognising breast changes and getting them checked at the earliest possible opportunity.

Dierdre noticed a change in her breast in early November 2018. She went straight to her GP, who referred her to her local breast clinic, where later that month, she received what Dierdre describes as “the words she will never forget” from the specialist ahead of her biopsy. “We have seen this all before, and we will deal with it”.

Dierdre describes the following week of waiting for the results as one of the longest weeks of my life and says, “Even though I knew what was coming in my heart, nothing prepared me for the surgeon telling me I had a form of breast cancer called Lobular Carcinoma”.

Dierdre was 39 years old when she received her diagnosis with a young family of 6, 7 and 12 years old. She describes the feeling around the time as that of disbelief. Dierdre’s treatment involved a mastectomy at the beginning of 2020 before finding out cancer had spread to her lymph nodes, meaning nine months of further treatment. During that time, she underwent additional surgery, intensive chemo and radiotherapy, as well as two blood transfusions.

Now in remission, Dierdre describes herself as “one of the lucky ones”, and over three years later, all her annual mammograms are showing all clear, and her hormone treatment is up for review in March 2024.

Dierdre’s key message and reason for sharing her emotional story is “no matter what age you are, always be aware of changes in your breasts and get anything different checked”. She says she can’t overstate that nine times out of 10 times, it will be fine, but for the 1 in 10, early detection is life-saving. She also impresses that 15% of Breast Cancers are diagnosed in people between 18 and 39 years of age.

Another notable story was from Elaine Pierce, who spoke about her mother, Marie’s experiences with two differing types of cancer. Nine years ago, Marie was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and underwent an intensive bout of chemotherapy over many months in hospital. After treatment, she returned home where, with the help and support of her daughter Elaine and the rest of the family, she started a long road to recovery. 

Elaine and the family describe Marie’s recovery as miraculous. For several years following, Marie lived an everyday life until, after five years in remission, she and the family received the heart-breaking news, during the Covid lockdown, that she had developed Breast Cancer. Marie found herself in hospital undergoing investigation and treatment, and again, almost a decade after her first cancer diagnosis, she found herself and her family celebrating again at the receipt of the news that she was all clear for a second time.

Elaine talks about her mother’s drive and determination as being inspirational. Her defining message is that as dark as the days ahead might look after a diagnosis, cancer doesn’t have to spell the end, and her mother stands as a testament to the fact that treatment, along with resolve and willpower, can spell a positive future.

Again, in Elaine and her mother’s story, the key message is about early detection and treatment as soon as possible.

All of us at RelateCare would like to express our deepest thanks to those who participated in Breast Cancer Awareness Month, particularly those who shared their very personal stories. For more information on Breast Cancer screening, diagnosis and treatment, follow the links below.

Ireland: Breast Cancer Ireland

USA: Breast Cancer Foundation | Susan G Koman