Subscriber OnlyYour Wellness

Breast cancer diagnosis: ‘I asked if I should bring someone with me. They said yes – so I knew what was ahead’

Cancer survivor whose life is ‘back on track’ urges patients to take one step at a time and trust the professionals

Having lost both of her parents to stomach cancer, Emma Meir was well aware of the importance of early detection and as soon as she discovered a lump in her left breast in 2015, she went to her GP and was promptly referred for a mammogram.

It came back clear, but she continued to monitor the lump, and sought professional advice again last year. This time, the outcome of which was entirely different.

“Over the years, I was very conscious of the lump and felt it again more prominently in August 2021,” says Emma. “I went to my GP last September and was referred for more tests – this time they were more thorough and I was sent for a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy. About a month later, I was called back for results and when I asked if I should bring someone with me, they said yes – so, at that point, I knew what was ahead. And the journey began.”

‘The worst moment was when my hair started falling out in clumps – I cried that morning, and it was hard for Mark to see me so upset’

The 52-year-old, who is married to Mark and has twin daughters, Katie and Sophie (18), says things moved swiftly and it wasn’t long before she began a treatment plan, which included surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. “The biopsy had come back showing cancer with one or two tumours at the back of my left breast and chest wall. At this stage, the extent of it was unknown, as was whether I would need a lumpectomy or a mastectomy and aftercare. We also didn’t know if it was anywhere else.


“As expected, there were lots of tests, scans and medical appointments, including some nodes removed to check for cancer, which thankfully were clear. But I was diagnosed with stage 3 cancer and told I was HER2-positive and required a mastectomy, followed by chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

“I met with the reconstructive breast surgery specialist and unfortunately, there wasn’t enough fat from my stomach, for a change, the one time I needed it, but an implant was agreed and it could be done at the same time as the left breast removal.”

In early December of last year, the Dublin woman underwent a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. She says everything went smoothly and she was back home within a few days. “I moved to SV Private [St Vincent’s Private Hospital], as thankfully I have healthcare. I continued with work, as I run my own businesses. The service there was great and I enjoyed the attention and quiet recovery time as, due to Covid, there were no visitors allowed.

“I had a lot of support, particularly from my friend Lewina, who led a big group of friends giving a huge amount of help to Mark and the girls, who went through the toughest six months of their lives. They had healthy dinners cooked and delivered to them while I was in hospital, during recovery and at other times too. Then a few weeks later, I met with my oncologist who explained the rest of the treatment and preventative plan, which included eight sessions of chemotherapy, followed by 20 days of radiotherapy.

“The worst moment was when my hair started falling out in clumps – I cried that morning, and it was hard for Mark to see me so upset. But, thankfully The Hair Club in Donnybrook were to hand and they fitted me in for a buzz cut. After first going to look at wigs with my friends, Sophie and Katie then helped me to choose some to wear. We made it a fun and memorable time – but to be honest, I never felt confident with the wigs, so wore beanie hats a lot, or sometimes nothing on my head at all. Now the hats are gone, my hair is growing back and my eyelashes are half back, so I am myself again – albeit with very short hair – I’m well on the road to recovery.

“But as I’m a coach and player at Avoca Hockey club, I swim regularly in the sea and love to play golf at Dún Laoghaire Golf Club, I’m a very active person and am hoping to return to all [activities] in October – because I miss my sports big time.”

‘We all manage things differently. Use the love and support [from family, friends and organisations like BCI] and continue to exercise on your good days’

The mother of two who runs her own businesses, Playball and MBE Coaching, says she is delighted to be back on track with her life. She hopes to be fully mobile again within a few weeks and would encourage others who have recently been diagnosed to take things one step at a time, to avail of any support that is offered and to trust the professionals.

“My advice to others [just diagnosed] would be to stay calm,” she says. “There are so many super medical professionals and state-of-the-art treatments now available – so if something doesn’t work or agree with you, there is something else. Daycare Oncology, where I got the chemotherapy, was most helpful – in fact my favourite visit was the triage area for the blood tests and port opening. The nurses there were so chatty and always put me at ease before the one- to three-hour infusions.

“Another word of advice [to people with cancer] is to slow down. We all manage things differently. Use the love and support [from family, friends and organisations like BCI] and continue to exercise on your good days – but rest when you can and go to bed early. You need your sleep as often it can be restless.

Breast Cancer Ireland (BCI) do amazing work to help breast cancer survivors like me through support, research, education and awareness to all. Their mission is to transform breast cancer from often being a fatal disease into a treatable illness through research, early detection, improved awareness and self-checking behaviours.”

More than 3,500 women (and about 40 men) are diagnosed with breast cancer every year in Ireland. It is the second most common cancer in this country (skin cancer is the first).

With the Great Pink Run taking place on Sunday, October 9th, at Dublin’s Leopardstown Racecourse and again in Kilkenny Castle Park on Sunday, October 16th, (as well as virtually across the country throughout the week), the mother of two is really looking forward to putting on her trainers and getting in on the action.

“I can’t wait to take part in the run, which is active and fun for the whole family,” says Emma. “I’d encourage everyone to wear pink, get out and know that you are helping current breast cancer sufferers and those in the future.”

Arlene Harris

Arlene Harris

Arlene Harris is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in health, lifestyle, parenting, travel and human interest stories