A new life in Ireland changed by a cancer diagnosis

Isabella Costa Rocha got her diagnosis two months after arriving from Brazil

Isabella Costa Rocha: “My dream now is to work with people who are facing cancer and to be able to help them.”

Isabella Costa Rocha: “My dream now is to work with people who are facing cancer and to be able to help them.”

 

Making the decision to emigrate to the other side of the globe is not something to be taken lightly – plans need to be made with regard to tying up loose ends at home and starting afresh somewhere else, plane tickets need to be bought, accommodation upon arrival has to be sorted and immediate finance secured. But, above all, a clean bill of health is essential.

With all of these requirements in order, Isabella Costa Rocha was looking forward to starting her new life in Ireland when she left Brazil for Dublin in December of last year. But just two months after arriving, the adventure seeker began feeling unwell and was subsequently given the disastrous news that she had cancer.

“When I lived in Brazil, I sold health food which I prepared myself and delivered to customers according to their diet,” she says. “I love cooking and Brazil; but decided during the pandemic that I wanted to change my life by coming to Dublin to study English, meet new people and experience a new culture.

“I arrived on December 9th, 2020 and was looking forward to my new future. But on February 25th, I felt a pain in my stomach that I have never had before. I know it was definitely something new as I had medical examinations before I left home, and I was perfectly healthy.

“But these pains were quite bad, so I went to the emergency department in the Mater hospital and tried to explain what was wrong with me. At the time, I found it difficult to tell them in English as I was still learning the language, but they were very patient and said I had to have some investigations done as they believed I had some kind of infection.”

Isabella.
Isabella.

Diagnosis

Isabella, who comes from a small “but united” family (comprising her mother, sister and 98-year-old grandmother) in Brazil, underwent various tests and scans before doctors discovered that she was suffering from something a lot more serious than an infection.

“Just a day after I went to the hospital with stomach pains, I was visited by a team of doctors who told me that I had leukaemia,” she says. “And they said that I needed to have a bone marrow test that afternoon to define what kind it was. I felt completely lost because they were speaking in English, and at first, I couldn’t really understand what was going on. I understood the word leukaemia, but I needed someone with me to be responsible for what was going on as I felt there must have been some sort of mistake.

“I didn’t think it was possible to have leukaemia. I had only arrived here two months previously, I had made a few friends and had just started seeing a guy who I met the week before – today he is my love, my boyfriend and my everything. When he called me, I told him what was going on and he quickly came to the hospital to be with me. It was really horrible – I was so tired and felt very unwell – and this was just our second date.”

After her diagnosis, Isabella began a gruelling treatment programme which is still ongoing – and despite being very unwell, she says the hardest part was trying to keep the news of her diagnosis from her family back home.

“I was told that I was very sick with leukaemia, myeloid level four,” she says. “The treatment was difficult, but I tried to remain strong and positive throughout the 36 chemotherapy sessions. I lost three teeth, went bald [from the chemo] and I lost both muscle and strength. But I also gained a new life and am so happy for this opportunity. I feel like I am a miracle from God.

“I have been here in the Mater hospital from 25th of February, 2021 and will remain for another few weeks – but I am happy that I am being cared for and I feel loved by everyone. It has been very difficult to fight cancer without my family nearby. I am the baby so I hid everything from my mother until I was fully diagnosed as I wanted to spare her some of the suffering she would endure – as she wouldn’t be able to visit because the airports are closed to Brazilians due to Covid. I feel that God helped me to tell her at the right time. I had told my sister, and this was of course difficult for her, but she told me she was praying that I would be cured.”

Isabella.
Isabella.

Positive

While the 40-year-old is still in hospital, her treatment is going well and she is feeling positive about her recovery, despite missing her family very much.

“I am feeling very good the moment,” she says. “I have been told that I don’t need a [bone marrow] transplant right now because my marrow is healthy and has tested negative for disease, which seems like a miracle. But I do need to have tests every three months to make sure that everything is going well – and I do believe I will be cured.

“Of course I miss my family, particularly my sister’s children, Lara, and Luca, who I love as if they were my own. My boyfriend, Mariusz, who I call Bubu, has helped me a lot, he has kept me steady throughout and supported me so well – so I feel I was blessed by coming to Ireland to find love with him and also so many friends within the hospital, including the nurses, those who work in kitchen, in cleaning, as assistants and the students – I may forget everyone’s names, but I won’t forget them or what they have done for me.

“I believe that everyone in the hospital saved my life in so many ways – apart from the medical treatment, they also held my hand, hugged me and wiped away my tears. They knew how difficult it was for me and they couldn’t have done more for me – I really love the Mater hospital and am proud to be part of their family.”

Isabella.
Isabella.

Once she has left the hospital Isabella says she hopes to use her talent for creating healthy food to help others with cancer. And she would advise anyone who has just received a similar diagnosis to stay positive and, if religious, to rely on faith.

“My dream now is to work with people who are facing cancer and to be able to help them,” she says. “And my advice to someone who has just received a diagnosis like mine is to firstly stay calm and to remember to take one day at a time. It is important to try and forget about the actual sickness and concentrate on the cure – positivity is essential – don’t let your mind get sick with your body. I also believe that cancer can be an opportunity for a new life, so don’t abandon any plans for the future – believe in God and know that cancer is temporary, but the cure will be eternal.

“I believe I have beaten cancer and I will make all my dreams come true.”

About leukaemia

– Leukaemia is a cancer of the blood or bone marrow usually affecting the white cells.
– A mutation happens in the cell turning it into a leukaemic cell or blast cell. This cell cannot function normally, so it continues to grow and takes over the bone marrow. This leads to reduction in healthy blood cells such as platelets, red cells, and white cells.
– There are four types of leukaemia – acute, chronic, myeloid, or lymphoid.
– Acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) is a rare cancer affecting about 80 new patients in Ireland per year.
– It can happen at any age but is more common over the age of 60. It affects men and boys more than girls or women.

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