"Take each day as it comes and take all the support you can get," advises Jane Gantley, who is recovering from the breast cancer surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatment she had over the last year.
Gantley's diagnosis of breast cancer came almost a year after her older sister, Linda Jones, had also been diagnosed and treated for breast cancer – in the same hospital. "I took Jane's diagnosis worse than my own because when it's your own diagnosis, you go into action mode but when it's a sibling, it's more emotional and you know what lies ahead for that person," says Jones.
Gantley says that while she was supportive of her sister when she faced her breast cancer diagnosis in November 2017, she knows now she didn’t realise how difficult it was for her. “I remember when she told me she had breast cancer, I said, ‘you’ll get through it because I had a friend who had breast cancer in her early 30s and she got through it’ – but really I had no idea how difficult it was for her.”
Gantley says she was upset for her family when her diagnosis came just after her sister was ending her treatment. “I knew I’d be okay because I had seen how Linda dealt with it, but I felt sorry for my parents to have to cope with cancer again. I said to the surgeon, I’ll give you a year of my life to get rid of it.”
Both Gantley and Jones acknowledge that they are part of a close family and had great support from their husbands, parents and other siblings throughout their treatment. “When Linda was diagnosed, we all stayed very positive,” says Gantley. “I had lots of family members and friends offering to bring me in for chemotherapy, we nearly needed to have a rota,” says Jones.
Jones’s two boys were aged eight and 10 when she was diagnosed. “So, we told them at first that I had abnormal cells which grew into a lump which had to be removed. And, that I needed extra medicine to ensure it wouldn’t grow again. It was only when my hair started to fall out, did my older son ask me if it was like when someone had cancer so we told them then.” Gantley’s son was 22 at the time and a great support to his mum.
Both women discovered lumps in their breast out of the blue but both reacted quickly, making contact with their GPs, who referred them both to the Breast Clinic at Beaumont Hospital in Dublin. They were both fast-tracked for surgery, followed by chemotherapy and radiation treatment, although the specific type of breast cancer was different in each case. They both acknowledge the huge support they received from the breast cancer nurses at Beaumont Hospital and Jones will abseil off Croke Park on Saturday, October 12th, with others as part of a fundraising effort for the new Breast Clinic at the hospital.
The clinic will incorporate mammography services, consultation rooms and a research unit in the same building. An image-guided procedure room will make it possible for certain breast lumps to be removed in the clinic, avoiding the need for surgery for some patients.
There will also be a Stand Out for Breast Cancer lunch on Friday, October 4th. Women who have had or are undergoing treatment for breast cancer are invited to wear pink while other guests are requested to wear dark colours. Comedian Deirdre O’Kane is MC and tickets are €75. (Call Beaumont Hospital Foundation on 01-809 2457 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more details).
Jones says she found the hair loss during chemotherapy difficult to deal with. “I had long light-coloured, curly hair, now it’s brown.” She advised her sister, Jane, to have her hair cut before undergoing chemotherapy treatment so she wouldn’t notice the hair loss so much. “I took her advice and now my hair is starting to grow back quite nicely,” says Gantley.
Jones's thorough knowledge of the different treatments and various supports from cancer support centres and Facebook groups such as Breast Friends also helped Gantley. "I didn't go looking for any of this support until after my treatment but I needed it then because you often feel mentally worse after the treatment is finished. I also did the Move On exercise programme for cancer patients in Dublin City University, which helped me get back my fitness," she says.
Gantley got a puppy to encourage her to go out walking again and opted to join a choir towards the end of her treatment. “I joined the Sea of Change choir, which is a very positive group of women who’ve had cancer, had a child or other family member with cancer. There is a comfort in talking to like-minded women who understand what you’ve been through,” she says.