‘I am proof that early detection is vital – we all need to be more vigilant’
Siobhán Doran was diagnosed with cancer, and went on to have successful treatment, after noticing a strange mark under her left breast
Siobhán Doran: “All too often people are afraid of the C word, but when it is detected early, it can be treated.”
Siobhán Doran has always been fit and healthy – the mother of three had a full fitness regime and never for a moment thought of herself as being in anything other than good shape.
However, while practising a new swimming technique, she noticed a strange mark under her left breast and initially thought it was nothing to be concerned about. “Last year I was training for a tri-tri [a mini triathlon] and had started swimming in January, but couldn’t quite get my breathing right,” she says. “So a few months in, I asked a friend for some advice and she told me to practice a particular technique in front of a mirror.
“I started doing it, but noticed a pull on my skin under the left breast which I initially thought was a stretch mark. It could only be seen when I had my hand over my head and even then it was really faint. I showed it to my husband, Patrick and asked him to take a photo of it which I sent to a friend who also thought it was a stretch mark – so I left it at that.”
The Leitrim woman, who was also preparing for a marathon later in the year, decided to go to her GP for an examination as she couldn’t figure out what it was. “At the time I was swimming three times a week, running four times weekly and going to two spin classes each week,” she says. “I was very active, but couldn’t put the mark out of my head, so I went to the GP who couldn’t see anything at first and then when I put my hand over my head she said she could see a very small dimple, so decided to refer me to a specialist.
“The wait was six to nine weeks, but I didn’t want to wait and be worrying, so decided to go privately and I got an appointment a couple of weeks later. The consultant was fantastic and said he would send me straight away for an ultrasound, mammogram and biopsy.”
March 22nd is Daffodil Day, the annual fundraising event for the Irish Cancer Society, and stories like Doran’s show how important it is to seek advice if you have any concerns. By being cautious and getting herself checked out, Doran, who is mother to Emmet (13), Caoimhe (11) and Evelyn (9), was diagnosed with cancer and went on to have a successful treatment programme.
“I am quite laid back so wasn’t really worried initially, but had an inkling that something was wrong and when the consultant said they had found a tumour under my left breast, I just wanted to get on and remove it from my body as quickly as possible,” she says. “Further results showed that the cancer was also in three or four of my lymph nodes and I was told that I might need a mastectomy and also have the nodes removed – I said ‘do what you have to do’.
“I was grateful that the doctor got straight to the point as I am like that myself and he advised me to tell the kids, which I did as soon as I got home. I was diagnosed on 3rd of April and I went on to do the tri-tri on the 26th as I figured I would be better just keeping life as normal as possible. But the only time I cried was when I told my colleagues at work as it was the first time it seemed real because I would have to take time off for surgery and recovery.”
The dental hygienist underwent a mastectomy and had the lymph nodes removed before going on to start a course of chemotherapy which lasted several months. “Looking back it was a tough time, but when I was going through it, I told everyone I was grand, which my husband told me not to say as it obviously wasn’t,” she says. “I let the kids shave my hair as I thought it would help them be more involved in the whole process and when I told them that my ‘boob was sick’ and would have to be taken off, my youngest asked me if I would walk funny – so it was good that we made them aware of everything that was happening so it wouldn’t be scary for them.
“Throughout it all, I got up at the same time every morning and got the kids ready for school – I wanted things to be as normal as possible – then I went back to bed afterwards. Then after the chemo, I started my course of radiotherapy and that finished on 14th of December 2018. So, thankfully, now it’s all over and all though I had a chemo cough, put on four stone and got a few infections, I got through it all and am out the other side.”
Now that Doran is back on her feet, she is determined to get in shape again with an astonishing diary of sporting events on the agenda.
“I am back training now as I want to lose the weight I gained and stop looking sick,” she says. “I did a ¾ marathon in September, I know I shouldn’t have, but I walked it so it was fine. When I was midway through my radiation, I started swimming again three times a week – I believe that life is too short and I don’t want to sit around and let cancer control me – I’m determined to take the reins myself.
“I am back training and doing the tri-tri again in April. I have also signed up for a sprint in early September, the Berlin marathon a few weeks later and the Dublin Marathon in October. I believe that having these things to aim for will help me to get better. I still have some issues, for example, I can’t lunge without falling over, which my son thinks is hilarious. So we have practices several times a week as it’s winning the little goals, which keep us going. And, of course, so do my family and friends – I have some great friends who kept me laughing throughout and both they and my family have been phenomenal.”
She says people need to stop worrying about what they look like and instead, think about their health and fitness and make the most of life. “If I could write a letter to myself at 18, I would say ‘stop worrying about things, you’re gorgeous, just enjoy life’,” she says. “Women are always stressing about their flabby bits and their stretch marks, but none of that stuff is important. We should all be proud of what we have and exercise to stay healthy not because we are concerned about being thin.
“I am a lot stronger since I had cancer as it gave me an inner strength I didn’t know I had – although my friend was diagnosed with leukaemia three days after I got the all clear in January 2019 and that was much harder for me to deal with than when I was sick myself.
“All too often people are afraid of the C word, but when it is detected early, it can be treated. I only discovered something was wrong because I was doing a swimming technique, not checking myself for abnormalities – so we all need to be more vigilant and get better at checking ourselves – I am proof that early detection is vital.”
The Irish Cancer Society’s Daffodil Day, supported by Boots Ireland, takes place on March 22nd and raises funds to support cancer patients and their families. Buy a Daffodil on the day, or donate at cancer.ie