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Cancer totally floors you, says Mullingar survivor

Thursday, 27th March, 2014 5:05pm

Cancer totally floors you, says Mullingar survivor

Mullingar cancer survivor and Daffodil Day (Friday March 28) co-ordinator Marie O’Toole.

Daffodil Day is Friday March 28

Eager to contribute to the fight against cancer in a “concrete way”, Marie became involved with the Irish Cancer Society. Currently, the chief co-ordinator for Daffodil Day and Pink Ribbon Day in the Mullingar area, Marie says each year she is amazed by the generosity here.
“We have 80 volunteers in the Mullingar area. I think Daffodil Day is recognised because when people come up to make a donation about one in 10 will tell you how they have been affected. People will stop and tell you the stories. The volunteers love to hear them as a lot are survivors themselves.”

Irish Cancer Society support in Westmeath
in 2013:
• Nurses provided 204 nights of care to 45 patients in Westmeath.
• Some 430 journeys were provided to Westmeath cancer patients in Westmeath through the Care to Drive Scheme.
• More than €23,000 was granted to people in Westmeath who were experiencing extreme financial hardship because of their illnesses.
• There were 73 calls from Westmeath people to the National Cancer Helpline (1800200700).

Mullingar cancer survivor Marie O’Toole’s world was turned upside down when she was “visited” by the life threatening disease in 2007.

“I had been feeling slightly ill at the end of 2006 and in 2007 went to my doctor. After a number of tests, I was sent on for a colonoscopy and there and then on the day of the test, the consultant said that he was 95% sure that it was cancerous. He said that there was a significant tumour in the colon but that he would have to wait until the results came back to know for sure.”

A busy working mother of one, Marie had to wait a week and a half to have her worse fears confirmed. It was the longest 10 days of her life, she says.

“The not knowing is the worse. The not knowing how bad it was going to be. Was I going to be around? My son was then 10 and I was thinking: ‘Am I going to be around for him?’ That week and a half was the worse part of it. The not knowing. To have it confirmed wasn’t as bad as the waiting.

“Once it was confirmed they started looking at a treatment plan. You feel then that you are going into a system and dealing with professionals.”

Marie had to wait “a long month” before her treatment began in St Vincent’s Hospital – treatment that included four operations and numerous hospital visits over the course of the year. Unsure of what lay of ahead of them, Marie and her husband decided to tell their son the bare minimum.

“We felt that there was no point in worrying him at the start about the big word cancer, so we just said mum has to go off and have operations on her tummy. That’s really all he knew at that stage. We told him two years later.

“Before this he had been looking for a mobile phone but we thought that he was too young. When I got the diagnosis and I knew that I would be spending a long time in hospital, we said: ‘We have good news and bad news. The bad news is that I’m not well and I have to go into hospital and I will be away for a while, but the good news is that you will be getting a mobile phone [laughs]. He thought it was great that he was getting a phone and the rest went over his head.

“The staff at St Vincent’s were absolutely wonderful but no matter what, nothing is easy. You start off and you hit one obstacle then another, but they work with you.

“They are looking at lots of people that have gone through this – but you think that you are the only person that has experienced it. That’s the benefit of going to a centre of excellence – they know what they are dealing with. My case was probably one of several of the same they were dealing with.

“I was fortunate that my cancer was found at the early stages. I didn’t have to go through the trauma of chemo. I was spared that. I had two sections of my colon removed. The first time they had to remove 12 inches.”

Six weeks after her first operation, Marie’s doctor told her they were confident that all of the tumour had been removed. While the relief that brought was “just incredible”, she says that both physically and mentally it took her a long time to get back to herself.

“I would be a confident sort of person normally but you go home and you are afraid and nervous and don’t have confidence in yourself.

“I’m the quality control manager at Trend Technology, so control is a big thing, knowing the process and how we can work through issues, but cancer totally floors you. You’ve lost control of your wellbeing and health. You just feel you are out of control because you can’t do what you want to do.

“My husband was fantastic. He spent a lot of time with me in the hospital, but had to return to work. My friends were absolutely brilliant. They had a little rota. They would help me cook or put on a wash. Sometimes they would just sit with me, and the fact that I knew someone was there was great.”

While she most definitely didn’t think it at the time, seven years on Marie says that being confronted by her own mortality was actually a positive development.

“You take a lot for granted but when the prospect of that is taken away, you really look at life differently. That’s why when I turned 50 I just thought ‘wow’.

“I remember when I was 40 I thought it was depressing and I didn’t want anyone to know. Then when I turned 50 and I looked at it so differently. I’ve been through so much and I have lived to tell the tale. I have lived to be here with my son and my family. It was just wonderful. It gave me a totally different perspective on life.

“I now think that I was fortunate to have been visited by cancer. At the time of course I didn’t, but when I look at it now I think it gave me an opportunity to appreciate life.”

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