Margaret Hargraves from Mullingar was feeling “fit and healthy” when she received the news that no one wants to hear in 2003.
“I went for a check-up with my GP. I was over 50 and feeling great after coming back from a three-month holiday in Australia with my husband,” said Margaret.
“My doctor informed me that everyone over 50 should be under the Breast Check umbrella. He made the appointment and three months later the Breast Check bus came to Mullingar. I was very lucky my mammogram picked up a tumour that was smaller than a pea.
“I was very aware of breast cancer because my mother, Chris, had it at that time and subsequently died from it. I was very conscious of checking my breasts, but it (the tumour) was so small I wouldn’t have felt it.”
Mum of one Margaret had a mastectomy in the “absolutely fantastic” Mater hospital and followed it up with a six-week course of radiotherapy and then a six-month course of relatively mild chemotherapy.
“I had a mastectomy, because it was early stages and it hadn’t travelled. While a small percentage of cancers are genetic, on my father and mother’s sides of the family there has been cancer. My father’s brother got breast cancer at 72; on my mother’s side two nieces had it.
“I would say mine was genetic and so would my oncologist.”
While her treatments made her tired, Margaret says that thankfully she was spared many of the side effects that some cancer suffers experience, such as hair loss. To make a difficult situation even worse, Margaret’s mother passed away during this time.
“I couldn’t have done it without the support of family and friends. It was a journey to Dublin every day and with my mother passing away during my treatment, my stress levels were high, which didn’t help either.
“I am one of those people that always look on the bright side and I’m positive, but when you have a bereavement like that, it can take you down. The staff at the hospital were amazing during that time.”
“It was a tough time, 2004, but it also made me strong. I was so lucky to feel so well at the end of the treatment and so lucky to have a wonderful team in the Mater. I had an awful lot to be thankful for.”
Now, 12 years on, Margaret is the picture of health. Always careful about her diet and weight, she says that her cancer battle has made her more aware about the importance of eating healthily.
“I realised that I was lacking in essential vitamins and minerals. I immediately increased all my greens. I would say that everyone, whether you like them or not, should put them into soups or other dishes.
“I also definitely became more positive. While my mother was having her own brave battle, that was one thing she said – be positive. An attitude of gratitude is very high up on my list now and so is helping people. ”
A “people’s person”, Margaret has an active life that would be the envy of people 30 years younger. In addition to exercising regularly, she is a member of several clubs and groups.
One organisation close to her heart is the Irish Cancer Society, and for more than 10 years she has been on the local organising committee for Daffodil Day, which is this Friday March 11 – see panel, above.
“There’s a real family feel (to the committee) and there is great camaraderie. Daffodil Day is our flagship fundraiser and for that to work, it’s all about volunteers. We co-ordinate our 100 volunteers for the different centres around Mullingar. A number of schools also get involved, which is great.
“The cancer survival rates are going up and that’s because of research. The government don’t fund any cancer research. They haven’t got it. Over 90 percent of the funding comes from donations and the public who are doing all this. They are just wonderful.”
The reason for the Irish public’s continued support for Daffodil Day, Margaret says, is that “every single family has been affected”.
“People are so generous with Daffodil Day, because they know that it will help someone in their family or someone they know.”
Every euro donated during Daffodil Day makes a difference to people with cancer and their families. It provides services such as night nursing and patient transport, for those affected by cancer and it funds vital cancer research.”