“Life for a cancer patient is all about percentages and statistics.”
Carole Troy was diagnosed with Stage 3 lobular breast cancer in February of this year.
After finding a lump in her breast while taking a shower, she immediately sought advice from her GP, who referred her to the breast centre in Waterford. Following a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy, her results showed what she had feared.
“Within just over three weeks of my diagnosis the country went into lockdown,” she says. “So, I was at home with two young children trying to prepare mentally and physically for what was to come.”
Carole had two options: she could postpone her chemotherapy and see whether the coronavirus situation improved, or she could go ahead with it. She wasn’t just risking complications, she was also subjecting herself to a lot of isolated hospital visits, where she would undergo her treatment totally alone.
“Under normal circumstances when you have chemotherapy you can have someone with you, partner, sister, friend,” says Carole. “But due to the restrictions I could have no one accompany me.
“My first day of chemo I sat in the car park with my husband and I just cried because I was just so frightened. Not just of chemotherapy but how everything was going to go. Would I make it through this? Would I see my children grow up?
“I had days where I struggled out of bed, but I had to as I had two children at home who needed to be home schooled. I lost my hair which is so difficult as straight away you look like a cancer patient and I hated that.”
Carole says that despite the additional challenges that came with receiving treatment during the pandemic, the support of staff at Waterford University Hospital got her through it.
“Chemotherapy isn’t just something you get through physically; you have to get through it mentally too and their help and guidance were invaluable,” she says.
“I had times during chemotherapy when my body just would not cooperate, my liver was affected which meant a reduction in my chemotherapy dose, I developed nerve damage in my feet which may never go away, and again my treatment was delayed and the dose reduced.
“When these things happen, you are all the time wondering how will this affect my long term prognosis and unfortunately that’s a question no one can answer.”
After four months Carole finished her treatment and underwent surgery, a lumpectomy and the removal of 16 lymph nodes. She was soon given the all-clear from her oncologist. The treatment had worked, she was cancer free.
At least, she would be unless the cancer returned. Breast cancer recurrence is common, and despite the two preventative treatments Carole is now on, she still can’t be sure that her cancer won’t come back.
Her oncologist suggested starting a drug called pertuzumab, an expensive treatment that Carole did not not qualify for under the HSE because she has already received chemo and surgery. Desperate to avail of the drug, Carole set up a GoFundMe page in an attempt to raise the €54,000 needed to pay for her treatments.
And last week, she raised it. At the time of writing, the page has received over €62,000 in donations, the surplus of which Carole will donate to Breakthrough Cancer Research in Cork and to West Waterford Hospice.
The success of her crowdfunding, and the generosity of the public, mean that she can avail of the drug, and give herself a better chance of survival longer-term.
“I think when people heard my story they realised that this could be anyone,” she says. “My story is not unique, people everyday are denied treatment because they don’t tick a box.
“Life for a cancer patient is all about percentages and statistics. Pertuzumab adds to the chance that I can prevent my cancer from recurring. Some would argue that you are only adding a couple of percent to that chance. But I would say, stand in my shoes and say it is only a couple of percent.
“I have two young children that I want to see grow and be there for. I will grasp at any percent that I can get to ensure that I get to fulfil that wish.”
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. If you’re in any way concerned about changes in your body, contact your GP.