How Breast Cancer has Touched my Family

My Granny was a strong character. She raised 12 children, 28 grandchildren and she worked diligently on a farm throughout her life.


I stayed with her most weekends. Whether we watched Richie Kavanagh or listened to Daniel O’Donnell, we always had good craic. She always looked after me, I remember she always checked on me throughout the night and pulled up the blankets on me when I was asleep. She used to hide King crisps in her wardrobe for me and she always had my favourite dinner ready for me every Sunday.


She got Alzheimer’s when I was in secondary school, it was bad but it was manageable for a few years. Her children took turns looking after her and they made her home alzheimer's- friendly (hiding the keys at night so she couldn’t leave, labelling presses) so we could deal with it.


My Granny was diagnosed with Breast Cancer the summer of my Leaving Certificate. It was removed and it was such a relief to the family. Even though she had Alzheimer's, we were all just so glad that she was physically healthy.


But it was only a matter of months before it returned. It took only months after that for the cancer to spread everywhere and it was at that point that we knew her case wasn't curable. We knew that cancer was an unwelcome new member of our family and her Alzheimer's definitely made her case worse.


We always had to acknowledge it and revolve our lives around it. And in the end when her health got too low, she had to be hospitalised.

Being in another county while there was something like this was happening was awful. I know my home county Cavan isn’t too far away from Dublin, but it felt a million miles away when this was going on. I wanted to know every detail of how my granny was feeling at every hour and not knowing what was going on was so terrifying. I always worried about the pain that she was going through and I knew she would’ve been oblivious and scared due to her Alzheimer’s.


I did travel up and down to Dublin to see her a lot. Her hospital room was small. She was always surrounded by the many family members who adored her but she was never alert. She couldn’t move or eat towards the end. It was depressing because everytime someone would go home it was like they were saying their last goodbye to her just in case.


The last day of her life I was left alone with her in her room, something I was always afraid of in case something happened. She began to breathe weirdly, so I went over and held her hand, she made direct eye contact with me, something she struggled to do with anyone for the last few weeks and I knew then that she wasn’t going to be around for much longer.


When I was going home I was asked if I wanted to say goodbye to her, but I said, “no I’ll see her tomorrow.”  We got a phone call later that evening saying that it was time. Considering we always received those calls, I didn’t pass many remarks but my mam did go back to the hospital.


The next morning I woke up and I felt very strange. I went to look for my mam and she still wasn’t home. That was the moment I knew. I am glad I didn’t go to the hospital that time because I know I couldn’t have dealt with seeing the most powerful woman in my life at her weakest.


After she died, it was a strange transition. It was so different to no longer carry the weight of uncertainty around. Even though we all miss her, we are happy that she is no longer suffering. Our big family still do see each other but it is less often than before, Granny really was the foundation of us all being together, whether it was looking after her or just for the craic.


It did seem impossible to me that life could go on without her. I didn’t know a life without her, it sometimes still is unthinkable. Over a year later, it still hits me sometimes like a fresh loss, like it's happening all over again. But I would not be the person I am today without her, she had such an influence on me growing up and I am grateful that she was in my life.