Help is at hand.
Life for Jennifer Peoples in early 2021 was good. Despite the ongoing pandemic, she was content, living in a COVID bubble with her partner Malcolm and her daughter and three grandchildren who live next door. So the suddenness of an ovarian cancer diagnosis at the end of June was so unexpected it rocked her to the core. In a matter of weeks she went from presenting her symptoms to her GP in Letterkenny to attending an oncologist in St James’ in Dublin, who immediately recommended surgery followed by chemotherapy. The surgery, which was long and involved, took place at the end of July but thankfully all went well. Five weeks later Jennifer started her chemo.
Jennifer remembers how incomprehensible it all seemed. “Nothing was sinking in. While I knew the reality of it and I was keeping up a brave face, it just didn’t seem that this could be happening to me. It was too big a thing for me to process and I just shut down a bit and held it all in. It was my way of coping initially.” Early September Jennifer started her chemotherapy in Letterkenny University Hospital. At the hospital she was given some leaflets with information on where she could get some support. One of the leaflets was from Cancer Care West, who have a cancer support centre in Letterkenny, and Jennifer decided to give them a call and see what they could offer.
Very quickly Jennifer started availing of Cancer Care West’s counselling service with Dr John Donohue at the centre. Describing the effect the counselling had on her she said “It’s hard to describe but it was like I could leave down a big load I was carrying. Suddenly I could breathe. I felt lighter, calmer and more able to cope. It didn’t take the worry and stress of the situation away but it definitely helped me manage it better. From the beginning I knew that this was what I needed.” John was able to prepare Jennifer for much of what she would experience over the coming months. He was also able to provide the outlet she needed to vent her anger, discuss her fears and put words on the many emotions she was experiencing. Jennifer had regular sessions with John right through her chemotherapy but also after the treatment was finished. “I didn’t know that feeling well and being well are two different things. After six months of surgery and chemotherapy I was happy to be alive and felt I could move forward and on with my life but it’s not so easy. The physical and emotional aftereffects are much stronger than I expected and here again I found the counselling extremely helpful.”
Jennifer is now picking back up the threads of her life post this traumatic period. “I have a different perspective on things now and that’s something I am learning to live with. I know that starting counselling with John, as early as I did in the process, was the best possible decision I could have made because I really couldn’t have coped as well as I have without that support. The care I have received from Cancer Care West has been amazing. They are such a small charity, providing so much help to cancer patients and all for free. Looking back I am almost surprised I made it through it all but I know that the counselling I received made a big difference. I am happy to share my story now and my message – don’t hesitate to seek help. If you have cancer it will make a difference to your story too.”