Receiving a cancer diagnosis is probably one of the most difficult incidents any one will face in their lives. It is particularly cruel when it comes after one of the happiest times in your life, the birth of your first child. For Sharon McClean this became a reality in October 2020 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer a year after welcoming baby Zoe into her family. At only 46 Sharon could not imagine that the few symptoms she had could be cancer, indeed she attributed most of them to the ups and downs of life as a new mother. The resulting shock was enormous.
Life quickly became a whirlwind of tests, results, procedures and treatment plans. The medical side of dealing with breast cancer in Ireland is hugely advanced and works extremely well, even during COVID-19. Sharon was brave and strong and went into it all with energy and determination, not least because she had a beautiful little girl at home who just wanted her mammy. While physically Sharon was coping well with her chemotherapy at Letterkenny University Hospital, the psychological effects of her diagnosis were starting to show and her oncology team recognised them and recommended she attend Psycho-Oncology counselling. Sharon reached out to Cancer Care West in Letterkenny and was offered counselling with Dr. John Donohue a Senior Clinical Psychologist.
As Sharon looks back at those first few weeks she says “At first I was not sure what this was all about and how it would help. John was very quiet and let me do most of the talking. While I am quiet good at that I didn’t know if it was getting me anywhere”. Soon however the benefits of these chats with John became very apparent. She describes it as “having a place where you can name your worst fears out loud and not scare someone to death. I could talk about seeing my own grave and then once the words were said it stopped being so horrifying and I could start to mentally deal with what was happening to me.”
Despite the fact that Sharon never met John initially, due to COVID-19 restrictions, the remote counselling was a huge benefit to her and really helped her to move into a better place mentally. Then as she finished her chemo she also signed up to sessions with Emma Houlihan a Cancer Rehabilitation Physiotherapist with Cancer Care West. Emma is helping Sharon manage her physical rehabilitation so she understands her body’s needs and works within her limits while slowly working back to the full-on life she had and will soon have again.
Sharon is now approaching the end of her radiotherapy treatment. Her hair is already growing back and she is feeling much better and stronger as she starts contemplating the future. “I believe that I am mentally and physically stronger post my diagnosis, thanks to the wonderful support I received at Cancer Care West. John and Emma have helped me understand my new reality and to deal with it, positively and constructively, so I am in a great place to move on now.” Her husband and her rock, Gregor, and baby Zoe are thrilled to see the wonderful wife and mother that Sharon is, prepare to take on the world again. We at Cancer Care West are looking forward to meeting Sharon in person, post COVID-19, and meantime we wish her well as she once again embraces life to the full.