Derry mum of two Tracy McCann was diagnosed with breast cancer last year. Today she appeals to local woman to check for lumps for regularly...
“Don’t just say life is for living,” she said.
“Life your life. And don’t let anyone tell you there’s something you can’t do.”
The past year has given the mother of two a new outlook on life.
In the past 12 months Tracy has undergone two surgeries, six bouts of heavy chemotherapy and radiotherapy after discovering a lump in her right breast.
But Tracy (36) says she’s one of the lucky ones. Her cancer was discovered early and she’s had the support of partner Gerry and family to get through it.
She now wants the message to go out to all women in the North West that they need to check themselves for lumps regularly.
“I’ve always been someone who checked myself,” she said. “I had read about it at school and two of my aunts had breast cancer.
“The week I found my lump I’d been due to go on holidays and had been sitting out in the sun trying to start my tan.
“I had been putting on a lot of cream and felt that I knew what was going on in my body.
“So when I discovered the lump that morning it felt like it had appeared overnight.
Tracy rang her doctor for an emergency appointment and was then given a fast track referral.
“Dr Brown knew by the size of my lump that it needed to be addressed promptly,” she explained. “But I had booked to go on holidays. They couldn’t see me before the holidays so we decided to go on, have a good time and deal with it all when we got back.
“I kept telling myself that it was only a cyst. I had been training away and had been out on my bike every day. To be honest I never felt as well in my life. I hoped it would just be a blocked duct or a cyst and everything would be ok.”
When she returned home Tracy had her appointment at Altnagelvin Hospital where she had a physical exam, mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy.
“Initially they thought it may only be a cyst.
“There was a girl in front of me and she was going for the tests in front of me and everytime she came out she told me what was next. Her last step of the way was the Ultrasound. When she came out, she told me that they had only found cysts. Then they called me for my ultrasound.
“But I knew when they examined me that I wouldn’t be getting off the bed for a while.
“They told me that it wasn’t just the lump that I could feel but there were other lumps that I couldn’t see.
“They told me that there was a definite lump that would require two types of biopsy to tell us more and immediately after those biopsies I was given my news”.
“I was quite calm but I was in shock and squeezed Gerry’s hand. When they said the words ‘you have breast cancer’ it all became real.
“The hardest part was telling the wanes Oran (10) and Seanan (9). I am a person who hates negativity anyway so I tried to stay positive. The love and support was there, even though it was so hard to tell my mum and brothers who then told my Dad for me.
“But I know I was one of the lucky ones. My Aunt Eileen had been diagnosed with cancer on a Wednesday and died the following Wednesday.
“I’ll never forget how dignified and in control she was. She truly humbled me at the time. Eileen taught me a lesson, she would have given her right arm to be in the position I was in.
“After my surgery they told me the cancer hadn’t gone into my lymph nodes and I didn’t need a mastectomy, so the speed of my being seen so soon after finding the lump had been crucial. It was already at stage 3.
“I just thank god that I found it.
“But I made a decision, I said that the cancer might put me off course for a year but I decided it would not be the end of me. I feel so indebted to the medical and nursing staff who looked after me so well. They gave me my life back.
“My family were great, Gerry was just amazing. I think in a way it was worse for my family and friends. I wouldn’t want to watch anyone I love having to go through this. But I knew if they were ok, I’d be ok. “
Following her surgery Tracy lost her beautiful hair, something she said that found hard to cope with.
“Losing my hair was one of the hardest things, it was such a part of me.
“I kept my eyebrows and eyelashes until my third bout of chemo, but then I lost them.
“It was a hard thing because without them a woman has nothing to frame her face. I tried wearing wigs but they were too hot, so I made do with my headscarves.
“I became very sick during the chemo and had to sleep a lot of the time.I never knew what sick really was until that happened.”
Tracy finished chemo on December 5 and was determined to stay well to attend her friend’s wedding and school reunion that month. And although chemo had robbed her of her appetite she wanted to be well enough to eat dinner with her kids on Christmas day.
She’s now on a course of Herceptin, which she takes every three weeks for one year and will be on a daily tablet, Tamoxifen,for at least five years.
These days Tracy says she lets nothing stand in her way.
“Life is for living,” she said, “Don’t just talk about doing something, do it.
“Since the treatment stopped, I haven’t stopped. Gerry and I are just back from Anfield and we’ve been away on lots of wee breaks together and with the kids and I resumed my annual girls weekend to Tory Island with my mum, Ann and cousin, Linda this year again and we definitely made up for missing out last year!
“I just want women, young women in particular, who see this, to know how important it is to check themselves.
“Any changes or worries, make sure you get it checked out straight away.
“It could save your life.”
“I’ll never forget the support and help I received from all my family, friends, neighbours, work colleagues and Fr.Roland Colhoun.
“Their love and prayers gave me great strength and a true sense of feeling very blessed, that on its own could bring you through any challenge you might find yourself facing!”