A local mum diagnosed with breast cancer last year is appealing to women to hold a ‘Girls’ Night In’ to raise funds for Cancer Focus Northern Ireland.
Sonia Patton, from Bready, is a volunteer with the leading cancer charity that funds vital breast cancer research at Queen’s University, Belfast.
Sonia, who is married to Michael and has three daughters, Molly (16), Eve (6) and Alice (4), says: “I feel very strongly that the research at Queen’s, funded by Cancer Focus NI, is hugely important and I’d urge everyone to help raise much-needed cash for this essential work.”
Telling her story to help raise awareness of the disease, Sonia said: “In August/September last year, I was constantly feeling unwell, fluey, tired and run down - not like myself at all. I was going home in the evening and falling asleep on the sofa, sleeping all night and falling asleep at my desk at work by lunchtime.
“I went through a battery of tests at the doctors and saw a nutritionist. It was one thing after another with my bladder, bowels and back.
“After many visits, I eventually asked my doctor to check a spongy mass of tissue at the bottom of my breast, which had become painful over the previous three or four weeks. She thought it was a cyst but fast-tracked me for a mammogram and scan at Altnagelvin in December,” she revealed.
The radiographer told her he was 99% sure she had a benign cyst but took a biopsy. With Christmas coming up, he asked her to ring back on December 27 for the results. The breast care nurse rang her that morning to say the consultant would like to see her.
“It was at that point that I realised it was something serious,” she recalled. “My husband and I knew something was wrong because of the way people were dealing with me. The breast surgeon put her hand on my knee and asked if I was OK. I felt physically sick.
“The consultant confirmed I had a tumour and that I’d need an immediate mastectomy. It was a whirlwind - nothing seemed real. I couldn’t consider having a breast removed without some form of reconstruction. I knew the treatment would mean losing my hair and eyebrows - it was like losing my identity as a woman.”
Sonia was quickly seen by a breast surgeon and had six sessions of chemotherapy between February and May this year.
“It was a horrendous time, one of the low points, as I reacted very badly to the treatment,” she says. “During the first session, I developed cellulitis in my arm, and during the second I was really unwell with phlebitis.
“The third time, I became very sick and dehydrated and had to spend four days in hospital and I also developed deep vein thrombosis.
“ At this stage, I felt I couldn’t go through with it but, of course, you do. Finally, on May 29, we celebrated the last chemo session. Things started to get okay after that - not that it got easier but I knew what to expect,” she said.
On July 10, Sonia had the mastectomy and reconstruction. “That was when I was at my weakest but Molly and my family were all a tremendous support. It’s been very full on for Michael, too, he’s been amazing,” she added. This was followed by radiotherapy which has just finished, much to her relief.
“I have a young family and one of the most difficult things was deciding how to talk to them. My 16-year-old was very concerned about me and was worried this could happen to her. The little ones were upset seeing their mum so sick, it was very unsettling for them.
“The girls missed me as I was staying overnight in Belfast a lot for treatment – I couldn’t manage the travelling every day.”
It was during this time that Sonia began volunteering for Cancer Focus NI.
She added: “In the middle of it all, Molly did her GCSEs and I was concerned about the impact this would have on her, but she did really well and I’m so proud she was able to deal with it all. I can really see her growing up.
“I’m looking forward to getting back to a normal family life, being home with the kids. For me now, dealing with the fatigue is tough.
“I’ve started Herceptin and also hormone therapy which, unfortunately, has catapulted me into the menopause. That’s a bit of a struggle but something I’ll just have to come to terms with... Hopefully, however, I’ve turned a corner.”
If you’d like to organise a Girls’ Night In, get your pink party pack at www.cancerfocusni.org, call the fundraising team on 028 9066 3281 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.