‘If telling my story helps one woman, I’ll be delighted’

Grainne Murphy pictured at her Eglinton home this week. DER3615MC087
Grainne Murphy pictured at her Eglinton home this week. DER3615MC087

Cancers of the “nether regions” are high on that list - but with a high profile campaign already launched to raise awareness of cervical cancer following the death of local woman Sorcha Glenn - another local woman has decided it’s time to speak up on behalf of the 8,000 women each year who are diagnosed with cancer of the uterus (womb).

Grainne Murphy is currently recovering from major surgery and radiation therapy following her diagnosis with womb cancer in April of this year.

She admits herself, as she will be under review, she doesn’t know what to tell people. “Do I still have cancer? Have I beaten it? Will it stay away?”

It’s a difficult time mentally and emotionally for the 53 year old mother of one - but she is determined some good will come of her experience as she reaches out to help other women who may find themselves facing the same terrifying diagnosis she faced earlier this year.

Grainne’s experience came entirely out of the blue - although she says in hindsight there were certain signs of symptoms which she had just put down to her busy life or her age.

“The one thing I had noticed was just how tired I was. I struggled to stay awake at times - and would often come in from work, lie down on the sofa and find myself waking up three hours later. Or I would wait all day to watch a programme on TV and find that I had fallen asleep and missed it all - but I have a busy life. I would get up before six each morning to leave my husband to work, then put in my own day’s work at a local estate agent’s office before coming home.

“I was always doing something.”

But when she set about preparing the garden at her Eglinton home in March, things took a turn for the worse as she edplained.

“I decided to start clearing out the weeds in the front garden on March 17 - as I do every year. I set about working all day and when I was done, I was exhausted. I had a lie down, and felt an awful pain in my stomach.

“I have IBS, so I did put it down to that - but the next day I was at work when I felt cramps - like period pains. I hadn’t had a period in ten years so it felt strange and I went to the bathroom in work - where I got a huge shock.”

Grainne discovered that she was bleeding heavily - and even though the bleed eased off the following day she felt deeply uneasy at the experience.

“I went on the internet and Googled what it meant to have a bleed 10 years after your last period. It immediately threw up uterine cancer. I was watching TV with my family, sitting at the laptop and trying to keep it to myself but I started to have a very bad feeling.

“All I could think was ‘just breathe’, ‘just breathe’.”

With the encouragement of a friend at work Grainne booked an appointment with her GP and was immediately referred to the Gynaecology department at Altnagelvin Hospital.

When she attended her appointment she was given an internal examination and underwent a hysteroscopy, where a small camera was inserted into her uterus, via her cervix.

“My cervix looked fine - absolutely healthy. But when he looked further into my uterus he said he saw a ‘polyp’ - I knew then, I just knew.”

A biopsy was performed on the polyp and Grainne was told she would have the result within two weeks - just a week later she was called back into hospital.

“Being me, I had been on Google again so I knew that if there was a nurse in the room when I arrived to see the doctor, it was likely I had cancer. I walked in and sure enough there was a nurse standing in the corner.

“Again I just kept telling myself to ‘just breathe’ - to listen to the doctor and that I could fall apart later.”

Grainne was diagnosed with Stage 3A aggressive uterine cancer - and was scheduled to undergo a full pelvic clearance (removal of the uterus, cervix, ovaries, fallopian tubes, lymphnodes, blood vessels and some tissue).

Following that she went through brachytherapy - a form of specially targeted radiotherapy for four weeks.

Her recovery, physically, has been slow but she says she is starting to feel better in herself. She still tires easily - and will be under review for the next five years. The hope is that all the cancer was removed with surgery - but living with the knowledge that it could return is a bitter pill to swallow.

“I saw my doctor recently and I asked when I would stop being afraid - of course her answer was that I wouldn’t,” Grainne said.

The mental toll of battling cancer has been immense and, despite huge support from her family, friends and co-workers, there are times when Grainne felt very isolated.

It was in those times that she reached out, using Google again, to find a support network and came across an online group for women who have experienced womb cancer.

“Ultimately you are in your own head when you are fighting cancer,” Grainne said, “But to be able to talk to people who know exactly what you are going through is amazing. We can talk about anything - we laugh and we cry. Sometimes it is enough just to know someone else is out there.”

Womb Cancer Support UK was set up by womb cancer survivor Kaz Molloy to provide online support for women and to raise awareness of this cancer.

“I don’t understand why it isn’t talked about more. If I hadn’t spoken to my doctor when I did - I don’t know what would have happened.

“It is fourth most common cancer in women but no money is put into research. People aren’t always aware of the symptoms, and people are dying from it.”

Grainne hopes to set up a Northern Ireland wide branch of the support group - which has adopted the colour peach as its logo.

“Derry has the Pink Ladies, now we can have the Peach Ladies as well.

“I have never done anything like this before in my life - but if I can help one woman feel less alone, less frightened then it is all worth it.”

Grainne can be contacted at culmore1961@gmail.com