Everyone loves a happy ending, but when I went to meet Maryrose McCready at the City Hotel this week, the last thing I was expecting was a pregnancy announcement.
A vibrant, beautiful young woman, Maryrose looks the picture of health, but she was diagnosed with bowel cancer less than two years ago, when she was just 27.
Expecting a cancer story, instead she told me one of faith, hope and now, a new life.
Beaming, she shying said, “I haven’t told anyone yet, apart from my immediate family, but I’m three months pregnant. I’m almost too emotional to tell everyone so they’ll all see it when they read the ‘Journal’.”
It was a lovely moment, tears threatened to spill, and that was just me.
You see, before disclosing her pregnancy, Maryrose did tell me her cancer story, and knowing what she came through, it was hard not to feel her joy so acutely.
Maryrose married her husband Stephen in April 2012 and the young couple held their reception at the City Hotel, where Maryrose works in the hotel gym. “It was an amazing day, everything was just perfect. We then went off the America for three weeks, visiting New York, Las Vegas and Florida, it was the trip of a lifetime.
“We were just back when I had a bowel relapse at home. The pain was excruciating, there was blood everywhere and Stephen had to call 999. An ambulance arrived and I spent the night in Altnagelvin.
“They repaired the damage, completed a few tests but sent me on home. I wasn’t a natural cancer risk. I was young and traditionally bowel cancer affects those over the age of 60. So it was three months before they called me back for a colonoscopy.”
When the colonoscopy came round Maryrose was asked if she wanted to watch the camera on screen, which she did.
“I saw the tumour immediately, it was a red mass with lumps and bumps on it. I knew straight away it was something serious. The doctor didn’t tell me outright then that it was cancer but I asked him if I should be worried and he admitted they were concerned about it.”
A more detailed colonoscopy was carried out a week later on a Friday, with a biopsy completed on the mass.
“That was a hard weekend, thousands of things were going through my mind. My family kept trying to reassure me that it would be fine but I knew in my heart that it wasn’t. On the Monday Stephen took me to Belfast, just to get away for a day, and we were driving home when I got the phone call.”
And it was there on a hard shoulder on the way back to Derry that Maryrose got the news she didn’t want to hear.
Surgery was scheduled for two weeks later, and in August 2012 doctors removed 12 centimetres of Maryrose’s bowel.
“When they took me in, they didn’t know if I would need a colostomy bag, so the night before the surgery they marked me out for one just in case. They showed me how to use it and I remember thinking, ‘How did this happen to me?’ I was fit and healthy, I exercised and my diet was good, there was a moment when I thought ‘Why me?’
“The surgery went well, and I didn’t need a bag fitted which was a relief. However, they told me I needed a scan afterwards to see if the cancer had spread. It was those four days that I found the hardest. I felt that if it was just the bowel cancer then I would be okay, it had been caught early enough and they had done something about it. It was the chance of having other cancers that scared me.”
Maryrose’s father had also had cancer, this time of his prostrate, when she was just 15.
“I knew he had come through cancer okay. I kept that in my mind. But it was a huge relief when the tests came back clear to know there wasn’t anything else.”
However, Maryrose had seen cancer do it’s worst too, as her aunt passed away from pancreatic cancer, aged just 47, while her cousin had been just 15 when he died, this time from a cancer affecting his bones.
“You always know a sad cancer story, and I knew that I had a family history but all I wanted to hear was the positive. I’m hoping someone will read my story and know there are people who survive.
“But there’s no doubt that I called on my faith to get me through too. I prayed every single day, I still do. When I was going through the operation my mother had people saying prayers for me at Fatima and Medjugorje, I took a lot of strength from that.”
Yet Maryrose recognises that medical research has played a huge part in her recovery.
“They do so much screening for bowel cancer now, but it’s for the over 60’s. They don’t normally see the type I had in younger people. But bowel cancer can be hereditary. They mentioned that my family could be at risk so my tumour was sent to the genetics testing centre in Belfast where they were able to test it - and the results came back saying my type was 99.9% not inherited.
“That was an amazing relief. To have that reassurance that my family wouldn’t get it, was indescribable.”
Maryrose’s parents, three brothers and four sisters were also given a routine colonoscopy while they waited for the results to come back, as they took six months.
“They were told in between that the colonoscopy’s were all clear so we were reassured the whole way along.”
One thing however wasn’t as clear cut; Maryrose’s chances of having a family.
“I hadn’t had chemotherapy or radiotherapy but because they had to remove my womb and uterus to operate on my bowel, they warned me that I may not fall pregnant. But I am! Just three months gone.
“We are over the moon, I had almost accepted that it wouldn’t happen, so I think I’m still in shock. I’m sort of glad people will read about it in the ‘Journal’ so I don’t have to tell them. I get too emotional talking about it.
“I feel great, just a touch of sickness so far, but I am over cautious these days. If I feel even a little bit funny, I get it checked out.
“I think back to how I felt before I was diagnosed and the bloating and cramps I had were signs of bowel cancer but I never asked about them.
“That’s the one thing I would tell everyone, never assume it’s normal, get it checked out. You’re always better safe than sorry.”
Going forward Maryrose is also going to be part of a new group in Derry dedicated to raising money for Cancer Research UK.
“They do such amazing work and anyone with cancer has a better chance of survival because of their research.
“I’m going up to Belfast to see first hand the work they do which I’m really looking forward to.
“I then plan to organise a series of charity events to raise funds.
“At the City Hotel we regularly fundraise in the gym and going forwards a lot of that money will be going to Cancer Research UK.”
First published 01 June 2014