Mother-of-five Sonya Hamilton McCloskey had been querying a persistent pain in her side with medical professionals for two years, when she found a lump in her breast.
The St Johnston woman, who now lives in Ballybofey, was later diagnosed with stage three breast and lymph node cancer, but further tests revealed she also has cancer in her lungs, liver and pancreas.
Doctors believe the initial pain the 35-year-old was experiencing was related to the pancreatic cancer and where the disease initially started.
Since Sonya’s diagnosis in April of this year, her local community in Ballybofey and beyond, alongside friends and family, have been generously fundraising as a way to help and support her.
So far, a phenomenal E54,000 has been raised to help Sonya, her husband Michael and five children - Jasmaine (16), Rihanna (11), Kailin - the only boy - (10), Sorcha (4) and Miyah (3).
The funds raised will not only help the family financially, as Michael has had to give up his main source of income to support Sonya and the children, it will also help pay for treatment which, it is hoped, will help her.
Her good friend Lisa Spelman spoke to the ‘Journal’ about the ‘amazing’ Sonya and told how it is hoped a leading precision oncology services laboratory, Oncologica, will be able to determine targeted and trialled treatment.
She explained: “Sonya initially went to the doctor two years ago with the pain in her side, but was told it could be a pulled muscle. It got more persistent and she went back. She was told it might be different things.”
Last July, the pain was so severe Sonya rang an ambulance. She was taken to hospital but discharged without treatment. Alongside the intolerable pain, Sonya also had bowel issues. She took painkillers to get through the day, but continued with busy family life as best she could.
Lisa told how a Colonoscopy later came back clear, but Sonya continued to lose weight - three stone - for no reason. She could hardly walk, sleep, or eat. A blood test showed an elevated liver count and she was sent to hospital, but discharged to await a CT scan. While waiting, Sonya found the breast lump and was diagnosed, while further tests showed more cancer.
Due to the fact the cancer had substantially spread, treatment options were limited. So, her friends undertook substantial research and found Oncologica, which came to Ireland and took part of her biopsy for testing. This cost 2000 euro.
Oncologica will assess the type of cancer Sonya has and identify trialled, specific treatment for her. This will be assessed by her oncologist and a plan outlined.
Sonya recently became jaundiced and underwent a stent procedure in hospital in Galway for liver blockages. This was a success.
While doctors initially told Sonya she did not meet the requirements for chemotherapy, the success of this treatment meant she was able to receive her first round two weeks ago. She was then also able to go home and see her children, the four youngest of which were unable to visit her in hospital.
Lisa said that Sonya’s spirits have been ‘lifted’ being at home with her children, ‘hearing them laugh and play and just knowing they’re ok.’ She has also been heartened by the amazing response of her local community, who Lisa said have ‘just scooped Sonya up in their arms’.
“The response has been unreal. Every business has posters up and we’ve had so many fundraising events take place, with more to come. We cannot thank everyone enough. The fundraising just took off.”
Sonya, who has also received great support from Cancer Care West, is now awaiting the results from Oncologica, which are due later this month.
She will also receive her second round of chemotherapy in two weeks time.
While E54,000 has been raised so far - 35,000 on the Go Fun Me page and the rest through fundraising events, it is unknown how much Sonya or her family will need in the time ahead or how much treatment will cost. A number of events are still to take place and a Go Fund Me page remains open and online for donations.
Lisa thanked everyone who has helped so far or who will do so in the future.
“People have just been absolutely amazing. Money shouldn’t be a factor in the life of a 35-year-old woman, who is so full of life and full of beans. Sonya is so strong. She gives everything to her family and everyone else.”
Alongside fundraising, Sonya also wants her story to be shared to raise awareness.
“Sonya wants to raise awareness and tell people that if they think something’s wrong, sit with your doctor or hospital and don’t move until you get answers. Trust your instincts if you feel there’s something wrong with your body.”