24-year-old Offaly native, Laura Geoghegan, was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2016, but at the beginning of this year, decided that she was not going to "sit back and let cancer take over" her life. With that, she set up her very open and honest blog, LG vs BC, where she has been posting regularly about her diagnosis, treatment and the rest of her life.
Laura says that Monday last, April 10, will be a date she'll never forget, as that was the day she underwent her final bout of chemo therapy. "I completed the last lap and finally made it across the chemo finish line. I don't think I could ever explain the feeling of hearing that final beep from the pump and walking out of the hospital knowing that that was the end of the needles, injections, long waits and poison being pumped into me," the Clara woman wrote.
Laura's battle with the disease and her own coming to terms with having breast cancer in her early twenties has been going on for over six months, and she has posted about each facet of a journey thousands of Irish people embark on each year in Ireland - a journey with cancer.
In September last year, having found a lump on her breast, Laura initially shrugged it off, thinking she was too young to have anything serious. After a few days, the self-professed "panicker" decided to make an appointment with her GP. She subsequently said it was probably just a cyst but that it may need to be drained. She referred Laura to St. James's Hospital in Dublin for an ultrasound, and she was happy enough that her doctor wasn't overly concerned.
"I have to admit though, seeing that Breast Check referral form on her computer screen scared the living daylights out of me. Anyone that knows me well, knows I am the ultimate panicker, and this did set the heart racing," she admitted.
It was at this point Laura broached the subject with her mother, who she says was naturally "worried out of her mind," even though her daughter was reassuring her that the doctor seemed very positive about it because of her age. Laura, who is a jovial character by all accounts, says that her father "definitely hit" Google after he found out, but her advice to anyone in the same situation is to steer clear of Doctor Google, because "the stories you come across would absolutely terrify you."
After a series of tests, Laura underwent a biopsy and a week later had returned to St. James's to hear her results. "After what can only be described as the worst week of my life, this (October 25, 2016) was the date my life was to be turned upside down for the foreseeable future," she said.
She says her head was full of worries and questions, like, Could this really be Cancer? What else could it be? Was it going to be really far advanced? Was I going to be told I could die? She headed off to the hospital with her family for support in a state of panic and waited for what seemed a lifetime to be seen by her doctor.
"Each time I saw my consultant come out, I looked around to see if it was me he was looking for. After calling several other women before me, I finally heard my name, and saw the consultant waiting for me, along with a nurse in a little pink uniform," Laura recalled.
"As soon as I saw the nurse, I knew my news was not going to be good. Mam and Dad came in with me to hear the results, and it wasn't good news. Like I mean, at 24 years of age, the last thing you are expecting to hear is - unfortunately Laura, the biopsy has confirmed you have Breast Cancer," but that is what the doctor told her, and Laura says she burst into tears in the office there and then.
Luckily for the Offaly woman, her consultant said she had a 95% chance of being fully cured of the disease after treatment, and she says it was this figure she held onto more than most. The drive home was hard, and there was "tears and sniffles," but always looking on the bright side, Laura says the moment she told her friends will always stick out to her. "One of the girls thought the news I had to tell them was that I didn't get Coldplay tickets, and that made my day, and really lightened the whole mood," she remembers.
Laura went through more appointments in both St. James's and Tullamore hospitals before it was decided her chemotherapy would begin on November 25, 2016 at the Midlands Regional Hospital, Tullamore. She left her job, something she says was very difficult, but insists that she "truly believes that half the battle is a mental battle, and the only way to be is as positive as possible because it really makes things a lot easier."
Laura recalled her first chemo session on her blog: "I felt extremely nervous before the treatment started. I suppose it was the fear of the unknown. Even though I had been given so much information on what to expect, you never know how your body is going to react. I also felt excited, as weird as that may sound. I felt excited to be finally killing this cancer in my body, and getting back to living a normal twenty-something-year-old life."
"First up, I had to get the cannula in my hand. This for me was always the hardest part. I hate the needles, I'm such a wuss. I don't have a fear and wouldn't pass out or anything, but I just hate the pain of it. This is where my dramatics came into play again, I held my breath and everything - the poor nurses," she continued.
Soon afterwards, Laura and her mother Kate went wig shopping, a sobering experience for Laura by all accounts, not least because of her mother's unwavering honesty: "We took a trip to The Wig Clinic in Athlone. I tried on some different styles, and I had to try them in different colours because naturally enough it was going to be a little more difficult to get one in my own natural hair colour. I didn't want too much change. I tried on a blonde one for style, not for colour, and as brutally honest as always, Mam told me I would be "horrible with blonde hair," Laura recalled jokingly.
Although chemo sometimes made Laura unwell, she was adamant it wouldn't stop her living her life. During that time, she spent plenty of time with friends and family, taking in the cliff walks at Bray and Howth, trekking in the Slieve Blooms, and of course, trekking around "the new Penney's" in Liffey Valley too.
Despite her obvious positive outlook, Laura says the "old chemo blues" did set in from time to time. "I may come across as a very positive person, which I am most of the time, but as positive and optimistic as I am, trust me, I still have my bad days. For anyone in a similar situation as myself, don't worry, the chemo blues will hit, but it's okay, let it happen, it happens us all," she advised.
Laura went through issues with her bloods at one point and had to have a blood transfusion. "I got two pints - my first pints in three months, just not the pints I'd be hoping for," Laura joked. By the end of the transfusion, she had colour back in her face and was on the right road once more. "Having a good support system is key to beating the chemo blues in my eyes," she wrote. "I know I say it all the time, but I'm incredibly lucky to have the people I have around me in my life; my family, boyfriend and friends."
Earlier this month, Laura said she was "counting down the days to the end of treatment." She wrote: "It genuinely feels like no length since I was sitting in that little office in St. James's hospital, crying my eyes out with Mam and Dad after being diagnosed."
"At the time, the thoughts of five months of chemotherapy really seemed like a lifetime. After a whirlwind few weeks, it was time to start my treatment in Tullamore. Lying on the hospital bed in the Oncology Day Ward for the first time on November 25, scared me out of my wits - I really could never have anticipated how quickly the time would actually go throughout my treatment."
On Monday, April 10, Laura brought her chemotherapy journey to an end at Tullamore Hospital: "Normally the hour would go fairly quickly, but on Monday, I thought it would never end. Then, the machine started to beep and that was it. That marked the end of my chemotherapy. I gave Mam a tap on the leg and told her that was it, that was the last drop gone in and we had made it. What an incredible feeling!," she said emotionally.
Despite the toll chemo had taken on Laura and her body, she says that "at the same time, it was tough saying goodbye" to the nurses and the people she and her family had made friends with in the Oncology Unit."
"You build great relationships throughout the journey and after all, it has been a way of life for the past five months. I will actually miss the friendly faces. They really minded me like a baby and have been so good to myself and Mam," she said.
That day meant the end of 20 weeks of gruelling chemotherapy for Laura, but in true upbeat style, she said all along "it wasn't the treatment" she was worried about killing her - it was her mother's driving.
"Now, she's not the worst, but she's not great. I have been photographing her parking along the way because brutal is the only way to describe it. She has been trying to reverse into spots and always went for the same spot each week. She actually had been making good progress over the weeks but believe it or not it, deteriorated again towards the end. It was the highlight of each chemo morning having the laugh at the way she would abandon the car - it's the little things," Laura quipped.
Laura concluded her most recent post by thanking everyone who helped and followed her journey for their continued support. "For all the well wishes, cards, mass bouquets, gifts, texts and phone calls, I am extremely grateful. The support we have received, not just from the little town, but from all over the country and world, has just been overwhelming, and we can't thank you all enough. You are all part of the reason I made it through this journey with a smile on my face. Thank you for all your encouragement."
"For now, it's time to put my chemo days behind me and move forward. Next up, at the end of this month, are my scans and mammogram, followed by results and a decision for surgery, which should be held in mid-May. I will continue to keep you informed through my blog. It's time to enjoy each chemo-free breath." Laura has shown true strength of mind and character throughout this five-month journey, and there's no doubt her and her wonderful family will continue with that mantra from this point onward - of that we have no doubt.
Like a Bob Marley quote Laura posted at one point during her cancer journey says, "You never know how strong you are, until being strong is your only choice." Laura Geoghegan has certainly proved that point and shown herself to be a formidable woman - both for herself and her family, in the face of cancer.
You can visit Laura's exceptional blog and follow her continued progress by clicking here.
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