Breast cancer: ‘I wasn’t feeling well but I ignored the signs. I put it down to being a mam of twins’
‘Only for Lily falling on me — she kind of did save my life,” Kim Clack-Whelan says now. Kim and her then two-year-old daughter were playing on her bed in October 2021, when her small child landed on her mother’s left breast with her elbow. The pain was intense, Kim, thirty-six at the time, recalls. Lily, now three, is a twin — sister of JJ. Kim, who is a hairdresser, also has four stepsons: Nathan, Sam, Luke and Max, who range in age from 17 to 10.
It took the life out of me,” she recalls. Several days later, she was checking her breast in the shower, something she regularly did, when she found a lump on her left breast. “I’d always been a regular checker anyway, just while I was in the shower,” she says. “I called my husband Jason and asked him if he thought there was something there. He said there’s definitely something — it felt like a hard grape.”
She called her GP first thing the next morning and secured an appointment for that evening. “I had to go into work for the whole day. My sister-in-law owns a salon — we actually do wigs for cancer and alopecia — we’ve got our own little room. That was a hard day I have to say, a long day.”
Covid-19 restrictions meant she had to attend her hospital appointment on her own. “I was kind of fine going in. I think I had it in my head that it was just a cyst. I drove myself in because I didn’t think I was going to get any news like I did.”
This soon changed. Kim was waiting for so long and underwent so many tests, several mammograms, an ultrasound and a biopsy, that she became aware there was an issue. Eventually, her doctor told her it was going to be a long road ahead. “He basically told me without telling me, if that makes sense? I was like, ‘I’m only thirty-six years of age, of course I don’t have cancer’,” Kim continues. “I’m so young, I’m so healthy. It was a bit of a shock.”
Two weeks later, in December, Kim received her results: stage 2B breast and lymph node cancer (HER2+++). She began chemotherapy on December 21, and also underwent immunotherapy. Kim has been unable to work since she began her treatment. “The first one was horrific. I ended up in hospital because I had diarrhoea for 12 days straight. I was very, very sick. My doctor actually lowered the treatment down.”
Soon into her treatment, her hair began to fall out. She rang her sister-in-law, and just after New Year’s Day, they met at the salon, where Sharon used a razor to cut off Kim’s hair.
On talking to children about illness, Kim advises age-appropriate honesty. “I’d say tell and not hide, because I know for a fact that I would never be able to hide this illness away from them, the way I’m going on.”
Her twins are now in childcare as part of the ECCE scheme, something that Kim says helped with the “mam guilt” she has felt during her illness. “It doesn’t make me feel as guilty as what I was feeling. They’re in and they’re happy, they’re playing with their friends. I was always trying my best to kind of get up and get out, even if it was just for a minute or two. They understood, if I wasn’t feeling well, we would watch a movie on Netflix. You just have to make what you can out of it, don’t you?”
Kim’s first round of chemotherapy lasted until April 2022. “I have to say, there were times when I did say to my husband, ‘I think I’d rather be dead than go through this’. Everybody was always saying to be strong, and you know, I was, I did fight through it. And I still am fighting through it. I’m not really a negative person, I try and stay as positive as I can. But there were times where I was literally just, ‘Please take me away, because I can’t go through this anymore’.”
She never suffered from depression, she adds, “Because there’s too much to live for with the kids and all that.” Her husband Jason’s support was paramount in getting her through these difficult times.
Several weeks after her chemotherapy ended, in early summer, Kim underwent surgery: a lumpectomy, and the removal of lymph nodes. A second surgery followed six weeks later: another lumpectomy and the removal of further lymph nodes.
When we speak, it is only a month and a half since Kim’s last surgery. As Kim’s cancer is considered aggressive, with a high likelihood of returning, she has just begun a new trial of chemotherapy, which will last for 14 rounds, every three weeks. She will also begin radiation therapy.
“This treatment is going on for 10 months altogether. After that I’m just hoping that I get to ring the bell at the end,” Kim smiles. “For now, I’m just counting down. I’m one step closer after each treatment to the end, and hopefully, that will be it. Hopefully, I’ll be healthy then.”
It doesn’t matter what age you are, Kim points out how important it is to keep checking yourself, and to investigate any symptoms you might be experiencing. “I wasn’t feeling well prior to this, but I ignored the signs — I was having a bit of diarrhoea in general, my energy levels were really low but I was just putting it down to being a twin mam, (and) being busy with work. The doctor did tell me to come down and get blood tests done, but I just ignored it. Maybe I could have had a little bit earlier detection. I was lucky that I was literally just about to start stage three, I was just at the end of stage two.”
She describes how getting up, dressed and showered each day helps: “Obviously I have a wig. I put my lippy on, I get myself dressed, and I’m up and about. People are like, ‘Oh you look great’. On the outside you can look great, inside you can feel like you’re literally dying.
“But, if you paint that smile on your face, you put it all at the back of your head and you just keep going. Because you have to. I think sometimes it just gets right in on you, and you don’t need that energy. You need the best energy that you can to try and fight back again, you know?”
Kim is a Breast Cancer Ireland Patient Supporter and an Ambassador for the Great Pink Run with Glanbia, which will see the return of large-scale live Great Pink Run events at Leopardstown Race Course (on October 9) and Kilkenny Castle Park (on October 16). For those that can’t make the live events, participants can also take part ‘virtually’. Registration is at greatpinkrun.ie, and all funds raised will support Breast Cancer Ireland’s pioneering research into metastatic disease progression and awareness programmes nationally
Denial of responsibility! galaxyconcerns is an automatic aggregator around the global media. All the content are available free on Internet. We have just arranged it in one platform for educational purpose only. In each content, the hyperlink to the primary source is specified. All trademarks belong to their rightful owners, all materials to their authors. If you are the owner of the content and do not want us to publish your materials on our website, please contact us by email – [email protected]. The content will be deleted within 24 hours.