Orla Maguire has taken on a personal job - to remind all women to check their breasts.
Orla, a beauty therapist from Dungloe, was diagnosed with breast cancer just weeks after her 30th birthday last November. She has taken a break from running her mobile salon to have treatment and is using her time to help other people too.
“You need to be aware of breast cancer, no matter what age you are,” Orla told Donegal Woman. “If I get five, ten or fifteen more people to be aware of their bodies then my job is done.”
Orla has set up a Facebook page to share her battle against cancer – the ups and downs of it all – in a lighthearted forum called My Right Tata.
The past three months have been a whirlwind for Orla since she first discovered something different about her ‘tata’. In October 2016, she was watching a special episode of The Only Way is Essex for Breast Cancer Awareness Month when she thought to check herself.
“The characters were talking about checking your breasts and messing around with each other. I was getting ready for bed and has a quick feel around the area and felt something. I started to panic and tried to calm myself down enough to get to sleep. I thought maybe I was imagining it but the next morning it was still here. I decided to go straight to the doctor to get it seen to,” Orla said.
Orla had to wait 5 weeks for an appointment with Letterkenny General Hospital after being referred by her GP. She didn’t let the thought of the unknown affect her.
“I was turning 30, I had a holiday booked and my mind was occupied with other things instead of worrying about what was next,” Orla said.
Orla was examined at the Breast Centre in Letterkenny and assured that she shouldn’t worry about a diagnosis, because she was not very likely to have cancer at her age.
“I was told that I would more than likely just get a phone call to say everything was okay. But I was asked to come back to the clinic,” Orla said.
Alarm bells rang for Orla when she was called to see the consultant breast surgeon, Dr Sugrue.
“My mind was in overdrive. The next minute he sat me down and said: ‘I’m sorry to tell you it’s breast cancer and it’s a nasty tumour’. I can’t remember many of the words he said. You’ve got all these emotions happening and your mind just goes everywhere,” Orla recalled.
“The funny thing is that you’re told you have cancer but you leave hospital and have to wait until the following week to find out what happens next. They tell you not to check anything on the internet. I didn’t. You are in limbo, thinking what happens now? When do I start chemo?,” Orla said.
The New Normal
Orla had a 2.7cm tumour in her right breast. She started chemotherapy in Sligo Hospital on the 21st of December and has been travelling down every week since.
“This has become the new normal for me, it’s a part of you,” Orla said.
“It’s different everyday. I could be fine for two weeks and then I get a double dose and feel sick, nauseous, tired and fatigued, then I’m back to normal again until the next round.”
“I can be positive and bubbly when I’m in good form – that’s just me,” Orla said.
Calm your Tatas
Orla is keeping positive throughout her journey with the help of her family and best friends. She has her mum to thank for the funny name of her Facebook page – My Right Tata.
“Me, mum and my friend Lisa were in Sligo Hospital one day and I found out that I couldn’t have chemo because my bloods were too high. Mum says to me: ‘I bet you feel like a right tit!’. She thought it was hilarious and the tears were tripping me.
“I couldn’t call the page ‘My Right Tit’ because that wasn’t very PG. The word tata comes from Hakuna your Tatas – another way to say Calm your tits, so that made more sense,” Orla said.
Support on her journey
My Right Tata has gained almost 2,000 followers in less than one week. Orla has had many warm messages of support and is delighted to share her journey.
“I hope the page will be for other people who are going through cancer too. Maybe people who have just been diagnosed and who are wondering what’s going to happen next. Breast cancer is not the end of the world. The treatment that’s out there is amazing and I thank God it’s only in my breast. There’s no reason why I can’t fight that.
“A lot of people don’t like sharing things but breast cancer is on a lot of people’s doorsteps and I just want to put it out there,” Orla said.
Sharing the issues
Orla is also keen to address breast cancer from the perspective of a younger woman as different issues come into focus.
“Part of the experience is getting an injection called Zoladex to protect my ovaries for the future. Chemotherapy can leave you with fertility problems. Hopefully my periods will come back to normal in two of three years, but now I’m getting early menopause and it’s something I wasn’t expecting at 30. I do want to be able to have kids in the future so I’ve opted for the injection. If it works, it works, and if it doesn’t work there are other options,” she said.
Another personal effect of chemotherapy Orla wants to share is her hair loss. Her long dark hair began to fall out after her second double dosage of chemotherapy.
“People say to me to take control and shave it off, but in the back of my mind I’m thinking that if I can hold on to what I have it will be great.”
“Losing my hair is something I know is going to happen, and when it does I will deal with it. I hope to share things like this with everyone to show the negative side to cancer. You can’t be in good form all the time,” Orla said.
Orla is currently on a 12-week course of chemotherapy. More treatments, radiotherapy, genetic testing and surgery are all things she has to consider in the months to come which she plans to share with others.
“I’ve had so much support from my friends and family who are always calling and making sure everything’s okay – I don’t have time to feel sorry for myself,” Orla said.
“I set up the page to talk to anyone who might not have that support. If anyone sends me a private message I’ll reply to it. It’s unbelievable to see how many people I’m helping already. I’m happy I did it.”
Visit www.facebook.com/myrighttata to follow Orla’s journey.