VIRTUAL EFFORT Cancer survivor laces up for 2020's virtual Great Pink Run fundraiser
As the senior transplant coordinator at Dublin's Beaumont Hospital, Laura Austin is well used to being in the room when patients are given difficult news.
There's a concerned frown from a medic about to deliver bad news, she says, that can say much more than words.
So when Laura went to have a breast lump investigated, she knew it was cancer by the look on the consultant's face - a look she has seen given to patients many times.
"The minute I saw their faces, I knew that look because I've given that look to people," she says now.
"You'd be there when people are getting tough news. I knew the face. And when I saw the radiologist I knew that I had cancer. It's not a face that you'd want anyone to see."
Laura received the shocking diagnosis when she was just 41 years old, and with two young daughters waiting for her at home. But from the early days, she vowed not to let cancer dominate her life and keep as much of a sense of normality as possible for her family.
Laura, who manages the living and deceased donor programmes for The National Kidney Transplant Service, first noticed a lump while having a shower and contacted her GP.
"She said: 'You're young fit and healthy' but we opted that I go to the Mater Clinic to get it checked. They thought it was a cyst."
But further investigation revealed concerns for Laura and her husband Neill, who attended with her. Within days, in June 2018, biopsies confirmed she had breast cancer.
"The consultants were so good, they went through everything with me.
"I just wanted it out, absolutely. I got an appointment cancellation that week. I told my siblings and then I had to travel down home to tell my parents in Rathvilly in Co Carlow.
"That was horrendous. You know the minute you tell them that their lives are going to change. You're trying to protect your loved ones. I had to tell my work colleagues because I was leaving the next day. I had pre-empted that by planning ahead. You have a duty of care to your patients.
"My aunt and uncle were celebrating their 70th birthdays and I asked my parents not to tell them that I'd had the surgery the day before. I had the surgery and then I went to the party the next day!"
Following surgery the couple decided to go ahead with a family holiday to Italy with daughters Sadhbh (now 7) and Aoibheann (10).
She explained to her girls that she would be having the surgery and would later need medicine to make her better.
"When I came back from holidays I went to see the oncologist. I needed in total 14 sessions of chemotherapy followed by radiotherapy.
"I had a port put into my chest to administer the chemotherapy. My daughter used to call it my turbo button. The nurses in the Bons were absolutely amazing when I was having the chemotherapy. My mum would come up that week and stay with us for the week.
"I was quite resilient, I didn't have some of the side effects that other people would have. I needed to be out and I needed to get on with life. And I wanted my children to see there was an obstacle, but you could get over it.
"I got my hair shaved because I wanted to take back some control and I had a wig styled. Sadhbh came in and saw me and ran into the other room to my mother and said: 'She's bald now nanna'. It's amazing how resilient children can be."
She says one of the most difficult things for her was telling people she loved that she had cancer.
"You're a mother, a wife, a sister, a friend and a colleague and I had so much support from people. My husband has just been great and my family have been wonderful. We're a very, very close family and they're everything."
Since completing treatment last year, Laura has had two clear mammograms and feels grateful for the treatment she received. Getting back to work, she says, was important for her sanity and she was able to return early on a phased basis.
Next month she will take part in The Great Pink Run, which is taking place on a virtual basis in communities all over Ireland on October 17 and 18.
"I did it last year with my family and I'll be doing it this year. My sister is a runner and has been doing it for the last five years. the atmosphere is amazing and as I approached the finishing line it was very, very emotional. You see all the women who are out there who are just warriors. A lot of people are there for somebody or in memory of somebody."
She has encouraging words for other women who find themselves in the frightening position she did.
"It's a shock but it isn't the end of the world. There is light at the end of the tunnel and here I am two years later, back at work and with my hair grown back. You will get through it. But lean on people as much as you can and get out every day to see the outside world."The Great Pink Run takes place on a virtual basis on October 17 and 18 to raise funds for Breast Cancer Ireland. For further information and to find out how you can register, log on to greatpinkrun.ie.