shock diagnosis 'Being told your cancer is back leaves you with a very sinking feeling'
Patients can avail of new therapies
A woman who has been diagnosed with cancer for the second time is urging people to "just ask" if they are eligible for clinical trials.
Former nurse Mairead Mangan is benefiting from a trial that gives her the best possible chance of getting her cancer back into remission.
"There is a little bit of disbelief that I have gotten a second diagnosis. To be told your cancer is back leaves you with mixed emotions and a very sinking feeling. Having the trial was, in my mind, a very positive outcome," she said.
Mairead is head of fundraising and communications at ARC Cancer Support, so understands first hand the emotional and psychological benefits the supports offered by ARC can provide. Now she too is using the services for a second time.
Mum to daughters Philippa and Aifric and doting grandmother to baby Elodie, Mairead was diagnosed with MDS, a form of blood cancer, ten years ago.
Following tough but successful treatment - including a stem cell transplant from her donor sister Grainne - she made a full recovery.
But it was during an annual review last September that Mairead discovered that she had developed acute myeloid leukaemia (AML).
"Ironically, I was feeling very healthy, fit and well and even brought a bottle of champagne for the doctor to celebrate 10 years being cancer free.
"The diagnosis was picked up following blood tests and a bone marrow biopsy."
Mairead felt so well that her consultant ran another test to make sure of the result.
"It was very surprising, and very disappointing. It was what it was and you just had to take it by the horns and go forward and do whatever it takes to get me back into remission."
She was told there were three treatment options: to have another stem cell transplant which was deemed too risky, or to have traditional chemotherapy for AML.
Her third option was to have the chemotherapy combined with another drug not used with AML before as part of a clinical trial.
Since her first diagnosis, Mairead has been under the care of Dr Catherine Flynn, a haematologist in St James's Hospital, who, along with her team and oncology liaison nurse Lorraine Brennan, were "absolutely superb" following her first diagnosis.
"I have the height of respect for Dr Flynn as a person and clinician.
"It was during discussions of treatment options that she chatted about the trial. I was apprehensive and anxious prior to the commencement of the trial but had faith in Dr Flynn's opinion.
"I reckoned if she could get me into remission the first time round, then the likelihood would be that she could do it again. Trust, confidence and respect for your clinician is key to instil confidence in the patient who is undergoing treatment.
"Just working in the space of oncology and in ARC, you would meet a lot of people who have gone through trials. You read about it and you know it's a good thing to do.
"Years ago I was working in the hospice. I was looking after the clinical trials at that time. And I just knew that if this was something that was being advised or being brought forward by Dr Flynn, that I was on to something good. Why not go for it to maximise my chances?"
She is currently undergoing the treatment plan and has also had a donor infusion of lymphocytes, again from her sister Grainne. Along with her girls Philippa and Aifric, her family have been a remarkable support, she said. "I have a very big family and they're all extremely good to me."
Having spent a decade supporting others through her work in ARC, Mairead is now again benefiting from their services - she has also returned to work.
The charity's fundraiser, Art for ARC, featuring over 150 pieces from renowned artists, will go live on Friday, May 28.
"It's a bit of a rollercoaster to be honest. It is tough. But I suppose I have a resilience. And I have a lot of people that I can actually talk to. I was enlisted the help of one of the psychotherapists in ARC as well. When you feel a bit wobbly, it's really good to talk. I actually feel lucky that I was caught," she said, adding that many people have had appointments deferred in the past year.
Her work has given her a first-hand understanding of what it is like to be diagnosed with cancer. "You feel a huge understanding of what people face. The uncertainties, the insecurity, the fear, the anxiety that a cancer patient actually feels on hearing that they've been diagnosed with cancer, firstly, and, you know, wondering, will the treatments work? Thankfully, I came out the other end and it was great. I managed to stay in remission for 10 years. You go forward and do whatever it takes to get me back into remission."
Cancer Trials Ireland is undertaking a campaign to urge people undergoing treatment for cancer to ask their doctors about cancer clinical trials that may be suitable for them.
Marking International Clinical Trials Day, Cancer Trials Ireland will host a virtual Cancer Retreat on Friday, May 21. Aimed at the cancer research community, the morning session is being opened up to patients, advocates and members of the public. To register, visit cancertrials.ie
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