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Joan's story 'Friends joke and say 'we went to your wedding because we thought you were dying''

After beating the odds on an inoperable tumour, Joan is urging people not to wait around before having any suspicious symptoms checked out

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Joan Fitzgerald says people should not wait before having any suspicious symptoms checked out. Photo: Mark Condren

Joan Fitzgerald says people should not wait before having any suspicious symptoms checked out. Photo: Mark Condren

Joan Fitzgerald says people should not wait before having any suspicious symptoms checked out. Photo: Mark Condren

WALKING down the aisle after getting married, Joan Fitzgerald looked around the church and suddenly realised there were a lot more guests than she had expected.

"I was looking around and thinking 'I didn't think you would show up' and 'you said you couldn't come but here you are'," said Joan laughing.

Though she had been expecting 90 people to attend, thanks to word of mouth, 130 people showed up to celebrate a wedding that had been planned in just two weeks. Everything worked out fine - the hotel had made extra chicken curry and found more chairs.

"The weather was unreal - it was 25C that day. We couldn't have planned it better," said Joan, who lives with husband Gary in Kilcullen, Co Kildare.

As a nurse in the cardiac unit in Crumlin children's hospital, she says she was always good at telling everyone else to get their health checked.

At the end of July 2014, at the age of 34, she was leaning over a baby's cot one night in work when she suddenly felt dizzy.

Concerned, she went to a GP and was diagnosed at St James Hospital with a rare thymoma tumour in her chest. It was large, taking up most of her chest and wrapped around her heart. Surgery wasn't an option and the urgency of the situation meant there was not enough time to freeze her eggs before chemotherapy.

"It was devastating," she said. After chemo, she met her surgeon who warned that any operation would be 'extremely high risk' with an 80pc chance she might die. "But I said 'ok, but there's a 20pc chance I might live,'" said Joan.

The couple decided they would go marry before the surgery in two weeks time. However the tumour proved inoperable. The surgeon told her she would be 'lucky to see Christmas' and told her to 'go away and enjoy life.'

Counselling from the Irish Cancer Society helped at this dark time.

"I just couldn't get my head around it. I didn't want to die," Joan said.

She wants to get the message out this Daffodil Day not to wait around before having any suspicious symptoms checked out. She has since beaten the odds. Having been told five years ago she might not see Christmas, she celebrated her 40th birthday in January and her fifth wedding anniversary is this summer.

Black humour helps, she says, and when she goes home to Limerick, friends say: "Are you still here - we went to your wedding because we thought you were dying'. I love that," said Joan.


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