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Fighting Breast Cancer & Fighting Lions: My Story

Tickets are now on sale for the 2017 Women's Inspire Network National Conference, taking place on Tuesday 10th October at the Radisson Blu Hotel, Dublin Airport; and we would like to introduce you to one of the inspirational speakers.

Meet Deirdre Sullivan, a 47-year-old mom to three, wife, business owner and cancer survivor. In her own words...

My name is Deirdre and I live with my husband John and three children: Sean (17), Cian (14) & Cara (9); our Cavalier King Charles, Fudge; four Laying Hens and a goldfish.

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I work alongside my sister Janette at Kays Flower School in Dublin, where we train florists from all over Ireland and the UK. Kays Flower School was originally started 30 years ago by my Mum, Kay, who retired in 2010. 

The news nobody wants to hear:

In October 2015, I got the horrible news no one wants to hear: I was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer. I had found a lump in the shower one day. I had lost quite a bit of weight already, so thankfully I did find it at that stage.

The next couple of weeks went by in a blur. We still had classes running, our term runs from September to December, so in between all my appointments and tests etc, we kept all the classes going as normal. Mum came out of retirement and stepped back in like a duck to water.

By the beginning of November, we knew I would need Chemotherapy, and also Radiotherapy; so we had to revisit our timetable for the first half of 2016, as our courses book months in advance. People attending our courses had booked time off work, flights, babysitters etc, so we could not cancel any course that was already booked up.

So on those courses, we reduced the numbers of people where possible, to take the pressure off. Also, Mum who was 69 at the time, did not really want to be working full-time, as both herself and Janette knew I was going to need help at home over the coming months.

Challenges were faced head-on: 

Being self-employed and sick can be a real struggle at times; but thankfully my husband also works full time, and although financially it was a struggle, we got by. I feel for others who maybe are not as fortunate as me, both financially and supportively. 

In November I had a mastectomy and was told that my cancer was stage 3B. My lymph nodes had been affected and I was facing 16 chemotherapy treatments and 25 radiation sessions. To say I was shocked was an understatement. I often look back and think, did that really happen to me?

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My first day of Chemo was on the 5th of December, but in typical O'Rourke style, what better way to start a horrendous few months than to have a pre-chemo party, which we did. The theme was wigs, so all attending had to wear wigs. It was such a fun night, which went on until quite late in the morning. When myself and my sister arrived in the oncology ward for my first chemo session, and they asked me as they started injecting the poison into me how was I feeling, my answer was ‘rough’, but I had been rough since I woke that morning! And, it was nothing to do with the chemo being pushed into my veins!

We still laugh about it. I actually managed to go to work that evening as we had the first of our Christmas Holly Wreath Workshops starting that night. But without a doubt, the hardest part was losing my hair. It started coming out on Christmas Eve and by the 27th of December, I had to shave it all off.

When we started back in January I had gone through three chemo sessions. All I can say is 'it was manageable.' Mum covered me when I was too sick to work, but on my good days I needed to work: I needed to ‘not be sick’. In work, I was just Deirdre, so I continued to work, which I honestly think helped me get through that horrible time.  

So, 2016 saw myself, my husband, my sister Janette and my Mum keep Kays Flower School ticking over. I managed to look after my three children and keep my house running somewhat too. On the 23rd of April, I celebrated my last chemo treatment, and in June, I finished all my radium treatments.  

In fairness, radium was much easier, and because the flower school is in Rialto, a 2-minute walk to St James Hospital, I could go over each morning for treatment, then go to work. Most days, I was back in time for the course starting at 10am.

Unfortunately, due to the type of cancer I had, I also had to have a hysterectomy in July that year, but thankfully I was finished having babies and was glad to get rid of anything that might encourage cancer to come back. 

In September 2016, Mum retired again and we celebrated her 70th Birthday. Kays Flower school started a new term and my hair was now blonde and short, instead of long and dark. Life moves on, and sometimes when I look back on that year, Yes it was the most horrible experience of my life, Yes it was tough on me and my family, Yes there were lots of tears; but it’s a chapter, and although I will live with some of the side effects of the treatments for the rest of my life, I want to live the rest of my life. And doing what I love most, which is spending time with my family, and working with my sister at Kays Flower School. 

Fighting Lions

Going through Breast Cancer for me was like I was being chased by a mountain lion, and the only thing to kill the mountain line was at the top of the mountain... so I was running to the top of the mountain to find a cure. But needless to say, running up a mountain is tough; falling over rocks, tripping over roots…it is a struggle, but you have got to get to the top somehow.

Your family and friends are there to help you, but you still must do the run. They might move a few rocks out of the way, but you still must climb. The cure at the top is a Huge Bear, who can kill the mountain lion, but the bear must get past you and your family, and as a result, they are hurt too. But they are all trying to help you.

Finally, you reach the top, the bear gives you one last kick before getting the mountain lion, and killing it.  

And you celebrate reaching the top, but you are worn out, battered and bruised and friends will tell you how great you are and how wonderful you are for climbing the mountain and all you can think is... I never wanted to climb the fecking mountain in the first place!

To hear Deirdre's amazing inspiring story in person, as well as many other inspiring women, make sure to book your tickets to the 2017 Women's Inspire Network National Conference.

Special eumom discount

If you buy your tickets now, you can save €15 off your ticket price using the discount code EUMOM when booking! 

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About the Author

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