A brave Offaly mum is speaking out about living life with Stage 4 Breast Cancer this week to promote the benefits of Palliative Care.
Thirty-six-year-old Evelyn Wakefield from Birr was diagnosed in June 2014 on the day of her breast check, and two weeks later received the news that she had Metastatic Stage 4 Breast Cancer.
Palliative Care Week takes place from September 3 - 9 and this year's theme is all about dispelling the myths surrounding the service.
“Stage 4 Metastatic Cancer meant that it had travelled to other parts of my body. I'm lucky in the sense that it's contained within my bones and not my organs. But it had travelled to my spine, ribs and sternum,” explains Evelyn, wife and mum to two children who were aged three and nine at the time of her diagnosis.
She underwent chemo and radiotherapy on her lower spine because she was beginning to struggle with mobility.
“I was getting a numb feeling and while the treatment worked for a while, it returned to the extent that I was struggling to get out of bed. Initially I had been given two and half years to live, and in February 2016 my consultant suggested Palliative Care to help me at home, but immediately I thought it meant I was going to die. It was the worst case scenario in my mind for me,” she continues.
“At this stage I was in bed for about 18 hours a day and the Palliative Care nurse called out and over the course of a three-month period she tweaked the meds until one day, I was up and out of bed, dressed and having breakfast, and I realised that I was somewhat back to normal.
“They continued to call and I told them about wanting to do memory books for the kids, so they sent out a social worker and we're now working on them. They also brought in a physiotherapist.
“The service changed my life in more ways than one. At the time there was nothing for patients with Stage 4 Breast Cancer, and no support group for younger women in particular.”
The Palliative Care service set up a meeting for her with the Marie Keating Foundation, and in turn a monthly support group meeting was organised for those with Stage 4 Cancer, and through Europa Donna,a closed Facebook page called NBC was established.
“My children are now used to seeing the Palliative Care nurses at home, who are always suggesting nice things we can do as a family to make happy memories because that is so important. It also means that the children have a familiar face to talk to when the time comes,” says Evelyn.
“I believe Palliative Care should be introduced immediately when you are diagnosed with Stage 4 because they are the experts in pain management. The service is there so why not avail of it? Of course it's for end of life care, but it's for long before that too. It was also particularly helpful for me because I live in a country area just outside of Shinrone, and they've organised things like four hours of home help a week for me.
“The service means I've taken back control of my life. Being only 36, it was so hard to ask people for help, now I'm well enough to drop the kids into the village, I won't move mountains but life is somewhat normal again.
“The Pailliative Care service has been fantastic for me. I am still in the midst of a horrific diagnosis, but it has brought things back to life. This service is there for everyone, it's not just end-of-life, and it's not just for cancer patients. It's for anyone with chronic degenerative illnesses, such as heart disease. I am mentally stronger because they have come into my life.”
Since getting palliative care, Evelyn now realises what palliative care entails. It’s about supporting you through your diagnosis. It’s about pain management and it’s about trying to have the best quality of life. It’s also not all about the patient. Evelyn’s family are supported and her friends now understand that palliative care isn’t necessarily the end.
Palliative care focuses on helping people of all ages to live well with an illness that’s life-limiting and achieve the best quality of life as their illness progresses. It involves not only the management of pain and other symptoms but offers social, emotional and spiritual support too.
- Palliative Care Week takes place from September 3-9 and this year marks the fourth year of the All Ireland Institute of Hospice & Palliative Care (AIIHPC) palliative care awareness week.