At what point do you admit that your life has completely changed? I am now a fraud of my former self. I couldn’t feed a calf to save my life and it breaks my heart. I couldn’t make a dinner or stand in front of a home economics class. Attend a gym class; the idea is preposterous. I imagine addressing a conference would feel like an out of body experience.

The people around me look on with a mixture of love and confusion. They want to do and say the right things. They see that I am in a separate existence, a thing apart; partially broken, desperately trying to come back together.

I’m trying to steer myself through the nightmare of tough chemotherapy. Yes, there it is, the word is finally on the page. Now another word has to follow. Cancer has returned to my life. How blissful it had been to be without it. How wonderful to have a clear scan – no evidence of cancer, malignancy, tumour, or metastasised cancer.

Nearly three years ago, cancer entered my life. It was dealt with and gone. When my consultant oncologist pushed out my next scan to August, a nine-month gap between scans, I remember the struggle with emotions – on the one hand elation at the idea of moving away from cancer, and on the other panic. Did that panic set something off in me? If not, what did happen?

I guess this is the conundrum for doctors all the time. How far can one trust the science? So much more research is needed to understand the devious ways that cancer cells can multiply, finding pathways around the body that are still undetermined by science.


I have often written on this page that life can change in a heartbeat. One day back in February, I dragged my arm while removing a feeder from a calf pen. It was a bit swollen.

In hindsight, that’s not what happened. My cancer had returned in a surreptitious way, starting with a small lump under my arm. We were busy. I forgot about my hurt arm until a few weeks later, I felt it again. Sickening panic rose in my chest. I showed it to Tim. “It’s not a bone Kay, It’s a lump.” That night, Tim said: “Show it to me again.”

I’m sure he too experienced the rising panic. Trying to get an appointment to be seen and be scanned is quite challenging. Our health system is under serious pressure. It manifests itself in sinister ways for patients; e-mails not read, phone calls not returned and waiting times for scans and consultations drag on.

Eventually, the cogs move, scans happen and the news goes one way or the other. The lump had become a tumour. It was now bigger. The next step was chemotherapy. The cycle is 21 days and I will have four cycles followed by surgery.

I wake during the night. The silence is deafening. I’m agitated. I want to go outside and scream but I’d have to go far away not to terrorise the household. Little Ricky would wonder what was wrong with his Granny! Diarmuid would probably not hear me due to his deafness. Tim and Julie would definitely wake. Dave might not. So instead I scream inwardly for my ordinary life to return.

Loving life

I love that life of farming, teaching, activism, writing, caring, gardening, cooking and even cleaning.

I adore spending time with Tim and my family, doing nice things, going nice places. I have so many truly wonderful friends. I love my garden and my music and going to a concert.

I missed Bruce Springsteen last week. My friends sent me clips and I cried for other times when I was with those friends. I cried for me and for Tim, I cried because my children Julie, D, Philip and Colm were hurting. I cried for my daughters in law, Aileen and Elaine and my son in law, David, for the turmoil I was bringing to their lives. I cried for my siblings. I just bloody cried and then I had to stop.

Now, I have a job to do. I have massive support to help me get it done. I am taking my own advice of getting through this, one day at a time. When that becomes overwhelming, I return to one hour at a time.

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