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How one Co Armagh mum overcame adversity following cancer diagnosis

'It was nice to be out that other side, even though through the whole thing you just kind of lose your identity'

A Co Armagh mum has told how she overcame the adversity of a cancer diagnosis and set out to find herself following a tough battle with the disease.

Karly Finnegan, from Portadown, says it was a “big shock” when she was diagnosed with Triple-negative Breast Cancer on October 25, 2021 after finding a lump when breastfeeding her youngest child.

She was referred to the breast clinic and after tests was ushered into the doctor’s room to be told the news.

“I just knew this wasn’t good,” she said. “I kind of went into fight mode, you know, what can I do and what’s the plan going forward?”

Karly said everything moved “really quickly” over the first few weeks, before she started chemotherapy in December.

She explained: “I’m quite organised and I like to be prepared, so I had prepared myself as much as I could, reading up about things. With the children, we didn’t talk about it a whole lot. We just wanted them to be aware that mummy was going to have down days. 

“After my first chemotherapy I ended up in hospital, when I fought tooth and nail with the doctors to get out on Christmas Eve.

“So I was home in time for Santa and home in time for the kids for Christmas morning, which was the main thing.”

Karly says her trip to the hospital was a wake-up call, that she would be vulnerable going forward and needed to be careful. Just before she was diagnosed, she had booked a big family holiday for the next year in June, so that became a goal to work towards.

“I think that’s how I got through it as I focused on each appointment as a mini goal to get through each one,” she explained.

“We did and I had great support from friends and family. Obviously it was during COVID so they couldn’t come round as much as we would have liked but they sent some flowers and messages of support and I had a few friends that were always there.”

Karly persevered through the chemo, had her radiotherapy and at long last, went on her family holiday in June, which she describes as “amazing.”

She admitted: “I think we all needed it, not just me.”

After the family holiday, Karly turned her focus to getting back to work at Lurgan College, who she says were “really supportive”.

“Once I got back in June, I popped in to say hello to everybody and I think that was one of the big hurdles, just getting in, seeing people again and letting them see what I looked like before I was going back in August,” she said.

“My hair was very short at the time, but I just thought, you know what, I’m either going to have to go in here with headwear or a wig, or I just go with it and I suppose it was long enough that nobody else would know what I’ve been through.

“So that’s what I went with and it was lovely getting back. It’s a lovely school and a lovely community.”

Once she was able to get back to a bit of normality in school, Karly decided she wanted to give back to charity and helped to organise a Wear it Pink Day at the school to raise money for Breast Cancer Now.

“We did it on October 21 and the whole school embraced it. I got up in assembly and told my story, which obviously was hard as it was my first time really talking about it, but so many kids came up to me afterwards,” she said.

“That day alone was a sea of pink across the school. We did cake sales and a best-dressed and we raised over £1,131, which was amazing because we’re not a big school. 

“It’s going to a good cause and something that may be beneficial to me in the future because I’m not sure if this is over yet. There could be other bumps in the road.”

Karly added: “It was nice to be out that other side, even though through the whole thing you just kind of lose your identity. Recently I have tried to get back into a bit of exercise to lose some of this chemo weight and to just try to find myself again.”

Karly was announced as the winner of the 2023 Armagh I ‘Overcoming Adversity’ Award at the Armagh I People of the Year Awards held in the Armagh Planetarium on February 2.

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