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*Liz Canny. Photograph: Eamon Ward

Quin native, Liz Canny, is living with advanced stage breast cancer. This year, the Marie Keating Foundation has asked her to take part in their October Breast Cancer Awareness Month campaign.

For Liz, life’s long-term goals have now become short term and this year’s campaign, ‘Not Always Pink’, has struck a deep chord with her. In 2020, cancer is being represented as purple, which for Liz means, “the loss of life I won’t be living, that I thought I would be.”

Diagnosed in March 2019, Liz admits that once cancer comes into your life, it puts you on a different track. Speaking with The Clare Echo, Liz shares her personal story in coming to grips with her stage 4 cancer, keeping a positive outlook, the unsung heroes you meet along the way in your treatment, as well as deliberating on some of the most concerning issues relating to breast cancer in Ireland today.

Liz now looks at life through a different lens. After being diagnosed, everything happened so quickly, in her opinion. This meant that there was very little time to process. Her first symptom presented itself in the form of an unusual, discomforting pain in her hip. Liz decided to go for screening straight away, after which specialists subsequently uncovered a lump.

On her breast cancer journey so far, Liz states, “The service was fantastic. I couldn’t fault the treatment or care. My consultant decided that I should have chemotherapy straight away. Within a couple of days of diagnosis, it had started. I had six rounds of chemo; I lost my hair. The thing about this is that you will come into contact with people that will help you on every level. I met the most amazing hairdresser, Andrea Moran. She specialises in wigs. You meet people that you never really knew existed and they are just real heroes. The specialists have such a knowledge base, and they guide you. You meet things that haven’t happened to you before and their reassurance, solutions and guidance is amazing. Your long-term planning becomes more immediate. I had to give up my job and career. All that matters now, is making memories, with my husband and with my children. We are all replaceable at work, but not within the home.”

Liz points to a number of pressing issues concerning cancer screening in Ireland. She feels that the standard screening age must be lowered, citing five women that she personally knows who discovered their cancer before this age.

In addition, Liz asserts that women must take full ownership of assessing their risks. “What we know about cancer constantly changes,” she contends. “After going for a family assessment, things may change,” she adds. Assessing your family history is key, Liz feels. This is what happened in her case. A risk assessment was done 10 years previous to her diagnosis, but the information had changed, unbeknownst to her. “Early detection and early treatment are key to your survival. People aren’t dying from; they are living with it. I am one of those. By the time they found mine, it was already in my bones. There has been such progress with the drugs now that it’s not necessarily a death sentence,” she adds. Women need to know what breast tissue they have. If you have a dense breast tissue, you may need an ultrasound as well, Liz informs. Liz propounds that if any sort of lump is felt or change in the breast, it is imperative to go and check it out. “Don’t be put off by Covid,” she declares.

On a final note, Liz reaffirms the importance of listening to stories like her own and not to be dismissive or complacent, “I would advise women, when they see these campaigns popping up on their feed, to listen to the stories because it could be a story similar to your own. It could be something that you think, ‘that is very like my family.’ It may just provoke you to go for a screening and could end up saving your life. This year is just so important with the ‘Not Always Pink’ campaign. Breast cancer presents itself in many different colours, in many different ways, to many different women. It’s important to listen to these stories and not just flick by.”

Liz recommends that all women sign up and log on to the cancer risk register either through the Marie Keating Foundation or the Irish Cancer Society.

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