Rachel McKenna experienced severe pelvic girdle pain during her pregnancy, starting at seven weeks pregnant. That’s due to her condition, and she expected the pain to go away when her son Elijah was born in October 2020.
In fact, the situation continued to worsen, and Rachel also began to develop extreme back pain. “In a way, having a baby you’re so happy about has allowed me to focus on a happier place. There were days when I was like, ‘I can’t do this.
She would feel guilty, she recalls. “You feel like you have failed completely as a mother. I think – and he’s 22 months now.
She remembered breaking down in tears and felt unusual to be in this amount of pain. She said, “Eight months postpartum at this point. Some days I couldn’t stand up straight. It felt as if my spine couldn’t hold me up – after all, it really did.”
In addition to the pain, Rachel, now 39, discovered a lump in her breast in the early summer of 2021. Ultimately, her MRI in early August revealed the source of her pain. “I had five fractures in my spine. It was from cancer. My spine could have collapsed at any moment. They put me to bed right away.”
She recalls the moment her doctor pronounced her cancer. “That word makes you numb. Part of me was almost relieved. I was like, ‘Well, now I know what’s causing all the pain.’ The other side of it is, well, cancer. Obviously, it rocked both of our worlds,” she said of her and her fiancée Aidan Marshall’s reactions. “It was a huge shock. We didn’t know how bad it was.”
The next day, Rachel was admitted to the hospital for testing. She explains that she is sitting in the waiting room with Aidan. “At that point, I think he was more distraught than I was. But I think it’s a partnership. It varies from person to person, and you have to sprint at various times. “
The simple act of performing an examination proved to be very difficult as lying in the MRI machine was “horribly painful”. A biopsy and ultrasound of a lump found by Rachel confirmed that she had breast cancer.
“I remember calling my partner. It was kind of a relief. We thought, ‘OK, breast cancer — there’s a lot we can do with modern medicine these days.’ Cut it out, tear it up, I don’t care. However, it later became clear that this was not the case. “
A few weeks later, Rachel was told she had stage 4 metastatic breast cancer and bone cancer. “I think they do so many tests. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle. All the pieces eventually fit together. I was still feeling really positive. I’m still positive about things.” is.”
The original plan was for Rachel to leave the hospital around the end of August and begin IV chemotherapy. Unfortunately, she developed an infection in her leg and three days later she was readmitted for another month and her treatment was put on hold.
“I remember being really, really upset. I just wanted to start fighting this thing. I went through a course of chemotherapy pills and hormone pills that lead to menopause.”
“He said he had pain in his lower back. I had an X-ray and it showed that my femur and upper hip were starting to collapse from the tumor.
Rachel was discharged again at the end of September and was doing well, but at her Christmas check-up, her consultant, unhappy with the treatment, decided to move to IV chemotherapy for the new year. did. Over Christmas, Rachel started feeling sick to her. “Nausea, vomiting, nothing to hold back,” she recalls now. She was readmitted the first week of her January.
“He said he had pain in his lower back. An x-ray showed that my femur and upper hip were starting to collapse from tumors. I had to have surgery to put sticks in both my legs. Delayed chemo again, that was probably the hardest time, I was in the hospital for 6 weeks, it was really scary — I saw my baby 3 times and I didn’t take the first steps did.”
She describes being in a ward surrounded by very sick people. “Obviously, it makes you face your own death. You were very, very positive up until that point, but at that point, you had surgery on both legs, lost all independence, were in a wheelchair, were swollen, couldn’t sleep. Isn’t it gone?, you can’t turn around—you’re facing your own death at that point.
It was very hard not to see her son. This was during Covid-19 restrictions so she only saw Elijah 3 times and her partner 4 times in 6 weeks.
“It’s one of those things that you have to shut out of everything. If you dwell on it for too long, you can’t even think about it. Feeling guilty for not being there for him and seeing him.” There was, but I had to admit it was beyond my control.
Rachel’s son was about 15 months old when he was discharged from the hospital this time. She was set up with a local occupational therapist and public health nurse.
“I was on crutches. It was very painful and difficult to move around.” She smiles as she recalls her young son’s attempts to help her. “He heard me coming with crutches and tried to grab them to help Mama walk to a special chair. Then he went and sat on my lap. It was like he knew something wasn’t right.He was amazing.”
She also worked with the palliative care team at St. Francis Hospice in Blanchardstown. “I remember saying that to my partner. His eyes just widened. The nurse helped explain to him that palliative care is not necessarily end-of-life care. To help deal with this as a chronic illness, and living with it.Hospice has been great.”
She says they have a wonderful nursery teacher who will support them in Elijah’s care. I think some people think she’s like, ‘She’s terrible. But I was physically unable to care for him. That thought keeps in your head: I can’t take care of my child. I can’t sit on the floor and play with my son or chase him.
“You feel like a failure as a mother. You feel like a burden on everyone. I think one of the things was the amount of support I got — the outpouring of love and care that was amazing.
Her recovery meant that her IV chemotherapy was delayed again, causing further stress. “You’re like, ‘What’s going on with my body, is my cancer getting worse? When can we start fighting back?’
Rachel was finally able to start IV chemotherapy in March of this year, which ended in May. “Thank goodness IV chemo made a huge impact. You get high when you get the news. It really helped me regain the positivity I had lost in the months leading up to it.” .”
I still use crutches when I’m out and about, but my mobility is much improved. She’s now able to do things with her son and she plans to return to her part-time job as a teacher starting this month.
I am really, really lucky. The real problem is not pain, but fatigue. Just try to do a little more each day than you did yesterday. But at the same time, understand if it’s a day when you actually have the energy to do something.
She took advantage of the six free treatment sessions provided by the Irish Cancer Society, which were very helpful. “I got a great therapist and I still use that therapist. She really helps me understand and accept my diagnosis. I didn’t have to explain things to her. It was nice to see you — she really understood the cycles you go through because your mental health is a mess. Some days it pisses me off. Wonder why this wasn’t caught sooner, why I didn’t listen? But that’s nothing to blame.”
It’s about acceptance, explains Rachel. “And make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else. You don’t have to have a new baby to hear you have stage 4 breast cancer and bone cancer. For me, my own children grow up.” It’s really hard to realize that you might not be able to see .
Currently, Rachel is taking chemo pills daily and a hormone blocker and bone strengthener once a month. “I hope this keeps everything at bay or reverses it. I know that one day I’ll be fine, but the next I’ll be unstable.
She now values her ability to enjoy her son. “Being able to wake up every morning and dress my little boy and cuddle him in the morning, that’s what’s really important. And I hope that this treatment I am currently doing will last as long as possible.
Ideally, Rachel believes mammograms should be available in the same way that smears are. “I just want to raise awareness. I feel like I’m going through this so I can help other people in their situation. Keep going until you feel it.Your gut will always guide you.I knew there was more to it, but I didn’t know what it was.I’m sorry.No matter how you do it, it’s what it is. is what is
Rachel is an Irish Breast Cancer Advocate and an ambassador for the Great Pink Run with Glanbia. The event takes place at Leopardstown Racecourse (October 9th) and Kilkenny Castle Park (October 16th). Registration is on greatpinkrun.ie and all funds raised will support pioneering breast cancer research and awareness programs in Ireland nationally.