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Story of the Month

My Cancer Journey

by Cathy Neeson.

Posted: 5th April 2016

Cathy Neeson is Deaf and was born in Donegal. As a child she went to St Mary’s School for Deaf Girls as a boarding pupil. Later she went to live in Monaghan, where she is married to Joe and has one son. In this Story of the Month, Cathy tells us about her diagnosis and treatment, and how her contact with the Irish Cancer Society has led to improved cancer support services for Deaf people.

In 2009 I discovered a lump in my breast. I waited for a week, and then made an appointment to see my GP. My sister had been diagnosed with cancer two years earlier. My GP made an early appointment for me in Beaumont Hospital, which took place 2–3 weeks later.

Diagnosis Story of the Month: My Cancer Journey by Cathy Neeson 2016.

Cathy Neeson

I did not tell my family about the appointment, and travelled to Beaumont Hospital on the bus on my own. I met with the nurse and Professor Hill. That day I had a triple assessment: a mammogram, an ultrasound scan and a biopsy. I remember that the biopsy was quite painful.

There was no sign language interpreter provided on the day, and I had not asked for one. I struggled to follow what was being said, which was difficult given that I was naturally feeling anxious. However, the nurse asked me if I would like to have an interpreter at future appointments and I said yes. Following this, an Irish Sign Language (ISL) interpreter was booked by the hospital for all of my appointments.

I was given another appointment for about ten days later. This time I travelled to the hospital with my husband Joe. When I went into the room the nurse and Professor were both there, and I knew instinctively that something was wrong. I was told that I had breast cancer, and the doctor recommended a lumpectomy.


Another ten days later and I was back in hospital. I was admitted for two days to have the lumpectomy. The ISL interpreter explained all that would happen the night before the operation. It was an emotional time and my breast was painful after the operation. A week later I also had some lymph nodes removed. In just a short couple of months, so much had happened and so much had changed.

Support was
important in
my recovery.
– Cathy.

After the first procedure I told my family about my diagnosis. I had delayed telling my sister and mother because of my sisters previous cancer diagnosis. It was hard to tell my mother. It was a very emotional and upsetting time, but I received great love and support from my family.

At this point I decided to ask for a mastectomy, and given my family’s history, the doctors agreed. The operation took place about two weeks later. Again this was a very emotional time for me.

About eight weeks later I began chemotherapy. I had four sessions, and the second one was the most difficult and I felt quite ill afterwards. I also lost my hair which was a horrible experience. I went to the hairdressers and asked for my head to be shaved. I was told I looked like Sinead O’Connor!

Later I began five weeks of radiotherapy in St Lukes in Rathgar in Dublin. Each week involved five days of radiotherapy from Monday to Friday. I stayed in ‘The Lodge’ during the week and went home at weekends. It was great to talk to the other women and to have peer support. I made some close friends during those difficult 5 weeks away from home. And thankfully, afterwards my cancer was in remission and I was well again.

After treatment

I still has to go for annual check-ups, but now I am healthy and enjoying life again. After my treatment, I attended some support sessions organised in Monaghan by the Gary Kelly Cancer Support Centre. Later I became involved in the Crocus Support Group in Monaghan. I found these groups very helpful, but I was also aware that Deaf people who receive a diagnosis of cancer may not be able to access the supports and information that are available to hearing people.

Irish Cancer Society Story of the Month: My Cancer Journey by Cathy Neeson 2016.


I was involved with a small group of Deaf cancer survivors who met a few times about 2 years ago called the Deaf Daffodils Group. It was clear that their was a need and a demand for support for Deaf people who had received a diagnosis of cancer.

At the same time people like Naoimi Fitzgibbon and Deirdre Murphy from the Irsh Cancer Society were increasingly aware that their services were not fully accessible to members of the Deaf Community.

I knew that the support I received during my illness was important in my recovery. I was also aware that support and information can be more difficult to access for Deaf people diagnosed with cancer.

I wanted to do something about this, and last November I completed the Survivor Support training programme provided by the Irish Cancer Society.

The programme involved four days training in a group of ten people, all survivors of cancer. ISL interpreters were provided by the Irish Cancer Society so that I could participate fully in the training. I am now a fully trained Irish Cancer Society Survivor Support Volunteer’, and I am looking forward to supporting Deaf people diagnosed with cancer who are looking for support or a listening ear.

Getting Support

If you are Deaf and have been diagnosed with cancer, you can contact Cathy by first of all contacting the Irish Cancer Society Nurseline service.

The ICS Nurseline number is Freephone 1800 200 700, and Deaf people can contact the ICS Nurseline directly by email or text. Watch the video to learn more about contacting the Nurseline. Line Break Image


Check out our previous Story of the Month!

Baby Blake’s Story

Blake Reilly arrived into the world one month early in June 2015. He spent a little time in the Intensive Care Unit and the Special Care Baby Unit in the Coombe Hospital, but at just eight days old, three weeks before he was due to be born, he was on his way home with his mam Elisha. Read On…

More Stories of the Month can be viewed here... Baby Blake’s Story




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