An indomitable spirit
Losing her hair was hard, but Emma Cassidy’s positive take on cancer included a pre-chemo party, writes Olivia Kelleher
SOME people are just born with an indomitable spirit that sees them survive and even thrive amid the chaos that life can throw at us. Emma Cassidy is one of those born survivors.
Emma, 30, from Raheny in Dublin was working as a PE and science teacher in a local secondary school in April this year when she started to experience fatigue.
Emma is proactive about her health, having had a minor encounter with skin cancer a few years ago. She decided to go to her GP for a consultation.
“He was brilliant. He put me on B12 injections and I went back and I said that I felt no different. I was still wrecked. I felt like my skin and hair was different and things were breaking down on me.
“I was still exercising and eating well but I couldn’t beat it. My blood tests were fine and my thyroid was checked. Two years previously I had skin cancer removed from under my arm pit so my doctor sent me back to hospital as a precautionary measure.”
Emma went to Beaumont Hospital as a public patient and found the speed and attention of care to be second to none.
Doctors found a lump in her right breast in “20 seconds” and she was sent for an ultrasound. A nurse told her she wouldn’t normally send a patient aged under 35 for a mammogram. However, she requested that Emma undergo the examination.
“Not one alarm bell went off. I was there from 8.30am to 5.30pm but I was still a bit naïve. Then they told me that they had three areas that they wanted to take biopsies from. I still wasn’t clicking,” she said.
“At one point my mother was in an another waiting area of the hospital and they said ‘do you want your mother to come down with you?’ And I said to my Mum, ‘are they being a little bit too nice?’ and we laughed.”
Emma said it didn’t really dawn on her that she had cancer as statistics for the incidence of the disease in women her age are relatively low.
She was getting her hair done for a wedding a week later when she got a call to say that the top consultant onsite wanted to see her a few days later.
Emma said she still “ate and drank and enjoyed the wedding” and then went to the consultant expecting “not so good” news.
“When I was told I had cancer in three areas I could see the colour drain from my mother’s face. But I was told it was very fixable. I was still so naïve about it.
“I couldn’t believe it when I was told I was facing into a double mastectomy. I felt myself panic. But then I said, ‘tell me what to do’ and I knew that if I did what they told me I would be fine. So I concentrated on that.”
Emma says she felt “punched in the face” and cried for about three minutes. Then she went into teacher mode, figuring out how she was going to approach her treatment.
Emma was conscious of the fact that she had very little in the way of peer feedback, so she decided to set up an Instagram page to reach out to other young women with cancer.
“I hadn’t encountered anybody in my immediate circle with cancer. I wanted to encourage girls in similar situations.
“I also wanted to document my journey and to have something I could look back on when this is all over. I wanted something positive to come of it. I have received loads of messages. It’s amazing.”
Emma underwent a double mastectomy and is now going for regular chemotherapy sessions. She will have reconstructive surgery at a later date.
THE weekend before her chemo started she decided to have a big party at her home, attended by her work colleagues and dozens of friends. “Mum couldn’t believe it when I said I wanted a party. I wouldn’t be someone who sits around crying. I am quite good in bad situations. I process things fairly quickly.
“I think people were waiting for me to have a mental breakdown but the cards have been dealt a certain way and I think it is all about how you react to it. If I can raise awareness along the way, well that’s great.” Emma says her pre-chemo party was like a “mini festival” with her friends hiring bouncy castles and erecting an outside bar.
All her pals got on a WhatsApp group to organise it. Touchingly, teachers at her school did a whip around to pay for her wig, knowing she was going to lose her hair.
Being a self-confessed “girly girl” Emma says losing her hair was a big wrench.
But she dyed it pink first in a nod to breast cancer awareness. She had one last curly blow dry and said goodbye to her long locks.
“The hair was hard, I have to say. I even had a curly blow done before my mastectomy and then before chemo.
“To be honest I was worried the cancer was going to change my personality but it hasn’t. I am looking forward to going back to work eventually and getting back to normal. Mind you the hair salons will close down in the meantime!”
Emma’s posts can be viewed at http:// deskgram.org/cassosnuggetsofwisdom
Hunger can interfere with our concentration and make us more likely to snap at people around us, so why is that? There are a number of contributing factors but the primary reason comes down to brain food.
We break down the food we eat into smaller components that can fuel the body. One such component is the simple sugar, glucose, the brain’s primary fuel. If we leave too much of a gap between meals then we risk our blood glucose levels dropping. This affects people in different ways; for some it triggers a strong response in the brain that makes us hangry. The brain needs fuel to regulate and control emotions, particularly anger.
It is understandable that we get irritable when the brain’s main food runs into short supply. From an evolutionary standpoint this is a threat to our survival. If we need food, and need it now, then it is not a time to be timid. But the reaction is not just physiological, it can be neurological and psychological too.
‘I wanted to document my journey and to have something I could look back on when this is all over. I wanted something positive to come of it.
A drop in blood glucose levels can trigger the release of certain hormones that control our appetite; these include cortisol and adrenaline. These two hormones have other functions as well, particularly in eliciting the fight or flight mechanism in response to stress and anxiety. Anger is often a side effect expressed in situations where the body feels under stress.
Main: Emma Cassidy on Instagram:“I finally left the house, woohoo!! Had such a lovely weekend, meeting friends, going to the park and I met a puppy. ” Top right: Emma with her mum Right: Emma in her living room with Craig O’Hara.
A drop in glucose levels in the blood can make some people ‘hangry’.