Miriam is no ordinary Nana. She has bright red hair (for now!), piercings and tattoos. But it’s Miriam’s quiet determination and sense of humour that really makes her stand out. She is a mother of three girls and grandmother to three grandchildren, a hairdresser, participant in the ‘Dip in the Nip’ and member of the Sea of Change Choir. She is also a lung cancer survivor, and this is her story.
Originally from Walkinstown in Dublin, Miriam (52) now lives in Clane in Kildare but as she laughs is “still regarded as a blow-in” by the locals despite living in the village for years. Her lung cancer journey is by no means a standard one, with her diagnosis happening almost by accident.
At the age of 38 Miriam was diagnosed with epilepsy, after numerous tests and changing medication she returned home after surgery in November 2014 and life returned to relative normalcy. In November 2015 Miriam had a throbbing pain in the side of face, which she thought might be a tooth ache or infection. After attending her GP, who advised this was not the case, she was urged to go to hospital to get checked out. Miriam decided to go to her local hospital Naas General instead of into Beaumont where she was usually treated for her epilepsy. This decision possibly saved Miriam’s life.
After presenting at A&E she was admitted and the doctors in Naas worked with her specialists in Beaumont to get this Epileptic episode under control. After a few days, Miriam felt better and was keen to leave. During the time she was in hospital, one of the doctors took the opportunity to give her a full MOT and had done a chest x-ray. Miriam received the news that they could see a ‘shadow’ and was advised that it needed to be investigated further.
Within weeks she was in Tallaght for a biopsy and tests. She remembers clearly walking around Catherine’s Park in Lucan in the rain when she got a call to ask her to come into the hospital for her results. Not wanting to wait and knowing that something was amiss, Miriam asked to be told the result. She says that even when she heard the words “it’s cancer” it didn’t really sink in. She went back to her brother’s house and says, “it was much harder telling my brother then hearing it myself, saying it out loud made it real”.
She was referred to James’ and says, “even though I knew I thought just maybe they had made a mistake”. But this wasn’t to be, and she was told by her surgeon that he would take as much of it as was needed but as little as he could. The operation left Miriam with just half a lobe left in her right lung.
Miriam was told after the operation that she was ‘lucky’ to have caught the cancer when she did as it was fast growing and potentially by the time, she had experienced symptoms it may have been too late. She says, “after being through brain surgery I thought I’d be grand but I couldn’t get over how hard it was to get over the lung surgery”. On damp or cold days, she notices that she can get breathless and has to take it a little easier. She is very aware of how lucky she is and is so grateful to be here and well for her grandchildren.
For Miriam one of the lasting negative effects of her lung cancer journey is a feeling that other people judge her for it. “I sometimes feel like I have to apologise as the first thing I get asked is if I smoke or smoked. The judgement and stigma is awful”.
However, one of the positives has definitely been getting involved in the Sea of Change Choir, a choir made up of caner survivors and supporters. “It came along when I needed it most. I can be totally myself”. The experience of being in the choir, such as appearing on Ireland’s Got Talent, has been transformative for Miriam and she is so grateful for the time she has been given to be a part of it.
“Getting diagnosed early, means I am here for my kids and grandchildren and also to really experience life, like being involved in this choir. My memento jar tells the story of my time in the choir and the positive impact it has had on my life. Time is so precious and is something I will forever be grateful for”.
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