Kate Cameron's Story

Hi. My name is Kate, Kate Cameron and I’m originally from Scotland but I’ve been living in Ireland since 1997. Well I have two daughters so I’ve been looking after them but they’re grown up now. And I have been working for the national youth organisation Foroige since 2001 but from 2007 I worked for the programme that came over from America called ‘Big Brother Big Sister’, which is a mentoring programme.

First of all I had a very common routine operation. I had a kidney stone removed in 2016. And I went for just a review on how that had gone and everything was absolutely fine, but I happened to mention one particular symptom that I was not particularly concerned about but I mentioned it to the doctor and she referred me.

And I then went for an investigation and resulting from that they found a tumour. I thought the tumour would be very straightforward. I felt healthy, I felt fit and I went in to have the tumour removed in December 2016 and then I got the biopsy results back in January where I met my oncologist who told me that it was a stage four nasty tumour.

So I was completely shocked and I was told the course of action would take about a year till I was healthy again and that would involve a course of chemotherapy, then surgery on the liver and then chemo again and hopefully I would be fit and well after that.

That November I got a small infection and was admitted to hospital so while I was there my oncologist wanted to bring forward a particular scan. He did the scan and asked for my family to come in because it was bad news. The news was that the cancer had spread again.

So at that stage they decided that chemo wasn’t an option and my oncologist wanted me to try and get onto a clinical trial that was open at the time to patients. It’s a new drug called immunotherapy. What is new about this trial is that they are using another new drug along with a drug they’ve been using before. The immunotherapy is basically kicking ass in the body, the body’s own immune system, to detect the cancer cells and to be able to fight against them.

I also had a lot of side effects in the mouth, you get ulcers in your mouth, you lose your appetite. These are quite well-known side effects to chemotherapy, but because everything that had hit my body over the last year and a bit seemed to have taken its toll and things were bleak. And on discharge from the hospital I met the palliative care team to discuss initially pain management and how things were going to be for me at home because I more or less live alone at home. They came out to my house straight away and from there on they supported me and still are supporting me. So my day to day life was made much more easy.

When they came to my house they discussed my care and they discussed how I felt emotionally, which is huge because very often you’re so busy dealing with the purely physical, medical side but your head is just spinning with stuff and emotionally you’re exhausted.

My youngest daughter, I think, took the hardest hit because her life was changing so rapidly and she needed support and suddenly, with mum being so sick, again palliative care were fantastic because they stepped in and suggested that she got support from Cancer Care West.

I was invited to attend what’s called a FAB course, which is Fatigue and Breathlessness, which were two of the main symptoms I was struggling with the most. This course made you see that it was totally normal - that this is fine and it’s fine to ask someone else to do it, to ask for help. So I learned how to breathe properly, I learned to cope with fatigue, I learned how to cope with mental stress through mindfulness, which I still practice, and we also learned how to be good to ourselves, things life aromatherapy, art therapy.

I had never worked properly with clay so I had great fun doing some work with shells, setting them into clay. I also did some work with silk. I did some physio with palliative care in the hospice and also I started to walk my dog and I could slowly but surely see myself getting back to a level that I could do my normal walk as opposed to half a walk or a quarter of a walk that I had to stop.

On a positive note my illness made me realise that there were things I had time to do and I wanted to do them. So my family and I sat down and my daughters had chosen off my bucket list, if you like, going to Sicily. It’s an island I always wanted to visit and one of the other places I wanted to see was the Dalmatian coastline, Croatia. So my youngest daughter then organised all that and I got to see Dubrovnik.

I actually started to look at things that I had, not missed out on, but hadn’t had time to do like all of this. So I looked outside at my so called space of garden and realised there was a whole area there that I could develop. And I had a great friend who is into gardening and so he said he would help me and we literally went out there, cleared the brambles. The farmer came with a bucket of soil and helped us. So I got help from my neighbours and friends and we literally started this garden and I look after it and potter and see the plants growing and it really, really has helped me.