Two sisters who were diagnosed with breast cancer six weeks apart have revealed how they worked together to beat the disease.
Aisling, 50, and Margaret Cunningham, 46, from Brisbane received the heartbreaking news in August 2020.
Margaret was standing in front of the mirror when she noticed that one of her breasts looked very different from the other for the first time in her life.
She immediately saw her doctor and tests later revealed she had lobular breast cancer, a hormone-positive form of breast cancer that begins in the mammary glands.
Aisling, 50, left, and Margaret, 46, right, Cunningham were diagnosed with cancer six weeks apart in a heartbreaking coincidence
The sisters who are both single mothers tackled the disease and treatment together – helping each other with childcare when they could
Margaret immediately began treatment and urgently warned her family, including her mother and two sisters, to get screened for cancer.
Much to their horror, Aisling had it too. She was diagnosed with a different form of breast cancer known as invasive ductal carcinoma, the most common type.
The sisters, who are both single mothers and live next door to each other, said it was a blessing to be diagnosed just weeks apart.
“When Margaret was doing her chemo I was having surgery and when I was doing my chemo she was having surgery,” Aisling said.
“So we were able to be there for each other and be there for the kids.”
The sisters first told their story to FEMAIL a year ago – but there have been complications since.
Margaret has had both of her hips replaced – after they weakened in 2021 and eventually collapsed following intense chemotherapy.
Her hip pain started during chemo, but she ignored it assuming it was part of normal cancer pain because everything hurt.
Aisling was diagnosed with cancer after Margaret told her to get checked out after her own diagnosis
But when the pain became unbearable, she went for a CT scan – despite her “scanziety”.
“I was diagnosed with avascular necrosis, but I was so relieved that it was something else and not cancer,” she said.
The new medical problem meant blood couldn’t get to the hips properly, making them weaker.
Her doctors tried to delay replacements by giving Margaret bone-strengthening drugs, but one after another her hips collapsed.
“When I arrived to do the first, the nurse told me she thought my birth year must have been a typo, because I’m young enough to have a hip replacement,” he said. she declared.
They have spent the past two years supporting each other through therapy and surgery.
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS OF BREAST CANCER AND WHO CAN GET IT?
Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia – one in seven women and one in 716 men are expected to be diagnosed with the disease in their lifetime.
In Australia, the overall five-year survival rate for breast cancer in women is 91%. If the cancer is limited to the breast, 96% of patients will be alive five years after diagnosis; this figure excludes those who die of other diseases. If the cancer has spread to regional lymph nodes, the five-year relative survival drops to 80%.
Most people with breast cancer have no family history of the disease.
Signs and symptoms include the following:
New lumps, thickening of the breast, changes in breast shape or size, and changes in the shape of the nipple.
Some women have no symptoms and it is only found during a mammogram.
Both women and men can be diagnosed with breast cancer. Anyone can. For both men and women, if you notice any new or unusual changes in your breasts, see your doctor right away.
SOURCE: NATIONAL BREAST CANCER FOUNDATION
“In September my left hip had collapsed and I had been booked for a full replacement which I postponed until December as it meant weeks without driving which is difficult when you have children even when you have an amazing support network like me.
“For eight weeks I couldn’t relax in a comfortable chair, drive or even get dressed.”
At this point, the right side was showing only slight signs or weakness, but by April it had also collapsed.
“I’m just starting to exercise now and finally, after two years of doctor appointments, I’m starting to feel good, even normal,” she said.
Hips can usually last up to 15 years.
“But hopefully mine will last me into old age,” the mother-of-two said.
Margaret is now on the mend, but admits to having had two more major surgeries so soon after the cancer was difficult.
The sisters are looking forward to their first normal Christmas in two years – one where their children must not miss the excitement of the day
What are the symptoms of breast cancer?
Different people have different symptoms of breast cancer. Some people have no signs or symptoms.
Some warning signs of breast cancer are:
New mass in the breast or under the arms (armpit)
Thickening or swelling of part of the breast
Irritation or dimpling of the breast skin
Redness or scaly skin in the nipple or breast area
Nipple pulling or pain in the nipple area
Discharge from the nipple other than breast milk, including blood
Any change in breast size or shape
Pain in any area of the breast
Keep in mind that these symptoms can occur with other conditions that are not cancerous.
Her children had to help her get dressed some mornings because she couldn’t bend down to put on pants in the weeks following each operation.
“They were seven and eleven and really had to walk around the house and figure out that I’d be exhausted and ready for bed at 6:30 or 7 a.m.,” she said.
The two women were put into chemical menopause following the discovery of their cancers.
But after struggling to return to the hospital every month for hormone-blocking injections, Aisling decided to have her ovaries removed.
“It went really well and was so good for me because now I feel less patient, in fact, I feel great,” she said.
She had previously had a double mastectomy as part of her cancer treatment and is thrilled to have surgeries behind her.
“Plus I also had my port-a-cath taken out – which is a relief as I had to go back to where I had the chemo to have it cleaned every six weeks which was not pleasant. “, she said.
Sisters say they’re finally feeling good and mentally healing from the roller coaster ride of the past two years
Now the mother-of-one is striving to regain her strength and fitness.
“Most people don’t realize that you lose a lot of strength in your arms during a double mastectomy, especially when a lot of lymph nodes are removed,” she said.
“So I’m doing yoga for the first time in my life and I love it.”
Moms are looking forward to their first Christmas without medical complications since their first diagnosis.
They are also delighted to reveal that their Lula Eye Mask brand has gone from strength to strength.
“Mags was able to quit his job of 14 years and we are now both working in the business full time,” Aisling said.
“We do all of our work from home, moving from house to house,” she added.
This is useful on days when they are not feeling their best.
Their business selling self-heating eye masks is booming – despite having to juggle their health emergencies
“We’ve both been through cancer and understand the side effects and can pick up the slack if the other needs a break.”
The sisters said they have been inundated with messages from breast cancer survivors who want to support the business and the community they have built.
“People share their stories with us and they are so heartwarming, I try to respond to everyone, but sometimes it takes a few days to find the right words,” Aisling said.
“We are so proud to be able to remind women to take a few moments to take care of themselves, without feeling guilty.
“Women do so many things, self-care is so important whether you’re sick or not.”
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