PUBLISHED ON: 13 September 2018

Cliona was 24 and newly engaged when she found out she had breast cancer. She shares how her loved ones helped her to the altar, and why she's excited to walk in The Show this year.  

Cliona in her wedding dress

I heard the words you never want to hear

I was diagnosed in June 2017. It was two days after my 24th birthday. I had just been promoted at work and was recently engaged. Everything felt like it was perfect.

I regularly checked my breasts, but I wasn't really concerned when I found a lump. I was young and had no history of breast cancer in my family.

My doctor referred me to a breast specialist. Then I heard the words you never want to hear, 'You have breast cancer.' 

I didn't cry. I remember turning to Ian, my partner, and saying, 'How are we going to fight this?'

I was diagnosed on a Thursday. By the following Wednesday, I was undergoing surgery. I barely had any time to come to terms with it all.

I had to have follow-up surgery, as not all the cancer cells were removed. Then I had six months of chemotherapy, 20 sessions of radiotherapy, and I'll be having hormone therapy for the next 10 years.

I feel sad I can't be a normal 25-year-old

Every now and again I feel sad that I can't be a normal 25-year-old. I'm going through menopausal symptoms in my early twenties because of the side effects of my treatment. I just don't have the energy to go out and see my friends. It isn't the same.

I had a big night out in London planned for my birthday the Saturday after my diagnosis. Despite my shock, I went ahead and celebrated my birthday. I love looking back at the gorgeous photos and seeing my birthday dress, my makeup all done up and my hair before it fell out because of treatment – it's a happy memory for me, despite what happened.

The psychological effect of seeing myself change in front of the mirror has stayed with me. My skin and hair changed. I lost my eyebrows and eyelashes. It completely knocked my confidence. My husband reminds me of how beautiful I am.

No matter what happened, we wanted to get married

Ian and I were engaged in February and had planned to get married back home in Ireland. It was already tricky as we were arranging a wedding in a different country.

We had a lot planned before I was diagnosed. Afterwards, we had to decide if we were going to go ahead with everything. But no matter what happened, we wanted to get married.

Whenever I had a down day, I'd focus on my wedding. I'd read bridal magazines in my chemotherapy appointments and talk to my friends and family about it.

Everyone rallied around to help. My mother-in-law made invitations, my dad made the wedding cake – even my bridesmaids made the wedding favours.  It felt wonderful to commemorate everything we had been through with our loved ones.

After you go through something like we did, you don't sweat the small stuff as a couple. I will always remember, on our wedding day, saying the vows at the altar, 'always in sickness and in health'.

I had finished my treatment three weeks before. We both had tears in our eyes. We felt like we had finally made it.

Cliona on her wedding day

I was worried I wouldn't fit into my dress

I bought my wedding dress before I was diagnosed. It happened by chance. I was out with my sisters, not even looking for dresses. We walked past a shop and I saw it in the window. It was gorgeous.

I tried it on and fell in love. But it was the first dress I'd seen. What if I found one that was better? After doing the rounds of lots of shops, I knew the first was the best.

The dress stayed in Ireland. During my treatment, I was worried that I wouldn't fit into it anymore. Your weight can fluctuate with chemotherapy treatment, and I couldn't travel home to check.

I went home three days before the wedding and finally got to put the dress back on. Mum had the seamstress on call in case it didn't fit. But it did. It was the perfect dress.

I found out I was in The Show the day before my wedding

My Royal Marsden nurse sent me the application for The Show London, but it went into my junk inbox. I found it the day after the deadline and decided to apply anyway.

I knew it would be a wonderful experience, as well as helping raise awareness about young women with breast cancer. I also wanted to do it for my family and friends. They had got me through the past year, and I knew it would make them proud to see me on the catwalk.

I was told the day before my wedding that I had been chosen as a model. I couldn't believe it.

Never forget how strong you are

Every breast cancer story is different. I hope that by sharing my experience I can encourage young women to check themselves and show that there is life after a diagnosis.

There's a Winnie the Pooh quote I like to think of, 'You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think.'

That's the message I would share with other women going through what I've been through. Never forget how incredible and strong you are. I've met so many strong people, through The Show and my experience, who have inspired me as I regain my health and happiness. 

 

Join Cliona and 30 other inspirational people at The Show London as they step out in style onto the catwalk after a breast cancer diagnosis. Raise vital funds to help us be there for others like her. Book your tickets today.

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