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Mark O’Connor, Ireland

Men's BCS Ambassador

I would love to tell you about my story of the journey I've had with breast cancer. In late August 2011 whilst I was on holidays with Tina, my wife and Dylan, my son, in Killarney, I noticed that I had a lump on my left nipple and it seemed to be increasing in size. I vaguely remembered having bumped into a door maybe a month or so previously. Tina said “go to see our GP immediately when we return from holidays”. I saw my GP in early September and was referred to the breast cancer clinic in the Cork University Hospital where I met a consultant named Professor Redmond who examined me and sent me straight off for a mammogram. Once I had the mammogram, he asked me would I mind having a biopsy while I was there. The biopsy results took a week to return so I was asked to return on the following Friday. At this stage I was getting worried but was none the wiser what was coming down the line. Tina and I returned on the following Friday for my appointment with the consultant and it seemed like we were kept waiting for an eternity. When we learnt the devastating news that I had breast cancer, I was totally gobsmacked and Tina became hysterical. When the doctor examined me, I asked “what's the plan” and he said “we can operate on the following Thursday”. I wasn’t waiting a minute longer and I asked if he would cut it out then and there?

The following Thursday I had a mastectomy of my left breast and luckily there was a full clearance of my lymph nodes. Subsequently I started chemotherapy in November for 7 months. I lost all my hair, my fingernails and my toenails and I managed to pick up several infections and had to be hospitalised a couple of times. I also underwent 25 radiotherapy treatments in 2012.

My consultant physician told me about ARC house. It's a place for people going through cancer treatments where you can receive counselling, massages, and other treatments to help you deal with what you've been through.

My counsellor suggested to me that there was an open day being held for dragon boating on the 22nd of September 2012 and she thought it would be good for me to try it out as I previously had a great interest in sports. So off I went and attended the open day and I've never looked back since. Not long after the open day we had a couple of meetings with the people who set up the open day namely Shirley O'Shea of the HSE, Darren Prince of the Prince clinic, Oisin Creagh, and Meithal na Mara, a community-based group who gave us access to Dragon boats.

So, roll on to October 2016 and Deborah Bonner contacts me and asks if I would I mind giving a speech in Solis Castle in Donegal about male breast cancer and its effects on me. The theme of the night was “Real Men Wear Pink”. This is where the idea for the Wild Atlantic Warriors was spawned with Deborah, Lisa Power and myself. So, we approached our own clubs with the idea and subsequently had our first meeting in February 2017. Then Florence became a dream come true for the Wild Atlantic Warriors and so began the work of trying to get everyone together for training sessions etc and get ready for Florence 2018. It was truly amazing to be in Florence with all my friends, team mates and new friends.

I'm a happier, healthier and better person for my introduction to Dragon boating. One gift breast cancer gave me, is knowing how precious life is, and the different attitude I take to life every day in trying to live it to the full, along with all the amazing people I've met along the way, through dragon boating. My motto is “if in doubt, check it out”, that's what doctors are there for and early detection and intervention is the key. Also keep looking forward as looking back is only for parking cars.

Paddles up,


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