Today we are joined by Klara McDonnell, a singer/songwriter and actor from Dublin. Klara was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer in December and is currently doing treatment. She is rocking her unique sense of style all the way to the chemo ward. Here’s her story so far.
Your name, age and where you’re from
My name is Klara McDonnell and I am 38. I’m from Dublin originally but living in Carlow.
Your diagnosis story
I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer on 4 December 2019, at 37. At the time of being diagnosed, I was vegan and had been vegetarian or vegan for almost all of my life. I was a non-smoker and someone who only drank every few weeks the last few years. There was no breast cancer on my mother’s side of the family.
I was mostly self-employed in the arts. Sometimes working crazy hours with no sleep, not knowing when my next bit of work was coming in. I was living on the edge of my nerves a lot of the time. Last November I thought my left breast seemed a little tender and I noticed when I was showering that the texture had changed. I just knew it was cancer. I had never properly checked my breasts before that moment. I made an appointment with my GP, from there I was booked in for tests (mammogram and ultrasound) at Waterford Hospital. I had no outward signs of breast cancer, so initially it probably did seem like it was just a cyst or something similar. During the ultrasound, I heard the words ‘lymph node’ being mentioned and my body started to shake. I found out later that it was cancer and the type it was when I got my biopsy results.
How did you feel when you were first diagnosed?
I was actually calmer than during my ultrasound test by the time I got the confirmation that I actually had cancer. The lowest point for me was the few days after I was diagnosed. I kept Googling my type of cancer. I kept reading articles about triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) mentioning high fatality rates and how tricky it was to treat. I honestly believed that I was going to die from this. I believed that all the relationships that didn’t work out, career opportunities that didn’t materialise, were because I was just meant to die at this point in my life. I made the following video that week and put it on YouTube, hoping it would help other women get diagnosed and possibly connect with other women that had TNBC in the process. I felt very alone.
Your treatment plan
Triple negative is a particularly aggressive type of breast cancer. I was told from early on that my treatment plan would consist of chemotherapy and surgery, followed by radiation.
How is treatment going for you?
I feel I have been blessed with almost no side effects from chemo so far, apart from being bald. I get weekly blood tests to see if my blood levels are ok to go ahead with treatment and as yet, no weeks have been cancelled. I haven’t had any nausea, pain, loss of taste or headaches.
Worst/best part of treatment
I have to take a lot of steroids during chemotherapy. They make me feel quite high and on top of the world. However, it can be very frustrating for my friends and family when they have to communicate with me or I accidentally break something!
The chemo sessions themselves have been surprisingly pleasant. I usually dress up for treatments and try to treat them almost as a day out. I enjoy chatting with the other patients and nurses. I find the time goes by too fast to try sleep (though I am far too high on steroids for that).
What is getting you through treatment?
My will to live.
Single best advice that is helping you.
When I was at my lowest point, my mother reminded me of my uncle, who is a cancer survivor. She reminded me how he laughed through everything and was so positive. When I was crying she told me to snap out of it. I had to force myself initially to be more positive about my situation, fake it. I’m now at the point where strangely, I can see more positives in my life than negatives.
Where are you now/how are you now?
I am currently 8 chemotherapy sessions into weekly Carbo/Taxol treatment. I feel positive about being cancer-free by the end of my treatment.
How do you feel about your cancer experience now?
I feel I have more control over my cancer than it has over me. However, with the Coronavirus pandemic, I do feel less in control. Before this, I felt more comfortable out and about. When I go out for my blood tests or shopping for food now, I feel I have to keep crossing the road to avoid people and I have started to wear masks.
Has cancer changed you, if yes, how?
I think it forced me to slow down. I was always rushing around. I feel life is too precious to waste it worrying on certain things now.
Have you changed anything in your life as a result of cancer, if yes, what and how?
I rarely drank in the last few years but I made the decision to never drink again when I was diagnosed as I want to be completely conscious and aware at every moment in my life. I also gave up energy drinks.
What helps you now if you have a difficult day?
I meditate as much as possible and try to concentrate on my breathing. I really like Dr Joe Dispenza’s brain/heart coherence meditations. I started listening to him on YouTube and then ended up buying some of them.
Single best purchase that helped you through cancer
I bought some lovely patterned covers for my picc line from a company called Cool Covers UK on Etsy. They make my picc line look a lot better with outfits.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone recently diagnosed, what would it be?
In my opinion, the scariest point is where you are right now. Look forward and take each day at a time. I think we are all much stronger than we think we are.
Thank you so much Klara for doing our story feature! If you would like to see more of Klara’s journey, you can follow her on Instagram here.