One young farmer from Co. Offaly has highlighted the comfort she found from working with her animals during her fight to overcome cancer last year.

Eimear Spain, a farmer from Co. Offaly, explained her cancer experience from a rural perspective, noting: “You take each bridge as they come, and cross them.”

At the start of 2020, the 19-year-old was in her first year of studying agriculture in Kilkenny, one of only 12 female students alongside 180 male students, according to the Irish Cancer Society.

Recollecting her experience as part of a survivor story series with the Irish Cancer Society, she at first began experiencing a terrible pain in the side of her neck:

“I remember waking up in the night and crying in pain, so I made a GP appointment… The doctor thought that it might have been swollen glands, so he sent me home with anti-inflammatories.

“A few weeks later the pain still hadn’t gone away so I went back to him. My mam came with me this time. I remember that day, the only thing my Mam said was: ‘We’re not leaving here until you tell me what’s wrong with my daughter’. The doctor sent me for an ultrasound and it all kind of began from there.”

According to the Irish Cancer Society, tests revealed that Eimear had Stage 3 Hodgkins Lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system (part of the immune system).

“I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t even cry or anything. I remember starting to cry after we left, when I got to the car. It only kicked in then I suppose.”

Eimear’s treatment plan was 12 rounds of chemotherapy from March to September 2020. She developed sepsis during that time (an unusually severe response to an infection) and had to spend a week in hospital alone.

“That was the hardest part of all. Because of Covid, no one was allowed in with me. The first morning I woke up in hospital alone, a nurse said to me, ‘Do you know you’re a very sick child?’ But because I was over 18 I was an adult, and I couldn’t have any family with me.”

Eimear credits her love of farming and the support of her family and friends with helping her to get through the most challenging time of her life:

“The farm was definitely a big thing,” she said.

“Without the farm, I don’t know what I would have done… I am passionate about caring for livestock on the farm and about having several pets around the farm. I enjoy seeing all their personalities come through.

“I also had support from Mam and Dad, and my two brothers Michael and Ruairi. My extended family were great as well. There were some days that were very, very hard.

“But I’d come home from chemo and I’d have a letter or a card from a neighbour or friend, and that would make my day that bit better.

cancer farm
Image source: Irish Cancer Society

“I was told to give up college for a while. But I said: ‘No, I’m not giving up college. I’ll get through it.’… I ended up coming out with a distinction last year. It was a bit of a surprise, I didn’t think I’d even pass the year.

“I finished college this year and am enjoying the summer with my Dad on the farm. I’m hoping to have a better summer than last.

“These are challenges you have to overcome; and I’m glad to be on this side of it… I am happy to say I am a cancer survivor.”

Like Eimear, many people find farm animals and pets a great comfort during cancer, the Irish Cancer Society says.

The Irish Cancer Society has two new factsheets available – ‘Your cancer treatment and pets’ and ‘Your cancer treatment and farm animals’ – about staying safe around your animals during and after your cancer treatment.

You can download them from the Irish Cancer Society website here.