A young Galway woman diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 33 spoke out this week on her own experiences with disease and the extortionate prices of essential prohibitive tests for young women like her.
Yvonne Ní Lionnáin, a preschool teacher from Ros Cam village, Galway city, was diagnosed with cancer after she became concerned about a lump in her breast, she told Iris Aniar on RTE Raidió na Gaetachta. After being put on a waiting list for a breast clinic appointment, Yvonne refused to wait around and luckily was able to have a scan done privately through her health insurance.
Her instinct not to wait proved to be a key decision as she received a letter infrorming her of her original scan appointment at the breast clinic the same day that she began chemotherapy.
Ms Ní Lionnáin developed pneumonia and blood clots at different stages during the difficult treatment. She recently underwent a mastectomy and completed her chemotherapy last December.
‘A fortnight before I was diagnosed my sister gave birth to a beautiful little boy, and that has helped us to get through this,’ said Yvonne. ’You have to have something to be alive for, and that will keep you going. I believe my mother was with me during my treatment, helping me, and I wasn’t afraid of the chemo because I had experienced it also with her illness.’
Due to her diagnoses she was able to avail of the Breast Cancer Suscepibility test, or BRCA test, free-of-charge. This test looks for the presence of BRCA-1 or BRCA-2, which are proven to be major indicators of the illness. She proved negative for both and found that she had inherited the cancerous gene through her mother’s side of the family. Her mother and aunt had both previously passed away from cancer-related illnesses.
Yvonne’s two sisters, who also wish to take the prohibitive BRCA test, have been priced out of the procedure as each test costs upwards of €2,000. Her sisters must now travel to South Africa for the test, where it is said to be far less expensive.
In the interview on Raidió na Gaeltachta, Yvonne praised Angelina Jolie, and also Michelle Heaton, for speaking out about their experiences and thereby raising greater awareness among young women of the dangers of breast cancer. Ms Jolie’s more recent announcement however has also raised the issue of medical and biotech companies holding patents on certain procedures and tests. This is directly in relation to Myriad Genetics and their recent battle to keep their patents on the BRCA genes and testing methods. These patents are the reason why tests such as the BRCA are too expensive for many people. The patent forbids other companies or organisations from developing more affordable innovations in these areas, making them more readily available to the public.
Yvonne’s advice to all young women is to be breast aware and check breasts regularly. She encourages young women like her to be vigilant and not to hesitate to be tested if they have any doubts. She also advised people to avail of health insurance if at all possible.