I’ve often said that if I hadn’t moved to Dublin in 2012, I might not be here today. That may sound dramatic, but it’s true that Ireland saved my life – in more ways than one.
was 29 when I found the lump in my breast. Despite growing up in the very non-exotic areas of Huddersfield in West Yorkshire, I developed a passion for languages at school and went to Brazil to teach English as soon as I turned 18.
In the years that followed I studied Spanish and Portuguese at the University of London and shortly after graduating I moved back to Brazil where I got a job as a financial journalist in São Paulo.
In my late twenties, I wrote about oil and gas while living in a beautiful apartment in Buenos Aires, Argentina – although I was preparing to move to Ireland to find a new job and move in with my Irish boyfriend at the time.
I was on a surfing vacation in northeastern Brazil when I tripped over the bump while absentmindedly running my hand over my chest.
Once back in Buenos Aires, I googled the Spanish word for “lump” and tried to understand the medical system. On February 14, I lay under the neon lights and watched a gray-haired Argentine doctor poked around at my chest looking for the lump—not a romantic Valentine’s Day for me.
After an ultrasound and mammogram, he sat with a smile on his face as he told me it was a benign fibroadenoma, common in women my age, and should go away on its own within a few months. Or at least he was 99 percent sure it was.
We didn’t know I was in the 1pc.
About a month later I’d moved to Dublin and gotten used to the shock of swapping the glorious Argentinian summer for cold side rain before starting a new job at Facebook helping to run one of the Latin American teams.
Although painless, the lump in my breast was still there and my mother and then boyfriend urged me to get it checked out.
I reluctantly paid the €60 it cost to see a GP. She looked at my scans from Argentina and agreed it was probably a fibroadenoma, but referred me to a specialist for advice.
Since it wasn’t considered urgent, I waited six weeks for a consultation, then another four weeks for a second mammogram and ultrasound. Then they rushed me for a core biopsy – a term I had never heard of and naively unaware that it was a test to confirm the presence of cancer.
I was sipping sweet tea from a styrofoam cup, weak and shaky from the anaesthetic, when they told me they would have the results within a week.
By then, several experts had told me that the lump in my breast was nothing to worry about, so I went about my business as calmly as ever.
I broke up with my boyfriend on Monday after destroying the short-lived relationship. On Wednesday I ran an 8K race in the fastest time of my life. And on Friday I found myself in a tiny, windowless consultation room at St. Vincent’s Hospital and heard these words: “It’s cancer.”
Four months had passed since I found the bump and there was every chance the cancer had spread, but miraculously we found it just in time. Although my ex-boyfriend was friendly and helpful, I knew few people in Ireland – so I moved back to Yorkshire to live with my parents while I had surgery and chemotherapy.
I’m pretty sure that if I hadn’t moved to Dublin I wouldn’t have been diagnosed in time for successful treatment and maybe I’m not here today celebrating 10 years cancer free.
Ireland saved my life in other ways too.
After chemo I returned to work in Dublin while undergoing daily radiotherapy at St Vincent’s.
I had been single for eight months and was keen to start dating as I wanted to start a family one day. I wasn’t able to freeze my eggs before chemotherapy as the effect of stimulating estrogen on my cancer was unknown, so I wanted to find a partner before it was too late.
But I didn’t know how to find a new relationship when I was bald as a baby, potentially infertile and with a scar like a tiny shark bite on my chest.
However, there is something about cancer that makes you brave. At age 30, I created an honest dating profile using photos of my bald head and mentioning that I may not be able to have children.
It was Valentine’s Day 2013, a full year after those first tests, when I met online a new Irishman – an aspiring doctor – who loved me back to life.
After dissecting tumors in the lab, he had a far more realistic view of cancer than the average person. He knew that just because I had stopped active treatment I wasn’t necessarily “cured” and he understood that I just wanted to watch box sets.
The doctor and I broke up after a year – but I will never forget how he put me back together. He made me feel like a woman despite the state my body was in. He didn’t care that I had no hair and felt completely broken.
Later that year I left Ireland and returned to London to pursue the Masters in Magazine Journalism I had always dreamed of.
I loved my job as a financial journalist — but blogging about cancer during my treatment had given me a renewed appreciation for sharing more personal stories. In early 2016, I woke up with a strong urge to write a book.
At this point, after two years of ghosting, gaslighting, and bad Tinder dates, I was exhausted and tempted to give up. But then I remembered my 30-year-old self, fearlessly listing myself on a dating site with no hair and somehow meeting a nice, caring guy.
There was something empowering about that — the idea that our most vulnerable selves can sometimes be our best selves, and that beauty is definitely not everything.
Inspired by this experience, I started writing my novel, Single bald womanabout a woman named Jess who shatters life until she breaks up with her boyfriend after being diagnosed with breast cancer.
While writing the book, I entered the Date with an Agent competition and returned to Ireland for the Dublin International Literature Festival, which gave me an extra boost to keep writing.
At the time, I had a full-time job writing about restaurants, but spent my free time creating a fictional cast of characters who were afflicted not only with cancer but also with heartbreak in all its forms.
I learned about love, friendship, resilience and empowerment and rebuilt myself along the way.
I always had the idea that at the time I was publishing a book, I would call Single bald woman, I wouldn’t be single anymore myself. It took 10 years of online dating and a global pandemic – but a year ago, at the end of lockdown, I met the love of my life, Mark.
After a decade of perimenopause due to cancer treatment, I worried that I wouldn’t be able to bear children with an eventual partner, but Mark already had the full package with three wonderful daughters. I moved in with him at the end of 2021 and completed the blended family with my two cats and his dog.
Single bald woman was released in April and couldn’t be more poignant as I celebrate 10 years since my cancer diagnosis.
It’s been a while since I’ve been back to Ireland but I plan to take Mark with me as soon as the opportunity arises. I know that when I leave the airport I may experience some trauma from the difficult times I had there – but I will also feel my shoulders sag with relief knowing that Dublin feels like home becomes.
I will always be grateful for the special role Ireland has played in my life. I am grateful for the staff at St. Vincent’s who greeted me with a smile at each of my 33 daily radiotherapy appointments.
I am grateful to the people at Facebook who have been so generous in supporting me both emotionally and financially throughout my illness. I am thankful for the cozy apartment in Ringsend where I cried myself to sleep when my treatment ended abruptly and my real life supposedly began.
I am grateful for my first tentative runs on the beach at Sandymount Strand, where I nursed myself back to life with the icy wind and fresh sea air slapping my face. Ireland saved my life and I will forever be grateful.
“Single Bald Female” by Laura Price, published by Pan Macmillan, €14.99, is out now
https://www.independent.ie/life/ireland-saved-my-life-how-a-single-bald-female-got-her-mojo-back-after-breast-cancer-41825935.html ‘Ireland Saved My Life’: How a ‘single bald woman’ got her mojo back after breast cancer