Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland nurse forced to borrow £16k for life-changing op

‘Stormont’s to blame for the stressful delays in my post-cancer operations’

Karen McMurray. (Photo by Paul McErlane for the Belfast Telegraph)
Karen McMurray. (Photo by Paul McErlane for the Belfast Telegraph)
Karen with Shea
Claire McNeilly

By Claire McNeilly

A nurse recovering from breast cancer has told how she has been struggling with her mental health because of a lengthy wait for life-changing reconstructive surgery.

Karen McMurray, a mother-of-four from Dromara, Co Down, said she has been left with no choice but to borrow £16,000 to pay for treatment herself - a crippling expense she fears will ultimately impact on her children's future.

The 35-year-old South Eastern Trust employee, who has already spent £4,500 on a private "peace of mind" hysterectomy, lays the blame for her £20,000 health bill entirely at Stormont's door.

Mrs McMurray also revealed she has written to DUP leader Arlene Foster and Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O'Neill to outline her plight as well as that of others in similar positions on an ever-growing waiting list.

In an exclusive interview with the Belfast Telegraph, she said she is worried about getting into debt, but the reconstructive surgery she desperately needs is now due to happen at a private clinic next Tuesday.

"I just want to close this chapter of my life and move on," she said.

"We don't have a lot of money. We've enough to get by but it will take me a number of years to get back on my feet again and, to be honest, I am worried the children will suffer.

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"But I can't go on until I get the reconstruction surgery because it's affecting everything so much - my work life, my family life... every aspect of my life.

"I often find myself bursting into tears because I can't cope with the stress of the daily challenges of life with all this going on.

"I have confidence problems. It's hard when you're trying to find something to wear for a special night out or if the children want you to take them to the swimming pool."

Karen McMurray at her home with daughters Dara, Shea and Maci
Karen McMurray at her home with daughters Dara, Shea and Maci

She added: "I've been under an awful lot of stress and I'm on antidepressants because of how down I've been feeling."

Mrs McMurray, who has a son and three daughters - Max (11), Dara (6), Maci (5) and Shea (3) - with builder husband Graham (36) told how she received her breast cancer diagnosis in May 2015 when pregnant with her youngest.

"I had a right mastectomy while I was expecting Shea and I got some chemotherapy, although they couldn't give me all the chemo I needed while I was pregnant," she explained.

"Shea was delivered at 30 weeks and she spent a further 10 weeks in the special care baby unit at the Ulster Hospital."

In addition to her daughter's precarious start in life, Mrs McMurray had to endure "the rest of my chemotherapy and 25 rounds of radiotherapy".

But that wasn't all.

"My cancer was an oestrogen-driven type of cancer, so for my own peace of mind I looked into getting a hysterectomy and there was a massive waiting list, so I borrowed £4,500 and went privately," she said.

"Then I was supposed to be getting a risk-reduction mastectomy on the left side, as well as reconstruction work on the left and right sides, but I'm still on the waiting list for that.

"It was all meant to be done long ago. I've had a couple of appointments but I wasn't given any dates from the Belfast Trust, and then Stormont collapsed and they weren't doing any of my type of surgery at all.

"This had a poor effect on my mental health because of how I looked. I've kept in touch with the Belfast Trust to see if there were any dates, but there's been nothing."

After contacting her local MP, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, Mrs McMurray said she received an apology from the Belfast Trust - but she doesn't blame it.

"This situation is down to Stormont not working," she said.

"I've always paid my taxes and I believe I'm entitled to this service.

"I couldn't fault my surgeon and her breast care nurses; they have done everything they can. This falls on the government because money isn't being allocated where it should be."

She said she wrote to the political leader "because I wanted to let them know that I'm going through his because Stormont isn't functioning".

"I know several women in my position in Northern Ireland," she added.

Having taken eight weeks off work due to "the effect this is having on my mental health", she said she has been struggling on, just trying to get through her dark days.

"Max, my eldest, understands because he's old enough but it's very hard," she said. "The kids love the water and water sports, so I've to buy a special swimsuit costing £100 to take them swimming, but I'm still self-conscious. I have to do it, though, for them."

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