Friday 31 October 2014

How the public were told about the Finance Minister's 'illness'

Published 27/12/2009 | 05:00

When TV3 announced details of Brian Lenihan's medical condition to the nation, they unleashed a wave of fury. This is a transcript of that news bulletin

News anchor Colette Fitzpatrick: "TV3 news has learned that the Finance Minister Brian Lenihan has been diagnosed with cancer.

"Our political editor, Ursula Halligan, is at Government Buildings this evening. Ursula, how serious is this?

Ursula Halligan: "Certainly Colette it is very serious. You'll remember just before Christmas, on the last day of the Dail, just before they broke up for the Christmas recess, that Brian Lenihan had to be suddenly taken into hospital for a suspected hernia. We all understood it was a minor procedure.

"We now understand that the problem is much more serous than a hernia. TV3 understands that initial tests revealed that the minister is suffering from a malignant tumour.

"The precise location, and severity of which, will be assessed in the next few days as he undergoes more tests.

"Now TV3 knew about this on Christmas Eve but we held back announcing it out of respect and consideration for the minister, for his family, and for the fact that it is Christmas time.

"This afternoon the Department of Finance has issued the following statement to TV3. It says the minister is well and enjoying Christmas with his family.

"He does not propose to talk to the media about anything until the new year."

CF: "Ursula, this really is very shocking news."

UH: "Yes, Colette, this is very shocking news and sad news especially for the minister's family and especially coming at Christmas time.

"But it's also shocking news for members of the public. Brian Lenihan was, eh... eh... is regarded as one of the most popular members of the Government. The people had a soft spot for Brian Lenihan. In fact, he is seen by many as being one of the most competent members of government.

"People like his upfront, affable manner. He isn't afraid of the media. He is a good communicator and people tended to forgive him whenever he did make any mistakes. In fact, it seems like he has been Minister for Finance for ages now but it's only been for 18 months -- but what a hectic 18 months it has been for him.

"In those 18 months, he has had three budgets, the recapitalisation of the country's two big banks, nationalisation of Anglo Irish Bank. Then there was the bank deposit guarantee and then on top of all that there was the whole setting up of the Nama scheme -- so it's been an absolutely hectic 18 months for Brian Lenihan."

CF: "Is it too early to talk about the political consequences?"

UH: "Yes, it is, Colette. It really is unclear, politically what all this means. Obviously it is a blow for Brian Cowen's government, but really it is far too early to talk about what this means or where it might go because, of course, the minister continues to undergo further tests."

CF: "There we'll leave it. Well, TV3 understands that the minister has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. John Crown is a consultant in oncology in St Vincent's Hospital in Dublin. John, what does a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer mean?"

Professor John Crown: "Well, Colette, this is a very serious condition. It is a life-changing diagnosis, I'm afraid.

"Depending on what stage the disease is, a patient -- with early stage of the disease where it is confined to the pancreas -- may be offered the option of radical surgery in an attempt to remove it completely and to effect a cure.

"Now that, unfortunately, is a little uncommon with this condition. Most patients are not candidates for surgery, the disease has spread a little bit, and under those circumstances the aim of the treatment is really more in the area of control, comfort, survival prolongation rather than outright cure."

CF: "And John, how do you get pancreatic cancer?

JC: "Well, Colette, that's a great mystery in most cases. We have some hints about some risk factors but for most patients who are afflicted with this disease, unfortunately, no readily identifiable factor is obvious. Certainly smoking cigarettes is the single major thing that people can avoid which increases the risk. If you stop smoking within 10 years your risk of getting the disease becomes much lower -- so again the message here, as in so many other areas, is to stop smoking.

"It is associated with middle-aged and elderly usually, although young people can get it. It can be associated with obesity and certain other predisposing diseases like chronic inflammation of the pancreas."

CF: "John, what quality of life can you expect after a diagnosis with this cancer?"

JC: "Well, it really is very variable. For somebody who has early stage disease, who has the surgery, well clearly for several weeks or a month or two after the operation they will be in a very definite recovery phase when they will be dealing with the after effects of a truly major operation.

"For other patients who, unfortunately, are not deemed to be suitable candidates for curative intent surgical removal, much of their quality of life at that stage will be dependent on the treatments they're getting.

"Obviously some patients will be getting chemotherapy which can help some side effects; although, in truth, the side effects of chemotherapy are much, much gentler than they used to be, much better controlled. One of the things which used to be a real problem with pancreatic cancer was chronic pain.

"Thankfully, for the overwhelming majority of patients with pancreatic cancer, pain is now very well controlled due to advances in palliative medicine."

Sunday Independent

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