Tuesday 23 May 2017

'My cancer treatment makes me grumpy, but people have been so kind'

Gaybo says 'beautiful letters' have been big help

Legendary broadcaster Gay Byrne Photo: Mark Condren
Legendary broadcaster Gay Byrne Photo: Mark Condren
Kirsty Blake Knox

Kirsty Blake Knox

When Ryan Tubridy called into Gay Byrne last month for tea and a chat he reported back that Byrne was in "fine form" and had lost none of his "Gay Byrne magic".

That quiet magnetism was evident when the 82-year-old broadcaster made his way into the Abbey Theatre for the opening night of 'Ballyturk'. Since announcing his prostate cancer in November, 'Gaybo' has missed a good few opening nights, so people craned their necks to see him leafing through the programme.

Wrapped up in a navy Donegal tweed suit and scarf, he took a seat, resting his crutches beside him. Byrne explained how extraordinarily thoughtful people had been since his diagnosis, sending him well wishes and notes of encouragement from all corners of the country.

"Beautiful letters. The kindness of people is absolutely astounding," he told the Irish Independent. "People have been extraordinarily kind."

But of course they have. This is Uncle Gaybo. A man who has been in the corner of our living rooms, and chatted away to us on the airwaves since 1961.

We feel we know him better than some members of our own families. Of course we're all rooting for him. He listens; he is warm, but he also keeps a distance. Decades of experience have taught him not to get caught up in the emotion of the moment.

Which may explain why we enjoy watching him talk about light-hearted subjects, and trust him when he tackles taboo issues head on.

Byrne is now in the middle of his treatment, and unfortunately has no immediate plans to return to the airwaves."I am taking each day as it comes. I will get through today and tonight and then think about tomorrow," he said.

Veteran broadcaster Gay Byrne Picture: Mark Condren
Veteran broadcaster Gay Byrne Picture: Mark Condren

As part of his cancer treatment, Byrne has to take over a dozen tablets daily. "I am doing and taking what I am told," he said. His mood can fluctuate greatly as a result of the medication.

"I have all these chemicals going into my body. As anybody who gets this treatment will tell you, they play havoc with your well-being and with your mood.

"They make you grumpy and nasty and hot and cold and good humoured and bad humoured. That's the way it is," he said.

The broadcaster said his reaction to the treatment was "typical", adding: "Most people who have had it will have gone though the same thing." His attitude is no-nonsense, unsentimental and dignified. "This evening I am not feeling good," he said as more people crowded into the foyer.

"But anyhow and there you are. Myself and Kathleen are here to see Mikel Murfi because I think he is a genius. And his wonderful wife Eithne (Hand) was my producer on my radio show on Sunday afternoon, and she is outstandingly wonderful as well. So we are here for them and I have heard fantastic things about the show."

His wife, Kathleen, said: "We are doing the best we can. We hope for the best."

Irish Independent

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