Monday 26 June 2017

Sile: Yes, I have cancer, but I am fighting and it doesn't define me

Presenter Sile Seoige breaks her silence to tell of her ongoing battle with thyroid cancer, writes Liam Collins

HEALTH ANGUISH: Glamorous Sile Seoige has spent the last six months battling thyroid cancer, including a week in an isolation ward in the Blackrock Clinic
where she was dosed with radioactive iodine. Photo: David Conachy
HEALTH ANGUISH: Glamorous Sile Seoige has spent the last six months battling thyroid cancer, including a week in an isolation ward in the Blackrock Clinic where she was dosed with radioactive iodine. Photo: David Conachy
Liam Collins

Liam Collins

When TV and radio presenter Sile Seoige's surgeon told her to "take a seat" one Monday morning last September as he had something important to tell her the last thing on her mind was the word cancer. But that's exactly what she was told she had.



"It wasn't what I expecting him to say, but he said 'there is no other way to say this -- you have thyroid cancer, we need to go right in and take the whole gland out'."

It was a tremendous shock for her.

"I said a tonne of F-words along with another few colourful phrases, but the doctors and nurses were brilliant."

Sile remembers spending the rest of that Monday with her partner, Kim Burrowes, her sister Grainne and a friend. "It was surreal," she says, and in typical Irish fashion they ended up having a laugh, coping with dark humour as she struggled with the thought "is this really going on?"

Sitting with a silk scarf wrapped around her neck, she's talking about her diagnosis for the first time, for a combination of reasons.

"There has been speculation for some time as to why I have been keeping a low profile and there have been reports, especially recently, that have been untrue -- it has nothing to do with my career, but everything to do with my health," she says. "Which is why I've made the decision to finally talk about it."

She also wants people to know that she "hasn't gone away" but has spent the last six months battling the illness, including a week in an isolation ward in the Blackrock Clinic when she was dosed with radioactive iodine.

Still presenting Shenanigans on Newstalk, Sile, 32, is also conscious of the "fear" that surrounds the word cancer, and she wants people to know that she is "feeling very confident about the future".

"Hearing that word chills you to the core ... but what I would say is if you're worried about anything, get it checked, follow your gut, talk to somebody, just don't be afraid to discuss it."

Apart from the obvious physical and mental trauma surrounding a diagnosis of cancer it was telling her parents and the effect on her family that caused the most anguish.

"I found telling my parents incredibly difficult and out of all the people through this whole experience they would be the ones I'd be most concerned about.

"This is the only interview I will do for the foreseeable future, and I want people to appreciate where I'm coming from. It is not something I have ever had to speak about publicly before but I think it is important for people to discuss it and take the fear out of it," says the Connemara beauty.

Her first brush with illness came about two years ago, and seemed so simple. She was presenting a television show with her sister Grainne when she developed "a terrible pain" and was rushed into St Vincent's Hospital where she had her appendix removed.

While she was recovering, her surgeon, Denis Evoy, noticed a swelling on her neck and asked her about it. This led to a procedure on the thyroid gland but the biopsy came back clear.

It was only last September, when she went in for what she thought was a routine check-up, that she was confronted with the shocking diagnosis. Two weeks later she went in for a second operation to have her thyroid completely removed.

"It was sort of a blur ... really I am just getting over it," she says.

She is full of praise for her surgeon Mr Evoy, her oncologist Dr Osama Salib and the medical staff in both St Vincent's Hospital and the Blackrock Clinic.

"What I will say is, thank God for health insurance as well. There was a period I was saying 'will I or won't I' and I'm very glad I kept it up because if I hadn't, things would have been very different.

"I am on medication for the rest of my life, and while I'm back at work and love it, it will take some time before I'm fully recovered."

As someone who doesn't smoke, is not a heavy drinker, comes from a family with no history of cancer and who exercises, she was shocked by the truth of the expression -- "your health is your wealth".

Her partner had just gone back to work in RTE after helping to look after her following the first operation when she called to tell him about being diagnosed with cancer. "He has been incredible, just absolutely brilliant."

Her sister Grainne, who she says is also one of her best friends, was her tower of strength.

"She is one of the people I think of first because she knows me so well, she knows instinctively what to do -- and that's the thing with my family and friends, my relationships have become all the more real and more genuine since it happened.

"If anything, it has been a bizarre blessing because it makes you realise what is really important in life -- my relationships with my boyfriend and family and friends. And my colleagues at work have been just so good. Newstalk has been so incredibly supportive from day one. It was just a great feeling to have that kind of support."

Before she had any inkling that she was suffering from cancer Sile had gladly taken on the job of ambassador for 'Dip in the Nip' -- a charity in which men and women bare all to raise funds for various cancer charities. The summer event will be taking place in four different locations this year.

Regarding her diagnosis, Sile adds: "What I found was the stigma is taken out of it when you discuss it. We did a radio documentary on it, it's about real people, it cuts out the bullshit and takes the fear away from talking about cancer and I'm so glad it is being discussed more because we need to take the fear out of it. Cancer is not what defines people living with it."

Sile knows she has been lucky. The prognosis is good, she is back at work and illness has brought her even closer to her loved ones.

"In my heart and soul I believe I will beat this," she adds emphatically. "The last thing I want to say is that I would ask people to please respect my privacy and not just mine but my family and friends as well, thanks very much."

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