Monday 20 October 2014

Emma Hannigan: 'Louise, I am raising my two fingers to cancer on your behalf'

Emma Hannigan

Published 29/08/2014 | 02:30

Emma Hannigan has had cancer nine times
Louise McSharry has been diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma

I was saddened to hear that 2FM DJ Louise McSharry has been diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma. It sickens me to hear of anybody being diagnosed with cancer.

I know only too well what it's like to be on the receiving end of such a diagnosis. I have had cancer nine times.

As I listened to her interview with Ryan Tubridy, I found Louise brave and pragmatic in her approach to the disease. She reminded me of my own reaction when I was diagnosed with breast cancer for the first time.

I too was hungry for knowledge so I could dispel the awful feeling of panic that was creeping into every pore of my body. We all know that knowledge is power and I can tell you I needed as much of both as I could muster.

Emma Hannigan has had cancer nine times

I asked a million and one questions, I did what we're all told not to do - I sat at my computer and Googled stuff. I terrified myself even further and slowly began to realise that the only way to gather real information was from the doctors and nurses who were treating me. I cannot stress how vital it is to have correct and relevant information.

All cancers are different and each person's specific diagnosis is unique to them. The only people who can truly advise you are your own medical team.

Having said that, there are lots of on-the-ground person-to-person nuggets of common sense information that I've gathered over the years -things that I know help all people receiving a cancer diagnosis.

The most important one has to be that cancer is not always a death sentence. I was relieved to know that for a fact. You see, when I heard I had cancer at first all I could envisage was my beloved aunt's coffin as she left three small and devastated children behind her. But that was over 20 years ago.

My doctors were very swift to tell me that I was in a good position. The type of cancer I had was treatable. Now, although I had absolutely NO intention of dying, it was music to my ears to hear that the doctors felt certain they could help me beat it.

Now that I've come to the end of my ninth battle with cancer, I know for sure that beating cancer is possible.

If Louise is reading this, or indeed anybody who's just been diagnosed, I would like to be the light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel mascot for today please. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy aren't pleasant. But both are also incredibly effective for many patients.

So instead of looking at the course of treatment as your enemy, embrace it. Stand up, flex your muscles, crack your knuckles and shout "bring it on." That's what I did and I know it helped me psychologically. In fact, when I felt ill or exhausted and the side effects of the drugs or radiation interfered with my day, I always aimed to be philosophical about it. I figured that if I felt that dreadful, just imagine how the cancer was faring?

Louise McSharry has been diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma

If I could recommend doing one thing it would be to accept help, because you're going to be blown away by the kindhearted generosity that's about to sweep over you. There are no medals or million euro prizes for shouldering the burden of cancer alone.

Obviously I may have lost all my friends if I'd decided to take the broken dolly approach every day. But I learned that it's OK to say I don't have the energy to do two school runs today, cook the dinner and go to work. Don't get me wrong, some days I could.But I had to swallow my pride and accept some of the offers of help.

Cancer is no friend of mine, although we've been hanging out together for eight years now. I wouldn't wish it on my worse enemy. But I've come to the conclusion that we all have crosses to bear. We all have difficult and awful things to deal with at some point.

But the face of cancer has changed. I'm the "here's one we made earlier". I'm the result of the new age of cancer survivors. I have beaten the odds. I have won nine times so far. I know I am lucky to be riding on the crest of the new wave of survival with this hideous disease.

I don't have special powers. I am no different to anyone else. But I am bloody delighted to be alive and well and dare I say it - happy!

For Louise and anyone who has just been diagnosed. Good luck and please know I am raising my two fingers to cancer on your behalf. Have hope in your heart.

Emma Hannigan's book 'Talk to the Headscarf' published by Hachette details her battle with cancer

Irish Independent

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