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Saturday 2 August 2014

Emma Hannigan: Cancer is a tough battle, but one that it's possible to win, insists multiple survivor

Published 16/08/2013|04:00

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Author Emma Hannigan
Author Emma Hannigan

I REMEMBER the first time I was diagnosed with cancer. I did what most computer literate folk do. I surfed the net looking for statistics. I was desperate to know whether my oncologist was telling me the truth, that I could beat breast cancer.

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Now, seven years on, I know for a fact that Dr David Fennelly is not only a man of his word, but he's a life-saver.

You see, I thought cancer was a definite killer with no way out. I assumed that a diagnosis removed all hope. Why? Because I'd lost so many family members to cancer in the 1980s and I figured "the big C" was one of the grim reaper's favourite ways of recruiting souls.

My nerves were eased and my hope restored, as soon as I entered the battlefield properly.

Things have changed and for the better, I might add.

I know first-hand that many people don't survive cancer. It's still a scary and hideous disease.

But, the fact I want to shout from the rooftops is that lots more people survive now – to be precise there are more than 100,000 cancer survivors on this green isle right now.

Many beat the disease and it never returns. There's also a whole wave of people, like myself, who are living with cancer. I'm on one of the new-age drugs. It's a long-term treatment that helps prevent the cancer from invading vital organs should it return.

I go to hospital every three weeks for my chemotherapy. I receive this in a drip form and it takes half an hour to infuse.

By that evening, I'm tired and a bit washed out. But by the following morning, I'm back doing all the things I need to do.

I work, I manage my two children and husband (maybe that's three children so!) and I live my life.

Cancer is probably always going to be part of my life. I carry the Brca1 gene, so I'm predisposed to the disease. But, I don't live in fear. I don't spend my time wondering when I'm going to die.

We're all terminal. Let's face it, the Land of Tir na nOg isn't on anybody's Sat Nav system, so I see no point in fighting the good fight and then wasting my time fretting.

The medical advances I've witnessed over the years are mind-blowing. I have the wonderful privilege of speaking at medical conferences from time to time, so I see and hear about lots of cutting-edge treatments first-hand.

There are amazingly clever and astute people all around the globe who dedicate their lives to finding cures for cancer. Treatments are becoming more and more specific. The positive effects are being fine-tuned all the time.

Is cancer my friend? Am I happy I've had it eight times? Gosh no! I wish I'd never had it. I wish it didn't exist at all.

If a genie ever appears from a lamp, there are no prizes for guessing what I'd ask for. I live in hope that some day soon cancer will be obliterated, and removed without a trace. But, seeing as my name isn't Aladdin, I'll mosey on with the positive and progressive care that I'm receiving.

Our medical system in Ireland leaves a lot to be desired. I know there are too many people on humongous waiting lists.

But, I am certain that our cancer care services are second to none. I am living proof of that.

We have talented and brilliant oncology doctors here who work day and night to help patients like me to live with and beyond a cancer diagnosis.

So if you've just heard the words nobody wants to hear, if you've just found out that you have cancer, try not to despair. It's a tough battle, but it's not always impossible to win. I should know.

I'm still here. Seven years on and eight diagnoses later, I'm still fighting and more than that, I'm living life to the full.

Emma Hannigan is the author of seven novels including 'Perfect Wives', which is out now. Her memoir 'Talk to the Headscarf' details her battle with cancer.

Irish Independent

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