Michael Flatley has said he owes his life to an eagle-eyed MTV viewer in America who helped spot the first signs of a malignant skin cancer.
The dancer revealed the full details of his diagnosis for the first time as he said he agreed to act as an ambassador for Breakthrough Cancer Research (BCR) as a personal debt of honour to help the fight the disease.
Flatley said he fully endorses the BCR campaign to designate a 33rd Irish county — Co Saolfada, county of survivors — to honour the strides made in helping people beat a cancer diagnosis.
Almost 45,000 people are diagnosed annually with cancer in Ireland and there are approximately 200,000 survivors or people living with cancer nationwide today. Sadly, 9,000 still die from the disease each year.
Flatley confirmed six years ago he had been diagnosed with a malignant melanoma back in 2003, but had never spoken of the full circumstances of his diagnosis.
“So many people who surround me have had cancer and so many people I know have died from it,” he told the Sunday Independent.
“I was diagnosed with skin cancer myself and it was a very scary time. I sympathise with anybody who is lying on that bed and facing the uncertainty of the future. It can be a frightening place.
“It was a malignant melanoma that I was diagnosed with. It was around 2003 and it was purely by chance that it was noticed.”
The now 62-year-old was in the best shape of his life and leading the troupe for his show, Lord of the Dance.
He was on business in Las Vegas before planning to travel to Beverly Hills and then to Barbados.
“We were at the fifth anniversary of Lord of the Dance in Las Vegas and I did an interview with MTV,” he said.
“Somebody watched the interview and brought it to the attention of my personal assistant and said: ‘Did you ever notice the brown spot on the side of Michael’s face?’ I had never even noticed it.
“They advised me to go and have it looked at. I did and the doctor took a sample of it there and then. I was flying to Barbados the next day and he gave me a call and asked me to come and see him.
“I said I was leaving for the airport and would he mind if I called him when I got back? He said, ‘no, I need you to come in immediately’. That was a little scary. I cancelled the flight and went straight in to see him.
“He said if I had let it go a few more weeks there was probably nothing he could have done for me.”
Thankfully the prompt treatment ensured the melanoma was fully dealt with and left no side-effects.
“You have to take care of these things immediately. People like BCR are helping to find the answers to all these difficult problems. They are the ones that can help.
“But in today’s world we are bombarded with negativity and I think it is really important to talk about the successes with cancer treatment and research.
“This idea of Saolfada and the 200,000 cancer survivors is a really important thing to focus on. It shows us how important the work being undertaken by BCR and other researchers is.
“They have suffered dramatically during Covid-19 in terms of their fundraising. Now that things are coming back together in the world, I hope people will be generous and get behind them.”
The Chicago-born star will be honoured for his work in supporting cancer and homeless charities in Monaco next month.
On July 7, Prince Albert will present Flatley with the prestigious CC Forum award for outstanding contribution to global humanitarian causes.
It is the second major honour he has received in Monaco — where he splits his time between a historic villa in the hills over the principality and his Castlehyde mansion in north Cork — having been honoured at the Red Cross gala in 2003 by the late Prince Rainier. He also has a property in
Flatley said he loves his Castlehyde home and simply couldn’t bring himself to sell it last year when he received an offer for the picturesque mansion on the banks of the River Blackwater.
“I am too emotionally attached to Castlehyde. I love it, I just cannot let go of that place, I am crazy about it. I love Cork, I love Ireland and every chance we get to come home, we try to get there.”
The dancer bought the derelict property for €3m almost 20 years ago. He then lavished almost €30m on restoring the house to its full 18th century glory.
Castlehyde hosted the wedding reception after his 2006 marriage to his Meath-born wife, Niamh, herself a talented former dancer.
The mansion boasts its own whiskey room, two wine cellars, cinema, dance studio, music room, gym and formal reception room.
A hallway runs the length of the entire house and can be converted into a grand dining room for celebrations.