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Lenihan cancer battle begins with 'aggressive' treatment

FINANCE Minister Brian Lenihan has revealed he is facing six months of a "very aggressive form" of cancer treatment.

Mr Lenihan said his chemotherapy began last week and added that the first session had "gone very well".

The minister has played a leading role in the Government in the midst of the State's worst economic crisis in decades.

He won the hearts and support of the nation when he spoke openly and frankly about his cancer diagnosis earlier this month -- and his positive attitude has given hope to hundreds of other cancer sufferers.

Mr Lenihan told of how he was "shocked" when he got news of his diagnosis and said he felt like he was "on a cliff".

"While I know (pancreatic cancer) is a high-risk cancer, there have been remarkable improvements in cancer care in recent years and I am in good physical shape -- so the doctors feel able to give me a very aggressive form of treatment for about six months," he said.

Mr Lenihan gave an interview to the 'Community Voice' newspaper, which is based in his West Dublin constituency.

"I have already been through the first session of this treatment and it has gone well. I really just want to work and live as normally as possible," he said.

Mr Lenihan has said that he would not be giving regular updates about his illness.

Mr Lenihan will return to the Dail next Tuesday for the first time since news of his cancer emerged, and is expected to reveal details of the Government's plan for a banking inquiry.

"I will continue to work in my constituency office and meet my constituents, though perhaps, in the circumstances, I will carry out a lot of the business over the telephone in order to avoid the risk of infection."

Mr Lenihan has brought through three Budgets in the space of 18 months.

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He was also involved in setting up the National Asset Management Agency, which is poised to pay up to €54bn of taxpayers' funds to take over the banks' toxic property loans.

Mr Lenihan participated in the Government's marathon seven-and-a-half-hour cabinet meeting on Wednesday, which was dominated by the economy and the banking crisis.

His otherwise good health is believed to be standing to the Finance Minister, and is one of the main reasons why he is receiving the most aggressive form of cancer treatment available.


But Mr Lenihan made it clear he would adhere to medical advice if doctors believe he needs to review his workload and his central Cabinet role.

The minister's medical team is led by surgeon Gerry McEntee, the All-Ireland-winning Meath footballer and brother of Fine Gael TD Shane McEntee.

Mr Lenihan recalled how news of his cancer came as a shock and was "all very sudden".

He was suffering from stomach pains before the Budget in December but developed jaundice shortly afterwards. He was hospitalised and underwent tests, and the cancer was then discovered.

"One day I had a pain in my stomach, next day I had a life-threatening condition. I just have to face up to it. I have no other option," he said.

Mr Lenihan has not ruled out the possibility that the stress of his cabinet portfolio could have been a factor in bringing on the illness.

He is a non-smoker and was told by doctors that his health was otherwise very good. But he admitted his average working day last year lasted from 7am to 1am the following morning, at least six days a week.

On the day after he told the nation about his illness, Mr Lenihan braved the icy conditions and travelled to Kildare to sympathise with the family of former Labour Party minister Justin Keating.

Despite immediately adopting a brave outlook and positive attitude, Mr Lenihan revealed how he was left with just a few hours on St Stephen's Day to tell his family about his cancer diagnosis -- after TV3 contacted him to say they were about to inform the nation of his condition.

"At this stage, there is no point in me losing sleep over it. When you are facing a serious condition, you try to put issues like that behind you. You just can't afford to let them affect you."

Mr Lenihan has accepted that his health is an issue of public interest, but has questioned "whether there was any real public interest served in disclosing it on St Stephen's Day, as distinct from January 4".

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