Louise McSharry: ‘I promised to be honest about my cancer experience, and my fertility was a part of it’
Radio presenter talks about body image, being a newlywed and giving two fingers to cancer
‘The title is great, isn’t it? I didn’t come up with it, although it was something that was said a lot during my treatment — a friend gave me a framed print that says ‘cancer can go f**k itself’ that stayed on my mantelpiece the whole time,” laughs Louise McSharry.
The title in question is that of the 32-year-old 2fm DJ’s documentary F**k Cancer, showing on RTE2 tomorrow night. It charts her recent battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, from diagnosis to remission, and life after cancer.
She was diagnosed in August 2014, a year and one day from the date she’d planned to marry long-term partner Gordon Spierin. Thankfully, she’s now well again and the wedding went ahead last month.
“Last September, the producer came to me and said she’d had an idea for a documentary. She said most of the time, you don’t really hear about survivable cancers — you tend to hear the saddest stories and not as much about the young people who get it, get better and get on with their lives.
“I gave it a lot of thought, and in the end, there were lots of reasons to do it. Firstly, shared experience is really powerful, and the more honest we are about hard times, the better.
“Secondly, there isn’t much information out there about the day-to-day realities of chemo. I didn’t know anything about it; most people don’t. But at some stage, you’ll probably know someone who’s going through it, if not yourself, so it’s good to have that information. And lastly for me, I was honestly annoyed about having to take all that time off from work because I love my job. I really wanted to feel like I’d achieved something in that time.”
Her candid answer is fitting; anyone who follows McSharry on social media will know that she’s a straight shooter, honest and to the point. She didn’t stop tweeting or using Instagram during her treatment, choosing instead to chronicle the realities of her situation, something F**k Cancer uses to frame the narrative of her year on film.
The documentary opens with McSharry sitting in a salon about to have her shoulder-length, candy pink hair shaved off as her fiancé and best friend sit and watch. They’re drinking prosecco and attempting normality, but it’s clearly incredibly difficult. From there, in a series of self-filmed diary items and times when she’s followed by a small crew, we follow Louise’s treatment, wedding planning and eventual return to work.
What did her family think of her decision to record this particular part of her life in such a way?
“Ah, they’re well used to me. I don’t think I could shock them at this stage. Mam’s not one for the spotlight, she froze any time the camera was around her. Dad loves it though, he says he’s available for interviews!”
One person that was unsure at first was Gordon, Louise’s new husband. “Gordon is very private, so it’s not something he was enthusiastic about doing. He’s not the sort of person who wants to be on TV or in the papers, so he did this for me really.”
If it’s difficult to imagine what it’s like going through cancer and treatment at such a young age, then it’s equally unimaginable to put yourself in the shoes of their nearest and dearest.
Louise’s partner, family and friends were with her every step of the way, and their relief when she got the all clear in March is palpable on screen. However, the aftermath of cancer has its difficulties; for Louise, the hardest part of watching the documentary was the emotional scene where she discloses her fertility test results. As very recent newlyweds, Louise and Gordon are naturally looking to the future, but the path to starting a family may not be easy.
“The most difficult part was, and still is, the fertility stuff. I made a commitment to be honest about my experience, and that was part of it, so I had to include it. However, it’s not something I particularly want to be talking about. When I spoke about it on camera, it was still extremely raw, but I felt it was important to put that out there.
“There are lots of women that have Hodgkin’s and have chemo, come out the other side and have babies no problem. But for lots of people, it is absolutely an issue; for me, there wasn’t any time to freeze eggs before treatment.
“I went for fertility testing in June. This is not an exact science, but they test you for a hormone level that’s released by your eggs. The more eggs you have, the more of this hormone you have. For my age, I should be at 30 to 40 and I’m at two. It’s not zero, but it’s in the very low or undetectable range. So it’s crap, and I wish it wasn’t this way. When I got the results, it was the one time during the entire thing where I went home, went to bed and didn’t want to get up. But I was going to Ibiza with my mates the next day, so I had to!” she grins.
“I’ve found a way to live with it for now. If it doesn’t happen naturally in the next year and a half, I’ll have to look at other options. But thankfully, there are other options.”
Louise is still tanned and glowing from her mini-moon in Barcelona.
“I wasn’t someone who obsessed about my wedding, so it was kind of a surprise when it was so amazing,” she says of the ceremony at Balinacurra House in Kinsale, Co Cork. “I thought about being married a lot, but not the actual day itself. The morning of the wedding was recorded for the show, but that wasn’t weird because most brides are filmed and photographed in that scenario. I was really zen on the day. I’m not a calm person by nature, so I was grateful for the fact!”
As well as promoting the documentary and working on her eponymous show on 2fm five nights a week, Louise is also working on her first book — a non-fiction tome about life as a woman in Ireland. “I’m still figuring it out as I write. It’s not just about the cancer; there’s sex and relationships, and there’s a lot of body image stuff in there because that’s something that I’ve dealt with my whole life. It’s light and shade, a bit of fun with some serious stuff as well. It’s not easy being a woman!
“Five years ago, I never would have talked about being plus size. It was like a secret in my head, if I don’t say it out loud, nobody will notice! So getting to a point where we can talk about body image is so important, and for me that had a lot to do with being sick.”
Having seen F**k Cancer, I ask what it was like to watch herself on TV during such a difficult period?
“It was a rollercoaster. I laughed, I cried... I wanted to reach in and tell her it was going to be okay.”
‘F**k Cancer’ is on RTE2 on Thursday night at 9.30pm