Monday 19 March 2018

Singer Linda Nolan on battling incurable cancer: 'I won't let cancer rule the rest of my life'

Linda Nolan who has said she has chosen the songs she wants played at her funeral after being diagnosed with cancer for a second time. Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire
Linda Nolan who has said she has chosen the songs she wants played at her funeral after being diagnosed with cancer for a second time. Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire

Hannah Stephenson

As her new memoir is published, the singer talks to Hannah Stephenson about living with secondary breast cancer, her bucket list, and her current sense of joy following years of grief and depression.

Linda Nolan has taken a lot of knocks over the years - the loss of her husband Brian Hudson and sister Bernie, both to cancer, her late mother's dementia, plus her own battle with breast cancer and the shock discovery that it's returned.

The secondary cancer was discovered a year ago - 11 years after she'd gone into remission - when she fractured her hip in a fall and a tumour was found.

It's meant more bouts of radiotherapy, scans and hospital appointments, but Nolan's been told it's incurable.

Despite all this, the 59-year-old singer - who enjoyed huge success as of the famous Nolan Sisters in the Seventies and early-Eighties, with hits like I'm In The Mood For Dancing - remains remarkably positive about the life she has left.

"Living with an incurable disease has changed the way I live my life," she explains. "I appreciate life so much more. It's ironic that there was a time after Brian had passed away and after Bernie had been ill that I went into a downward spiral of depression.

"At times, I thought about taking my own life. Now, with this diagnosis, I think life is so precious. There's so much to live for," she adds. "I look at my great-nieces and nephews, who are all toddlers, and think, 'Oh, I would have missed all of this'. I let people know that I love them. I'm not shy about saying that.

"If my life is cut short by cancer, then I'm not going to let it rule the the rest of the life I have."

After thinking she had beaten the disease, she recalls: "I was devastated when I was told the cancer had returned. It's very scary when you are diagnosed with something that isn't curable. Bernie had passed away from the same thing. She died within 11 months of being diagnosed with secondary cancer. I felt very guilty having to put my family thorough all of this again."

She is now on a cocktail of drugs and has a monthly injection in her stomach to help strengthen her bones, plus a CT scan every three months. "I get nervous before the scan, but I don't want to live the three months between each scan worrying every day that it might have spread."

She had her last results in early February and all was good. So far, the cancer has not spread and the tumour is contained in her left hip.

"I'm not in a lot of pain, but I can't go on long walks because my hip aches. But I'm off my crutch now, which is great."

The Nolans, who toured with the likes of Frank Sinatra at the height of their fame and made regular appearances on prime-time TV, seem to have been plagued by cancer. Three have had breast cancer - Bernie (who died in 2013), Anne and Linda - and the others have done the BRCA gene test, which proved negative, but they are still vigilant when it comes to spotting warning signs.

Her new memoir, From My Heart, which charts the highs and lows of her life, including her Celebrity Big Brother experiences in 2014, spats with her sisters and other dramas, was fuelled by her recent diagnosis, Nolan reveals.

Writing about the deaths of her husband, mother and sister, and her descent into clinical depression, was hard, she admits. "After Brian's death, I saw my doctors every two weeks and was having counselling as well. Initially, I was diagnosed with complex grief. I think it was because Brian and I were together 24/7 (he was her manager). He was the love of my life. I met him when I was 22 and we'd been married for 26 years.

"I lost hope of ever being happy again and [started] thinking, as people do when they reach a certain point in depression, it would be better for everybody if I wasn't here and I would be doing them a favour. I lined up the tablets, but I found the Samaritans and the crisis team of my local mental health team.

"It wasn't that I wanted to die, it's that I wanted the pain to go away. Now, of course, I look back on what I would have missed and how wrong I was. People just wanted to help."

Her family has been hugely supportive, she says. She's been living with Denise in Blackpool for the last year, while her house up the road is being decorated. The sisters - apart from Coleen, who lives in Cheshire - see each other all the time.

When the Nolans embarked on a reunion tour in 2009, she felt alive again and, with the girls' support, the clouds starting lifting. But when the tour ended, she found a huge void in her life.

Then, when Bernie was diagnosed with breast cancer and Linda was still battling depression, she started having panic attacks and self-harming.

"I would dig my fingernails so deep into my hand that I'd draw blood. Other times, I would bite my hand until I broke the skin," she writes. "It sounds cliched and very dramatic, but it concentrated pain somewhere else in my heart," she says now. "But I got help. The main thing through all of my depression was that there was someone to talk and help me through it.

"I might be on anti-depressants for life, but they stop me crying every day. It's not a magic cure. I still have down days. But they make it easier."

She has now given herself a bucket list, she says.

"It just sounds ridiculous because the things on my bucket list aren't massive things," she says. "I would love to fly first class. I've never done that. I've flown business class when we were flying to Japan a lot, but never first class.

"I would love to take my great-nieces and nephews to Lapland to see Santa. I want to go to New York with my siblings for the Macy's Parade.And I'm a shoe-aholic. I always wanted a pair of Jimmy Choos or Louboutin's."

She is not sure if the Nolans could reunite again for another tour without their beloved sister Bernie.

"We did 2009 and then we were going to do one last farewell tour and then Bernie got ill. It's just too hard to do it without her. There's just this massive gaping hole. But we never say never and would maybe do it involving her in some way, with video."

It's clear family means everything to Nolan. The daughter of singer Tommy Nolan, she grew up in close-knit Irish family of eight children (six daughters, two sons) but the dynamics were complex. Tommy Nolan was also a borderline alcoholic who beat his wife, singer Maureen, and a womaniser who fathered a daughter by another woman.

The family moved from Dublin to Blackpool in 1962 when Linda was three, and the sisters made a name for themselves playing the local working men's clubs, before hitting the big time in the Seventies.

She has grieved for her husband for a long time, but says she's finally ready to find love again.

"I'd like to have someone to go to the cinema with and maybe go for dinner with, or just somebody to put their arm around me. It's not about sex. If I fell in love again, that would be amazing, but I know I've had the love of my life."

From My Heart by Linda Nolan is published by Sidgwick & Jackson on March 8, priced £18.99.

Press Association

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