Sex, sunburn and a battle with Niamh Horan: Ten times Dr Ciara Kelly spoke absolute sense in 2016
The wise words of Sunday Independent columnist Dr Ciara Kelly always evoke much thought, whether or not you agree with her point of view.
Throughout the year, the fearless columnist has indulged us with her commentary on subjects often left unspoken but also tackled some of the most important health issues facing the nation. From her face-off with journalist Niamh Horan, to her comments on the controversial HPV vaccine, here are some of the best snippets of her most-read articles this year.
On... the HPV Vaccine
Globally, 250,000 women die from cervical cancer each year. And 100 Irish families lost a daughter, a mother, a sister or a wife to it last year - as they do every year. They were real people who died from a real disease.
So to those of you who say we do not need this HPV vaccine, we should just do cervical smears instead - I say screening didn't save those 100 women. Prevention is always far better than cure.
The truth about the HPV vaccine is this. Less than one tenth of a percent of girls who receive it will experience negative side effects.
On... enjoying sex after 50
Don't even attempt to have sex without a good lubricant. Lube prevents you from becoming chafed or sore and can also add a certain playful aspect to sex - so steer clear of cold clinical gels that make you feel like you're about to have a smear test and instead go for nice oil-based lubes that (although they are incompatible with condoms) are much kinder to and offer far better lubrication for the mature couple.
The truth is, sex gets a little bit trickier for those in their fifties, but most of the hurdles can be overcome with a little help and imagination.
On... weight loss
Weight loss isn't rocket science. There are two key elements to it - diet and exercise. Or calories in and calories out, as a simple way of looking at it.
Small change that can be maintained over time is far more effective, and yes, you will fall off the wagon and yes you will have to get back on it as fast as you can to keep up the effort, but it's totally do-able. And it's worth it. You feel better. You live better. You live longer. Your skinny jeans are the least of it.
Medication for depression or anxiety are still viewed with mistrust.
There is the notion that you must be sicker, more profoundly depressed to need them.
There is the persistent idea that you have somehow given in and given up the good fight against your illness if you take them.
And that simply isn't true.
Being on antidepressants doesn't define you.
It is quite the norm in Ireland to go out with milk-white skin on that rare sunny day without any sunscreen on at all - guaranteeing a nasty burn in the misguided belief that skin that has never gone brown in its life will somehow do it this time. And although the worst of the sunburn will be gone in a day or two, the real problem arises long after the burn has subsided, when our pale freckly skin develops nasty black moles that can be fatal.
Malignant melanoma is an aggressive, metastasising cancer that kills people.
If I could offer you only one tip for the future, 'put on your sunscreen' would be it.
On... losing her independence after surgery
It is amazing how much we take this stuff for granted. And how vulnerable and interdependent we all are. Independence is an illusion that can be shattered in a moment by a diagnosis. And until you lose your independence - even briefly - you have no idea how fundamental and valuable it is. What I have learnt is - be nice to people, you may need them.
On... working mothers and Niamh Horan
Imagine my shock and dismay when I was watching Brendan O' Connor's Cutting Edge, when I heard working mums, who use creches, described as 'selfish and wanting to have it all' by one of the panelists, Niamh Horan. It is as far from the reality I have seen as it's possible to be.
What was even more disheartening was that the panelist was an educated young woman who clearly has no concept of what happens to most of her peers when they start a family. Although perhaps she doesn't see young women, living humdrum lives in suburbia, struggling on two moderate incomes to pay the mortgage, on their negative equity town house as peers at all.
What was even odder was her follow up comment that we all know women who 'ride the system'. I expected the predictable old chestnut about women who get pregnant to get a council house. But instead she explained she was describing women who took a couple of maternity leaves back to back. And had the temerity to then look for a career break. It seems that women who take time off work, to look after their children, are actually every bit as bad as women who stick them in the creche.
What interested me more was the clatter of young pretty women leaping in to defend the panellist's views on Twitter and distance themselves from this aul feminism nonsense. The sad subtext 'Please fancy me - I promise I won't be any trouble, lads' was hard to ignore. The sisterhood is a broad church indeed.
Only nice, sad, tragic, remorse-filled women will get sympathy around here, you understand.
The underlying theme is that we the right-minded people of Ireland should get to decide whether or not an abortion is acceptable for any given woman. We should practically be consulted at the same time as the obstetrician. And to gain our consent, the circumstances should preferably be as tragic as possible.
The idea that a woman should be able to decide herself what she wants to do with her own body still hasn't gained a great deal of traction here. Which is why the majority of us believe abortion is acceptable under certain circumstances, but abortion at the request of a woman who doesn't wish to discuss her private personal reasons with us remains anathema. The notion that we - like the rest of the Western world - might actually trust women to decide whether a pregnancy is right for them, remains an alien one. Maybe, just maybe, we should consider it.
On... the grief of losing her dad
The first few months were the worst. Sometimes at night I would creep out of bed down to the kitchen to wail out loud where I wouldn't wake anyone. I believed if he could, he might send me a sign. So I looked for him in the shadows at twilight, in the back yard. I strained to catch sight of him in milling crowds and out of the corner of my eye. I never saw him.
Looking back, I really should have done something to help myself and not let grief consume me for so long. But truth be told, I was afraid. Afraid of living my life, without the man I had relied on for everything important, for as long as I could remember. And afraid to let go of my grief because that allowed me to still feel connected to him. Still feel his presence.
There is counselling available if you've lost someone. And if needed, there's medication too. You should talk to your doctor. There are no prizes for struggling endlessly. No one should. No one would want you to. I wish now that I hadn't.
On... vaginal rejuvenation
As if women don't have enough pressure about their appearance. As if we aren't hit over the head already with so many bodily inadequacies. Cellulite. Muffin tops. Bingo wings. Neck beards. Now it's our vaginas that need improving! Rejuvenation! Why can't they just be their actual age? It is my own personal view on intimacy, that if someone is lucky enough to get anywhere near your vagina, they should realise that that's a privilege you have bestowed upon them and they should be grateful for whatever they find.