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I beat cancer eight times

WHEN Emma Hannigan (40) was given the all clear from cancer, she was as overwhelmed as when she'd first received the bad news. The bestselling author lives in Bray with her husband Cian, son Sacha and daughter Kim.

As you all undoubtedly know, October is breast cancer awareness month. It's when we all make an extra special effort to talk more about breast cancer. I hope the message of early diagnosis has gotten through. That no woman should ever be afraid to go to the doctor and ask questions -- even if there's a niggling feeling inside that it might be a 'silly question'. Go! Ask! Do it today, please.

One topic that is often overlooked is the whole issue of life after cancer. Due to the amazing medical advances, more and more people now survive cancer.

When I was a little girl, if used with a coloured flash card, the word cancer would probably have been paired with a pine box. Thankfully, that's not the case any more. Many more people survive and go on to live long healthy lives after cancer. I should know.



Remission

I've been diagnosed with and beaten cancer a grand total of eight times. I know -- it's a ridiculous amount of times to have the disease isn't it? But the wonderful part is that I am now in remission. In fact, next month will mark a full year of being well for me!

So, if you've just been diagnosed or know someone who has -- don't despair. Cancer doesn't always win.

Last November, when my amazing oncologist Dr David Fennelly (aka Saint David chez nous) delivered the news I'd been longing to hear -- that I was in remission, I'll admit to being totally flummoxed.

You see, I'd become quite good at bracing myself and taking the hammering of the bad news. This good-news lark was a whole new ball game for me.

Needless to say there was a flurry of phone calls, texts, emails and tweets to spread the wonderful joy. I think I had a hangover for a week. There'd never been a better excuse for a glass of bubbly or a cheeky G&T.

Then the dust settled. I had my all-important follow-up scans four months later. They, too, were clear. This was simply astonishing, exhilarating and totally surreal. I stopped spinning and realisation set in. I'd actually done it, I'd beaten cancer.

This may sound totally bats to you, but it was almost as difficult to fathom as the initial cancer diagnosis. It required a total rewiring of my brain. I had to move from survival mode to hop, skip and jump mode. Now, I've never been a moan merchant. In fact, I can't bear negativity. But suddenly I was free to feel happy without the constant niggling fear of cancer in the shadows of my lovely life. I went through a couple of weeks of skulking.

I skulked around my own mind. Why? Looking back, I think I was terrified to allow myself believe I was well. Just in case the cancer came back. Just in case it all went pear- shaped again. Just in case I took it all for granted and I ended up sick once more.

Once I realised I was doing this I gave myself a talking to. I do that. I know it's probably a sign of insanity, but hey, who wants to be 'normal'? I looked in the mirror and said, 'Emma, the cancer might come back, but on the other hand it might not. But right now you are well. Enjoy it!' (I don't mind telling you there was finger-wagging and a full on glower involved.)



Appreciate

I've had enough defining moments to last me a lifetime. I get it. Life is short. We need to appreciate the good times and muddle through the bad bits as best we can.

But most of all, as I continue with my life after cancer I am trying to live each day as it comes. I'm trying to accept that it's all about seizing the day. Have you ever heard that quote about time? It goes something like; yesterday is history, the future is a mystery, today is a gift, that's why we call it the present.

I love that. It says it all doesn't it? So I've unzipped the suit of fear that was threatening to define me once the cancer had gone. I've stepped out and kicked it to the side. Now I'm dressed to the nines in positivity and hope. I've got my lipstick and my high heels on and I'm ready to stride purposefully onwards and upwards.

This October I hope lots of you talk about cancer. Don't allow it to silence you. If, like me, you've just finished treatment and are in remission, enjoy it, rejoice and be happy. Let's blow raspberries and raise two fingers to cancer together. Wiggle your bottom, too, if the whim takes you! Cancer doesn't always win.

I like to keep a score. Mine reads well.

Cancer, 0 -- Emma, 8. Fantastic!

Emma is the author of a cancer memoir Talk to the Headscarf, published by Hachette. Her latest novel Driving Home for Christmas, also published by Hachette, will be in the shops in November.


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