Life after cancer: Three survivors talk
More and more people are surviving cancer in Ireland than ever before.
This year across Ireland, 40,000 people will hear the news that they have cancer. On Daffodil Day alone, March 24th, 150 people will be given a cancer diagnosis. By 2020, one in two of us will get a cancer diagnosis in our lifetime.
But there is hope.
More people are surviving cancer – survival rates stand at six out of ten people now, rising from four out of ten in 1997, with more positive outcomes and brighter futures for people diagnosed with cancer.
Daffodil Day, the vital fundraiser for the Irish Cancer Society is celebrating 30 years and to date a massive €66m has been raised to fund hundreds of innovative, lifesaving research projects, support thousands of Night Nursing hours and help tens of thousands of families all over Ireland.
Three cancer survivors share their stories and offer important hope to people currently on that cancer journey:
“Something hit me – go and get yourself checked out”
Postman Michael O’Donoghue (66) from Pallasgreen, Co. Limerick was recovering from a chest infection six years ago having been out of work for 2 weeks. “I was on my way to my GP to get a final cert to go back to work when something hit me – it was just a feeling that I had – go and get yourself checked out. Go for a colonoscopy. Something told me to just do it.”
“My GP and I are the best of buddies. I told him how I felt and I said “I just want it done”. Although I didn’t have any ‘red flags’, I went to hospital and got it done and was at home waiting for the good news that I was fine and they came back and said “you have a tumour on your bowel”. The doctor said “I’m after ringing your GP and I think he’s still on the floor in shock.”
“My GP and doctors reassured me that I was lucky that I caught it at a very early stage. After the chemotherapy, which went smoothly “I was
flying it”. “If I hadn’t gone with my instinct that day and caught it early, I wouldn’t be talking to you today.” Michael advises people: “Don’t be waiting until you see or feel something seriously wrong. Early detection is key.”
“I wanted to give something back”
Michael, who is now retired, is an active member of his local drama society and enjoys dancing and sports. He is now thrilled to have the all-clear but decided that after his treatment and recovery he would like to do something in return and give back to others.
The Irish Cancer Society needs to raise over €3m on Daffodil Day this year to support cancer patients and their families and is calling on the public to buy a daffodil. 98% of their funding comes from voluntary donations.
“I wanted to give something back”, explains Michael. “I think I’m the only person in Ireland that does an all-day coffee morning. I start at 10 in the morning and it goes on until 10 at night on Daffodil Day. But in true Irish style, people arrive from before 8am and last year they didn’t leave until midnight. I am doing it again this year”. The community are rallying around and he is helped by 5th year student Saoirse and other friends and neighbours.
“If my story helps even one person, I’ll be happy”
Dublin-based speaker, trainer and author Lottie Hearn, like many women from time to time, had been feeling bloated and uncomfortable. Not hugely concerned and thinking it was a reaction to gluten, or irritable bowel syndrome, she went to the doctor for a routine check.
She subsequently went on holiday to Jamaica with her husband Steve when “Wham – I got the call. You have cancer”. Lottie, who was aged 45 at the time was utterly taken aback. “It was so fast. They said that I would be in hospital within two weeks. Many women have bloated stomachs, but in fact, mine was the result of having a tumour, which had been there for 6 months. Don’t suffer in silence. Many people think that bowel cancer is very much a male cancer but women can get it too”.
After her diagnosis in 2013, Lottie underwent a successful operation at St. Vincent’s in Dublin and while she did not undergo chemotherapy or radiotherapy, she did need a stoma.
Lottie, who runs her own video-coaching business Press Play Presentations believes in positive thinking. “I love working with others, empowering people to believe in themselves and their skills and what they have to offer to make a positive impact on the world.”
“People forget how tough it is for partners and families”
She stresses that when it comes to being diagnosed with cancer: “People often forget how tough it is for people on the other side – what partners and family go through.” Her way of dealing with her diagnosis was to ask her friends to research to find as many positive stories as they could for her. “While being realistic and practical, I didn’t want to hear anything nasty or negative. I asked them all to keep the positivity going. I wanted to be as positive as I could.”
Lottie will be volunteering by fundraising on Daffodil Day. “Very few people talk about bowel cancer. People can be scared about it and embarrassed by it, but it is important that it is caught early. My message is – do not suffer in silence”.
She is inviting cancer survivors to now share their stories and spread hope. “The more we can help people to #ShareYourStory, the more we can encourage awareness, discussion and debunk stigmas”.
“A speaker colleague of mine Gerry Duffy advised me that if you don’t share your story, you are doing a disservice to others who may be suffering in silence. I’ve taken that on board in a big way”, says Lottie.
“All it takes is one person to find solace or solution from your courage to share – because you are a survivor or can speak for someone who no longer can and help to ease their worries. This year is the year to speak up. I’ll be certainly doing that and helping others to do the same”.
“I’ve beaten cancer several times” says 30 year volunteer
“There is no comparison with Daffodil Day 30 years ago and what it is now”, says cancer-survivor May Ryan (77) who has been at the forefront of Daffodil Day since the very beginning. Her extraordinary story has seen her beat cancer several times, while continuing to volunteer and support the Irish Cancer Society.
“Back then it was a case of selling daffodils to your neighbours and friends and that kind of thing. People would offer you the daffodils out of their gardens. It was all very exciting. The first year I raised the princely sum of €100!”
“When my husband Tom passed away, a lot more of my friends stepped in to help with fundraising and many are still doing it on an organised basis.” May still does the flowers for the Irish Cancer Society Daffodil Day launch and decorates the churches around Dublin.
May, a retired teacher and dressmaker from Templeogue, Co. Dublin has had to beat cancer several times. In 1985 she was diagnosed with breast cancer, then in 2004 she was treated for colon cancer and she has recently been given the all-clear after treatment for liver and bowel cancer. May believes positive thinking is vital in the battle against cancer.
Urging people to support Daffodil Day May points out: “I know our health services sometimes get a bad time but I have to say that I have had absolutely wonderful care. The funding is badly, badly needed. I would like to ask people to support it financially to the best of their ability.”
“Speak to the volunteers – hear their positive stories”
May Ryan encourages the public to “speak to the volunteers this year”. “There are positive messages out there. If people take the trouble to talk to the volunteers they will hear that there can be life after cancer. Most of these volunteers will have had cancer or have been touched by cancer. They will have survived or have had family members who have survived. We need to find a way to get a good positive attitude towards it as an illness.”
Asked how she has continued on over 30 years despite her health issues, May explains her motivation: “I get as much out of it as much as I put in to it. My lifestyle improved greatly once I recovered from cancer. I have made fantastic friends. I have a team of about 10 people who are all in their 80s and they all row in behind me. Every year I wonder – how much longer can we do it – but we keep ongoing!”
March 24th is Daffodil Day, a day of hope for people affected by cancer. The Irish Cancer Society is asking people to show their support on Ireland’s 30th Daffodil Day by buying a daffodil pin and wearing it with pride – share your pic online along with #daffodilday. Donations can also be made by calling 1850 60 60 60, online at www.cancer.ie or text Daff to 50300 to donate €4 now
*(100% of your €4 goes to the Irish Cancer Society across most networks. Some providers apply Vat where a minimum of €3.26 cent will go to the Society. Service provided by LikeCharity (01-4433890).)