ANNE GILDEA

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - REAL LIFE - Anne.gildea@mailon­sun­day.ie

look­ing for­ward to the re­con­struc­tion, she milled in about a woman she knew, who ‘went through the same as you’, one breast lost to mas­tec­tomy and all the rest. BUT this lady’s per­spec­tive was that the peo­ple who loved her loved her for her­self, the way she was, so why bother with re­con­struc­tion? ‘But she’s a bit of a mav­er­ick,’ the woman con­cluded, spik­ily. Wow, well what could you say to that? ‘Mav­er­ick, is it? What, you mean she’s a bit of a run­away calf in a cow­boy film; what are you im­ply­ing, ya ould boot?’ The les­son: some peo­ple you’re just bet­ter off never talk­ing to, ever.

I was also of­fered the test for the BRCA 1 and 2

‘You’re not choos­ing

this op­er­a­tion be­cause you want a tummy tuck?’ the sur­geon asked me. ‘Of course not!’ I lied

gene mu­ta­tions. Again, not ev­ery­one of­fered the test goes for it. I took it be­cause the out­come could have im­pli­ca­tions for the level of not just my but my sis­ter’s fu­ture check-ups. ‘Funny, I feel to­tally sure I don’t have it,’ I said to my sis­ter be­fore we got the re­sult on Wed­nes­day. ‘Me too,’ she said. ‘Then fast-for­ward, and there’s not a breast be­tween us,’ she laughed darkly.

Some women with the gene — as An­gelina Jolie re­vealed this week — opt to have preven­tive mas­tec­tomies. I re­call, in my case, the sur­geon say­ing that she didn’t be­lieve in ex­cis­ing healthy tis­sue, but there was a sug­ges­tion that ovary re­moval might be in­di­cated. In any event, as we sus­pected, and hoped, it turns out I don’t have the gene. Phew! Though, hon­estly, I wasn’t ever that wor­ried be­cause all of the above is hap­pen­ing un­der the aus­pices of such an ex­cel­lent hos­pi­tal.

Boy, am I, and so many peo­ple in this coun­try, grate­ful to those in that hos­pi­tal, St James’s, who’ve made it their life’s work to be ex­perts in the field of on­col­ogy. I men­tion all this be­cause, as I write, I’ve just that heard one of those medics, the on­col­o­gist who over­saw my ra­dio­ther­apy, has passed away. In my brief knowl­edge of him, he was a quiet-voiced, very ap­proach­able man. Never in­tim­i­dat­ing, he al­lowed the space and time to an­swer any ques­tion you might have. I last saw him in Jan­uary, in the cor­ri­dor of the out­pa­tients’ can­cer clinic. The place was packed; I was wait­ing to see the reg­is­trar of the med­i­cal on­col­o­gist and had been think­ing about the stress and weight of re­spon­si­bil­ity the on­col­ogy con­sul­tants must be un­der in that clinic, over­see­ing so many pa­tients — those di­ag­nosed and start­ing treat­ment or go­ing for can­cer fol­low-ups, peo­ple of­ten sub­sumed in the vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties such se­ri­ous ill­ness throws up.

Yet he had time for a friendly ‘hello’ and ‘I al­most didn’t recog­nise you with the hair!’, then men­tion of a silly card I’d sent him for Christ­mas. I was chuffed he’d made the ef­fort of that ex­change. Some time af­ter, I heard that he’d been di­ag­nosed with a se­ri­ous can­cer; now, in just a few short months, he’s no longer with us, taken by the dis­ease he aided so many in over­com­ing.

He was Pro­fes­sor Donal Hol­ly­wood, only 53 years of age. Com­mis­er­a­tions to those to whom he was beloved. As Ralph Waldo Emer­son said, ‘To leave the world a bet­ter place… to know even one life has breathed eas­ier be­cause you have lived. This is to hasve suc­ceeded.’ And this you did in spades, kind man. Rest in peace.

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