ANNE GILDEA

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

im­pinged on my con­scious­ness. It seemed like the kind of thing that hap­pened to other peo­ple — un­til I was sud­denly shak­ing hands with some­one who was in­tro­duc­ing them­selves as my on­col­o­gist.

Rest as­sured, just like the Lotto, IT COULD BE YOU. Un­like a Lotto win, the odds of you get­ting can­cer are much higher. So. I thought ‘breast can­cer’ equals ‘lump in breast’. Which is why I ig­nored the sud­den odd swelling (not-lump!) on my left breast that I was sure would go away of its own ac­cord (my usual at­ti­tude to med­i­cal is­sues). Then my sis­ter in­sisted that I see a doc­tor. And, I dis­cov­ered, al­most too late: don’t mess around

To me, can­cer was

some­thing that hap­pened to other

peo­ple – un­til I was shak­ing hands with my on­col­o­gist

when it comes to the chest — ANY un­usual chest changes could in­di­cate can­cer — not just that which might be cat­e­gorised as ‘def­i­nite lump’.

Also, I say ‘chest’ and not ‘breasts’ be­cause men can get it too. So, if you no­tice ANY­THING strange, get it checked out. And at the same time, try not to go into con­nip­tions of worry. My ex­pe­ri­ence of the health sys­tem here is that they re­ally know what they are do­ing; breast can­cer can be highly treat­able and is com­mon enough that, if need be, you’ll find your­self start­ing on a well­trod path of best treat­ment. Hav­ing said that, don’t let any­one seek to di­min­ish the un­de­ni­able whammy of the ex­pe­ri­ence. Treat­ment is full-on: the poi­son­ing of chemo, the am­pu­ta­tion of mas­tec­tomy, the fa­tigue and other side- ef­fects of ra­di­a­tion. Men­tally and phys­i­cally, can­cer puts you through the wringer, not to men­tion all those oc­ca­sions be­tween tests when you won­der if you’re per­haps go­ing to be told, ‘Go home and get your af­fairs in or­der,’ when you get the next set of re­sults. In the mid­dle of all of that, you will have peo­ple say­ing the likes of, ‘Ah, it’s so com­mon now, it’s like hav­ing acute ap­pen­dici­tis!’ That was said to me, along with many things that took my breath away with their in­sen­si­tiv­ity. But hey, just ‘for­give and re­mem­ber’, as they say in showbiz. Sim­ply close your chakras to those types, and if you don’t be­lieve in that New Age stuff, maybe just punch the speaker in the face and say ‘get lost’ in­stead. What­ever dings your bell... Hey, you’ve got can­cer, it’s a great ex­cuse (as I ex­press in my book — plug). Bound­aries: that’s what I learned to have big time with can­cer. It’s one of the many gifts the ex­pe­ri­ence be­stowed; I was al­ways con­cerned about ap­pear­ing to be Missy-NiceyPants be­fore. Now I’m girl who can say ‘no’, and does so all the time since my Big C. Gifts? Can­cer? Yes, at this end, I can­not but see the pos­i­tive things that came of it. Other peo­ple have ex­pressed sim­i­lar at­ti­tudes to me, post- can­cer. Still, I’m also mind­ful of peo­ple I know whose breast can­cers are now stage four, hav­ing meta-sta­sised to other parts of their bod­ies. I see the toll it takes, the on­go­ing med­i­cal in­ter­ven­tion re­quired to stay alive, the fear and stress that are now per­ma­nently part of their life sto­ries.

I think of them and other can­cer suf­fer­ers as I end this piece, and of the ar­du­ous, com­mit­ted and se­ri­ous work done by the won­der­ful on­col­ogy medics in our health sys­tem. And fi­nally of two words I say con­stantly since it all ended: thank you.

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