In May 2005, Emma Hannigan found out that she was carrying an inherited gene that predisposed her to cancer. This gene, known as BRCA1, meant that Emma had an 85% chance of developing breast cancer and a 50% chance of developing ovarian cancer. Emma (32) and with two young children, decided to change her destiny by undergoing extensive preventative surgery. She opted to have a double prophylactic mastectomy (removal of both breasts) and also a bilateral prophylactic oophorectomy (removal of both ovaries) with removal of both fallopian tubes. The surgery reduced Emma’s risk of developing cancer to 5% but it was a gruelling year. There wasn’t just the pain to cope with, there were also the body changes, the loss of fertility and an early menopause. Emma subsequently underwent breast reconstruction but sadly, went on to develop breast cancer under her arm and in her neck. She has recently finished undergoing chemotherapy for a second recurrence. Emma has been through a great deal but as she says herself “I’m STILL HERE”.
I’ve just finished reading Emma’s debut novel Designer Genes (Poolbeg) which is based on her own life story although the characters in it are fictional. The bookshop Hughes & Hughes made it book of the month for April and are giving €1 for every book sold to St. Vincent’s Cancer Research Trust.
Emma told her story on The Tubridy Show and I was completely bowled over by it. Her battle for survival is remarkable in itself but it was the combination of her humour and resilience in the face of adversity, which really caught my attention. Strange as it may seem, there’s an awful lot of humour in sickness.
You can listen to Emma’s interview with Ryan Tubridy here (fast forward 7 mins).
For information on cancer visit www.cancer.ie or call The Action Breast Cancer Helpline on 1800 30 90 40.