You’ve been pinked!

October 11, 2010

I received a text message the other day which really made me stop and… think pink!

“Hello, pretty lady! You’ve been pinked. I consider you one of the 10 prettiest ladies I know. Please pass this message on and don’t forget  to TLC… touch, look and check!”

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. More than 3,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer in Ireland each year and it is the most common cancer among women. Early detection provides the best possible chance of surviving the disease. Are you breast aware?

How can I be breast aware?

Breast awareness means becoming familiar with your breasts, how they look and feel at different times of the month. Try to get used to looking at and feeling your breasts regularly. By doing this you will be more able to notice any changes that aren’t usual for you. Use times like having a bath or shower to notice how your breasts look and feel. Running a soapy hand over your breasts and armpit helps you to feel the texture of your breast more easily. You may notice that your breasts change in size, shape or in how they feel at different times of the month. Your breasts may become lumpier or more tender around the time of your menstrual period, for example. As you become familiar with your breasts you’ll become more confident in knowing what is normal for you.

What are the changes to look for?

*  Any lumps, thickening or bumpy areas in the breast or armpit that seem different from other breast tissue. This is very important if it is new

*  Any changes in the size or shape of the breast (it may be normal for you to have one breast larger than the other)

*  Change to the nipple, such as crusting, ulceration, bleeding or a change in the direction or shape of the nipple

*  Veins that are standing out more than usual for you

*  Any puckering, dimpling or redness of the skin of the breast

The Breast Awareness 5-point Code:

*  Know what is normal for you

*  Know what changes to look and feel for

*  Look and feel

*  Report any changes to your doctor without delay

*  Attend routine breast screening if you are aged between 50 and 64

Please help get the message out there to women about the importance of being breast aware.

Information Source:  The Marie Keating Foundation

Run for cover

February 15, 2010

Do you know someone who is about to undergo treatment for cancer? One of the worst and most feared side effects of chemotherapy, is losing all your hair. Partial or total hair loss can have a devastating effect on how people feel about themselves. On looking for suitable headwear, women often find that they are disappointed with the range of hats and scarves available. Last year, a friend asked me if I could recommend somewhere to buy some stylish headwear for a friend undergoing cancer treatment. I just wish I’d known about Feelgood Scarves sooner…

“One of the shocks of losing your hair temporarily to chemotherapy is not the sudden, rather French gamine look you acquire, but that your newly-bald head is a) unexpectedly soft and fuzzy and b) apt to feel cold. A wig will provide instant coiffed perfection for the outside world; at home, a soft but-not-too-hot hat or scarf will no doubt be the more useful and comfortable.

Catherine O’Sullivan, having mastered her own crash course through chemotherapy two years ago, recognised a gap in the Irish market and has started an online business selling five different styles of snazzy headgear for women that help to avoid the pirate-in-distress look. Made in a selection of soft, washable, cheering and good-looking fabrics (including velour, velvet, cotton, chambray and viscose), the scarves arrive artfully packaged in tissue paper, which makes them a great gift for a friend or loved one going through the various sorts of hair-raising ordeals. Now someone needs to figure out how to compensate for missing eyebrows. See Prices range from €25 to €39.”

Credit: Patsey Murphy, Editor, THE IRISH TIMES magazine.

Breast Cancer Screening

January 12, 2010

I’d another mammogram yesterday courtesy of BreastCheck. This Government-funded national screening programme invites women aged 50 to 64 for a free mammogram on an area-by-area basis, every two years. The aim of BreastCheck is to reduce deaths from breast cancer by finding and treating the disease at an early stage. I’d barely sat down in the waiting area yesterday when I was whisked away to be screened. The service was fast, efficient and friendly and could not be faulted. However, I recently read that a revolution in breast cancer screening is on the cards. Results of research in Galway suggest that a simple blood test may soon be sufficient for breast cancer screening.

“Mammography is currently the gold standard diagnostic tool and is the basis for national breast cancer screening programmes. But it is not perfect; it involves exposure to radiation and some 8 to 10 per cent of women who have the test, but who don’t have cancer, will be told initially they do have a tumour.

The ideal test for breast cancer should be easily accessible: it could be sampled in a minimally invasive way; must be sensitive enough to detect the early presence of tumours in almost all patients who have the disease; and should be absent, or at very low levels, in women who are cancer-free.

Ground-breaking research into breast cancer has just emerged from the Department of Surgery at NUI Galway. Not alone does the newly-discovered blood test have the potential to more accurately assess how a woman with breast cancer responds to current treatment, but it may, subject to further research, replace mammography as the main screening method for breast cancer.

Preliminary analysis suggests that the blood test will be 92 per cent accurate in detecting the presence of breast cancer in women who have yet to develop symptoms. If this finding is replicated in larger studies, there is a real possibility of breast cancer screening taking place in your local surgery, using nothing more complicated than a blood test.”

Although medicine has come a long way in recent years in the management of breast cancer, this research offers great hope for the future. Roll-on the revolution!

Information Source: The Irish Times HEALTHplus

Be Aware, Be Active

October 13, 2009

Did you know that regular physical exercise is important for your breast health? Inactivity is estimated to cause 10-16 percent of breast cancers. Engaging in moderate exercise for at least 30-60 minutes every day can help your future breast health.

breast health day

Breast Health Day on 15 October 2009 aims to raise awareness of the benefits of physical activity on breast health and to encourage women to choose a more active lifestyle.

Europa Donna Ireland (EDI, the Irish Breast Cancer Campaign, is urging women throughout Ireland to do something active to mark the day. Events are taking place around the country and you are invited to come along and join in the fun.

Please see the EDI website for more details.  

This is an awareness-raising, not a fund-raising day!

Information source and graphic: Europa Donna Ireland and JBBC blog.

Where There’s Hope…

October 9, 2009

I’ve been in hibernation. I was battle weary after the long illness last summer and the medication which was prescribed to dampen down the neuropathic pain in my head, had the side-effect of dampening me down as well. For the past month, I’ve been sleeping like a baby at night and feeling drowsy by day. The good news is that the severe headaches have now gone and I’m beginning to feel energised again. There’s life in this old dog yet!


I’d like to thank those blogging friends who continued to send words of encouragement even after I’d disappeared off the radar. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt out of all of this, it’s never to give up hope.

The enforced rest has enabled me to rediscover the joy of reading books. Thanks to Lily’s recent review, I’m busily re-reading an exceptional book written by Lia Mills, an award winning novelist. Lia was diagnosed with advanced cancer of the mouth in 2006. She had to undergo radical surgery and aggressive radiotherapy in order to survive. Her book ‘in your face‘ is an account of that experience.

Lia talks about hope in a way that really resonates with me. She says “Hope is something you can’t always feel but I think you can lead yourself towards it even when you don’t feel it, by taking everything as it comes, minute by minute, and by appreciating small changes as they happen”.

While undergoing treatment in hospital last summer, my condition suddenly took an unexpected turn for the worse. The flurry of activity around my bed and the look of concern on the medics’ faces, was enough to confirm my worst fears. The infection was winning the battle and I sensed that my life was in real danger. Despair began to set in. The hospital chaplain happened to visit when I was at my lowest ebb and the poor guy got the full brunt of my despair. The infection was visibly worsening around my eyes so he went off in search of a fan to see if it would help to ease the discomfort. That fan was to become my beacon of hope throughout the difficult night that followed. It really was a breath of fresh air and bit by bit, I came to realise that I had the strength to survive. Hope had been restored.

Where there’s hope, there’s life. Check this out!

I highly recommend Lia’s book to anyone who wants to understand illness and recovery, fear and hope and love.

in your face’ is published by Penguin, Ireland (€19.99).

Still Here

May 8, 2009

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”.

designer genesI’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 or call The Action Breast Cancer Helpline on 1800 30 90 40.

Nothing Else Matters

March 31, 2009

the-two-of-usWhile sitting with my Mum today at the nursing home, I spotted one of my favourites books on a nearby bookshelf.  It was a LARGE PRINT version of  “The Two of Us: My Life with John Thaw” written by Sheila Hancock. As my Mum was sound asleep in her wheelchair, I had time to flick through the book and was reminded of what a wonderful read it is. Inside the front cover, I came across a beautiful piece of writing which Sheila had borrowed as she felt that the sentiments expressed in it applied equally to her late husband. I have taken the liberty of reproducing it here as I was so taken with the words.

When Clare Venables was dying from cancer, her friend Peter Thompson wrote her this letter. ..

“My much-loved friend,

It matters to have trodden the earth proudly, not arrogantly, but on feet that aren’t afraid to stand their ground, and move quickly when the need arises. It matters that your eyes have been on the object always, aware of it’s drift but not caught up in it. It matters that we were young together, and that you never lost the instincts and intuitions of a pioneer. It matters that you have been brave when retreat would have been easier. It matters that, in many places and at many times, you have made a difference. Your laugh has mattered. Your love has mattered. Above all, it matters that you have been loved.

Nothing else matters.”

What a beautiful tribute! Now I can’t wait to enjoy my own copy of Sheila’s book all over again.

Plant a Daff

March 10, 2009

Over 25, 000 people will be diagnosed with cancer in Ireland this year. There is virtually no family in the country which has not been touched by cancer. The Irish Cancer Society depends on voluntary contributions to help provide free nationwide patient care and support. Daffodil Day is a chance for everyone in Ireland to make the biggest difference to the lives of those affected by cancer. Please buy a silk daffodil pin on Friday 20th March, and wear your daffodil to show your support.

This year, the Irish Cancer Society will be planting the Garden of Hope, a beautiful garden of daffodils at Ashtown Castle in the Phoenix Park, Dublin. This garden will mark a new era for Ireland and each daffodil will symbolise the brave Irish people who have stood up in the fight against cancer.

In the last week, every house in the country should have received a letter with your own Garden of Hope daffodil. You are asked to use it to celebrate a loved one, who has fought or is fighting cancer.  All you need to do is write your message, or simply a name or two on the back of your ‘press-out’ daffodil and send it with a donation to the Irish Cancer Society by Saturday 14th March.

daffodilsAlternatively, you can plant a virtual daffodil in the Garden of Hope to symbolise a loved one and show your support by donating online.

Visit Plant your own Daff and write a message to accompany your daffodil in the Garden. You can then email your ‘Daff’ to friends and encourage them to plant their own daffodils.

You can make your online donation here to support the Irish Cancer Society and help them reach their Daffodil Day fund-raising goal of €4.25 million this year.

I planted a virtual daffodil last night in memory of my brother and made an online donation. It couldn’t be easier so get planting now.

Help Lick This Disease

February 26, 2009

Raising awareness of oesophageal cancer and finding better treatments for the disease are the aims of Lollipop Day which takes place this weekend. Oesophageal cancer is one of the most lethal cancers and it is growing in incidence, particularly in Ireland. My own brother Jack, died aged 48, from this awful disease so I am acutely aware of the importance of highlighting awareness.

The Oesophageal Cancer Fund (OCF) are the organisers of Lollipop Day. They have chosen the lollipop as a campaign symbol as they hope it will make people conscious of swallowing, as difficulty swallowing is one of the common symptoms of this disease. Of all the cancers that can afflict us, cancer of the oesophagus (or gullet) is one of the most lethal. This is because of it’s insidious onset and rapid spread.The proceeds from Lollipop Day will enable research to make a difference in fighting this disease.


You can help in several ways:


The more people selling lollipops on Friday 27th & Saturday 28th February 2009, the more awareness and money will be raised.The OCF relies entirely on volunteers so all efforts are appreciated. If you are willing to help, please  telephone or email:

Tel: (01) 2897457


All donations, large and small, are gratefully received. Every penny will go directly to the charity. The OCF is a fully compliant registered charity.

Please make out your payment to ‘Oesophageal Cancer Fund’ and send it to:

Lollipop Day
2 Granville Road
Co. Dublin


Text LOLLIPOP to 57112
SMS cost €1.50

All proceeds from this mobile service go to the Lollipop Day Fund.

Help lick this disease by supporting Lollipop Day this weekend.  Remember, a little lolly goes a long way!

Sink or Swim

February 8, 2009

If life seems jolly rotten

There’s something you’ve forgotten

And that’s to laugh and smile and dance and sing.

When you’re feeling in the dumps

Don’t be silly chumps

Just purse your lips and whistle – that’s the thing.

And… always look on the bright side of life…

Always look on the light side of life…

(from Monty Python’s Life of Brian)

I’m reading Sheila Hancock’s latest book Just Me at the moment and I’m lovin’ it.  Sheila has suffered many knock-downs in life including a personal battle with breast cancer and has lost not one, but two husbands to oesophageal cancer. Having written The Two of Us, a best selling memoir of life with her late husband John Thaw, Sheila found herself in despair with the aching void in her life. Desperate not to stagnate, she picked herself up and started to live life adventurously. Now at 75, Sheila has learnt to enjoy life on her own once more.  She has rebuilt her life and is relishing every minute of it…

“The stark truth is that, within sight of the finishing post, I am actually enjoying the race more than I have ever done.  Because time is short, I have never been so desperate to relish every minute.  I do not intend to waste any time being old and grey, and full of sleep, and nodding by the fire.  In recent years, my husband and many dear friends, some younger than I, have had life wrested from them.  In deference to them, I will value mine.”

Just Me is a deeply honest and wonderfully down-to-earth account of coming to terms with widowhood, and moving on. Sheila is an incredibly gutsy lady who has much to teach those of us who live life in smug contentment. As Sheila would say, the choice is yours,  get on with life!

Abridged extract from JUST ME by Sheila Hancock, published by Bloomsbury.