One Saturday morning, in 2008, I was busily preparing a meal for my then eight month old baby and simultaneously listening to Marian Finucane on RTE radio1. If you don’t know already, Marian is a well-known and much-loved radio presenter on the Irish airwaves who has been the backdrop to my life since childhood. In recent years I listen to her programme on RTE Radio 1 Playback whilst doing my ironing on a Sunday afternoon. It is a weekly ritual that I never stopped when I finished working nearly three years ago. It heralds the beginning of the week for me as I organise all the uniforms and clothes required for the week ahead. Her programme helps me forget the monotony of such a thankless chore!
Anyhow, I digress, back to a Saturday in 2008…. Marian’s interview that day was with a famous Irish author Nuala O’Faolain, who also happened to be a close friend of hers. As I settled down to feed my baby, I tuned in to the radio. Tentatively, at first, and breathlessly, Nuala gave a harrowing account of her recent terminally ill diagnosis. Well, I nearly fell into the high-chair on top of my baby when I heard her speak so candidly. The despair she felt was evident in how she spoke. I looked at my baby and his goofy wide-eyed smile could only be reciprocated. It was the first time that I heard someone speak so openly about death and dying. A lot of what she said reminded me of those first few days and weeks after being initially diagnosed. I was nine years post my own primary diagnosis at this stage. Whilst I empathised with her I also felt the weight of responsibility that I had undertaken to raise our two children following my cancer diagnosis. (Both children were under the age of two at that stage.) Most people undertaking treatment for cancer at that time would do so in private and this was a revelation to me that someone could articulate so well my innermost thoughts and feelings. She spoke frankly about death and mortality. I recognised her description of the isolation that comes from a cancer diagnosis. How sad she was at having to go so soon “ The World turned it’s back on me” She validated all the suppressed emotions that I had been struggling with for years because I felt that I had to be positive and upbeat whenever the subject of cancer came up.
Fast forward to 2018 and a recurrence later. My kids were on mid-term break this week so I lazily left all my ironing and enjoyed the bank holiday weekend last week. Yesterday evening I went for a walk and decided to catch up on my radio programmes. It is a great distraction when exercise seems more like a chore. I’m sure you know those days! There I was walking in the beautiful May evening sunshine when I heard excerpts from that interview. It was hard to believe that ten years have passed, and yet her words can still have a profound effect on me as I am sure with so many others. Marian spoke with her sister, her friend and her editor and they shared memories of Nuala and how her life was like after that interview. What was obvious was that she was enveloped with love from her family and friends during those final weeks of her life.
What has changed in those ten years? The onset of social media certainly helps people to share more about their private lives, some may argue too much sometimes. For the cancer community, however, it has provided a forum for people to search and find like-minded souls, desperate to understand what is happening to them. Nowadays, people are more open about their diagnosis… That it is ok to feel despair when diagnosed… In this community there is less onus on us to “fight” back, to “be positive” but just be ourselves.
I like to think that Nuala O’Faolain started the conversation here in Ireland. For me, she enabled me to accept that there is a high probability that I may die from cancer at some stage, but I am ok with that. For now, I am just living my life.
(If you are going through treatment or someone close has died recently perhaps you may find it difficult to listen to the interview. At some stage though, it is worth a listen. The link is here RTE Radio 1- Marian Finucane )