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Dublin: 11 °C Tuesday 23 April, 2019
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My 2014: This will always be the year I got cancer – but I feel incredibly positive and strong heading into 2015

When I put myself out there and said ‘I have cancer’ I suddenly acquired thousands of allies across the country. People were rooting for me.

Louise McSharry

2014 WILL ALWAYS be the year I got cancer. There’s just no getting away from it.

I started the year recovering from having had my appendix out, and I just never got better. My period never returned after the surgery, and that, in combination with some really intense night sweats, made me go to my GP in March. She reassured me that my suspicions of early menopause were probably unfounded, and took some blood to do some general tests as well as to check my hormones.

The results indicated that there was definitely something going on in my body, but didn’t give any obvious idea of what exactly that was, so my blood was tested again. And again. And again and again and again. I had 23 blood tests this year. Eventually, the second consultant I saw decided that they couldn’t go on testing me forever, and a scan was scheduled.

A pain in my side resulted in me being admitted to hospital before that scan could be carried out, and while I was there they used every machine going to try to get to the bottom of the problem. In the end they saw that I had some growths on my spleen and that one of my lymph nodes was enlarged. A biopsy was performed on that lymph node, and a week later I was sitting in a clinic being told I had cancer. Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, to be exact.

I couldn’t believe it. I know that might sound silly given the fact that I had been unwell for so long, but I was expecting to be told that I had some sort of infection. I had intentionally avoided Googling my symptoms, because as everyone knows that only ever ends up with cancer, and you never actually had cancer. Except I did.

The shock stayed with me for the rest of the day while I told friends and family. ‘I have cancer,’ I said outloud repeatedly, in disbelief. The next morning I sat on the toilet and cried. ‘I have cancer.’

“Most of us actually know very little about cancer”

The word ‘cancer’ has a lot of power because while it is something we are all familiar with, most of us actually know very little about it. We all know that cancer is bad. That it can mean death. That it means sickness, and bald heads, and chemotherapy. Beyond that, though, we’re clueless. I certainly was, anyway, and I quickly realised that the best way to deal with my situation was to get as much information as I could about what was ahead of me.

I remembered that someone I followed on Twitter had shared an article earlier in the year about his experience with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, so I sent him a direct message asking for his email address. Up until that point we had only ever tweeted about television and the like, so he must have been surprised to get the message, but he got back to me straight away. I told him what had happened, and asked him if he would be willing to tell me what I should expect.

He then sent me one of the best emails I’ve ever received. He explained, in detail, what he had experienced during his treatment, from walking in the door of the hospital to walking out of it at the end. The comfort I got from that was invaluable. Suddenly I could picture the six months ahead, and it all seemed manageable.

That was the first piece of kindness from a relative stranger I experienced after my diagnosis, but it certainly was not the last.

People often praise me for my decision to speak openly and honestly about this experience, but to be honest, I’m getting just as much, if not more, out of it than anyone else. When I put myself out there and said ‘I have cancer’ I suddenly acquired thousands of allies across the country. People were rooting for me, and their encouragement and kindness throughout this experience has been incredible.

“It is you who will have to endure the treatment. Only you.”

People have been so giving and generous in sharing their experiences with me, or simply sending words of encouragement. They have told me of their good days, and bad days, and they have made me feel less alone at a time when it is easy to feel lonely. Friends and family are desperate to help and to comfort you in every way they can when you have something like cancer but, in truth, you are in it alone. It is you who are experiencing it. It is you who will have to endure the treatment. Only you. However, hearing from another person who has been there and done it really helps.

I have always been of the opinion that it is good to be open and honest about your experiences wherever possible. I believe that very few of life’s painful experiences are entirely unique, and that if we all shared a little bit more we would all feel a little less isolated when we go through dark times. This year has cemented that belief. It has been a difficult year, but also a year in which I have seen just how powerful shared experience can be, because I have benefitted from it first-hand.

I feel incredibly positive and strong heading into 2015. I’m due to finish treatment in February, and can’t wait to get back to work. I hope to spend my career making people feel less alone, by sharing my experiences and helping other people voice theirs. I know where I’m going now, and it’s all thanks to 2014.

Louise McSharry is a broadcaster and journalist from Dublin. She will return to presenting The Louise McSharry Show, Sunday to Thursday nights from 8-10pm on 2fm in the spring.

Read: Louise McSharry opens up about cancer on the Late Late Show

Read: Louise McSharry on cancer diagnosis: ‘They are brilliant odds’

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