In aid of Cancer Awareness Week, we convinced four of our columnists to bare all for our Examine Yourself campaign. Our aim? To inform and encourage our readers to arm themselves with the tools they need to spot the early signs of cancer.
Here, Darina Allen, Ronan O’Gara, Anthony Daly and Colm O’Regan explain why they stripped off to help break the taboo of The Big C, writes Ciara McDonnell
Towards the end of the summer at locations in Dublin and Cork, two extremely covert photo shoots took place. At the Maldron Hotel in Cork and Loft 53 Studio in Dublin, two closed sets were created, ensuring maximum privacy for our stars, and creating a loop of silence around the reason behind the photos. Cathal Noonan, an award-winning photographer led the team, creating a series of iconic photos that would set the scene for Examine Yourself, our campaign to coincide with Cancer Awareness Week 2019.
Every three minutes in Ireland, someone receives a cancer diagnosis. According to statistics from the National Cancer Registry of Ireland, by next year, one in two of us will develop cancer during our lifetime. We also know that four out of 10 cancers can be prevented, and that’s where Examine Yourself comes in.
Our aim throughout this campaign is to inform and encourage our readers about how to arm themselves with the tools they need to spot the early signs of cancer, and how to prevent them. We want to break the taboo of The Big C, and make cancer a talking point in Irish homes.
And so, the conversations began in earnest about the celebrities we wanted to front the campaign. Who would speak to our readers in a way that would get them on board? Who would be brave enough to embrace the vulnerability of being photographed in their smalls in order to raise awareness?
It was obvious from the outset that we wanted to approach Darina Allen and ask her to take part. Across so many causes, Darina leads the charge, often trailblazing a path not marched before, which makes her exactly the person that we want to front our campaign. Knowing how busy she is, we gingerly asked if she might be able to fit us into her schedule, and received a near instantaneous affirmative.
Her choice to take part, she says, was never in question. It’s our duty to inform and educate.
“Almost every single person in Ireland has been touched by cancer in some shape or form,” she explains.
The genesisof the campaign came from Chemistry, a creative agency based in Dublin.
MD Ray Sheerin is a cancer survivor, and knows first hand the importance of early detection.
“Within certain age groups — particularly with older men, for example, there is still a very big incidence of people presenting themselves to doctors too late, he points out.
“The way around this is to get more people talking about it and being aware of what to look out for. That’s one of the areas that Examine Yourself is particularly strong on, because once people know what it is that they need to be looking for, there are certain cancers which will have manifestations and enable people to detect themselves, and take the next steps.”
Clare GAA legend and Irish Examiner columnist Anthony Daly says that experiencing cancer diagnoses through family and friends puts life into perspective in the most serious way. “Every family in the country has been affected by the loss of a loved one as a result of cancer, and the grief is immeasurable. We need to do all we can to prevent more families suffering, and that means promoting early detection as much as we can.”
As one of our greatest sporting heroes, Daly knows that in many ways, he represents that portion of Irish society that still finds it hard to talk — Irish men.
He hopes that by taking part in the campaign, he will help to start a conversation that will enable men to talk to each other about their worries and their concerns.
According to Ray Sheerin, who also holds The Irish Cancer Society on his books, one of the great missions around cancer is to start a conversation around it.
“A lot of the work we have been trying to do with the Irish Cancer Society is to provoke conversation about cancer,” he says.
“Five years ago, if somebody was talking about their own experience, or a family member’s experience with cancer, they probably wouldn’t even use the word cancer — they’d likely whisper it or refer to it as The Big C. It was thought of as this terrible bogeyman we couldn’t talk about. That’s one of the things that contributes to people ignoring signs that are starting to present themselves.”
Examine Yourself hopes to empower through information, enabling us to question diagnoses and be aware of different treatment options available, based on up to date, relevant information. Having completed treatment for prostate cancer, Sheerin understands the importance of being informed.
“Prostate cancer is a great example of the importance of up to date information. The medical world is still, in this country, enormously divided on the benefits of early detection of prostate cancer because what a lot of medical people say is that if someone in their 40s and 50s develop it, they may be just as well watching and waiting over a period of time.
“The only way to deal with this is for people to have more awareness themselves, and to start to make their own decisions.”
As a father of two rambunctious children, comedian, author and Irish Examiner columnist Colm O’Regan says that his kids remind him that we can’t ever be complacent with our own health.
“My children are two and three, so I am at peak hypochondria level, checking everything about them. At the same time, I am approaching the age where simultaneously I am likely to ignore everything about my own health. Taking part in the Examine Yourself campaign has reminded me that the best thing I can do for my kids is look after my own health.”
Ronan O’Gara represents strength, virility and the thoroughly modern Irish man, making him the perfect star to complete our Examine Yourself line-up.
Flying back from his base in France for the photoshoot, he explained that raising awareness for cancer is his pleasure and privilege.
Cancer affects every one of us and we are hoping to affect change in the way we react to it. Throughout the next week we’ll be leading the change with articles and interviews outlining the new technologies and treatment in the oncology world, and the signs and symptoms that every one of us should be aware of. We want you to know how to check for cancer and how to prevent it, by incorporating simple, lifestyle changes. We want you to Examine Yourself.
As well as daily coverage, next Friday’s Irish Examiner will include a Feelgood special and a free booklet, Let’s Talk Cancer.
In association with CUH Charity, Cork UniversityHospital