In November last year well-known journalist and author Emily Hourican was diagnosed with a cancerous tumour in the base of her tongue. Emily shared a very honest and brave account of her journey through treatment in the Sunday Independent. Each week Emily’s cancer diaries moved thousands of readers across Ireland. “Writing the cancer diaries really helped me and so many people from around the country wrote to me. Everyone was really encouraging and cheered me over the finish line, it was extraordinary. I still can’t believe the kindness, generosity and decency of people,” says Emily.
Emily finished treatment three months ago and thankfully, she is feeling really well. “I still have side effects that will take a while to go, my mouth is still quite sore and my tastes buds are funny but I am positive everything will return to normal when it’s ready,” she adds.
Emily wasn’t a likely candidate for tongue cancer and this unfortunately went against her: “I am young, I gave up smoking over 20 years ago, I drink very little alcohol, I have a very healthy diet and run daily.”
“At one stage doctors thought it could be my thyroid and a couple of health professionals said I could be psychosomatic, which is common in women in their 40’s.”
Emily had no signs of illness apart from a lump in her throat, the lump wasn’t sore and it didn’t effect her eating but it was always there. It wasn’t until she attended an ENT consultant that she got the news she never expected. “Anyone who is not happy with a diagnosis needs to keep going back to their GP or a consultant, and if they’re still not happy, I would say to get another opinion. Who cares if you are dismissed as a complete hysteric or someone who is manifesting anxiety around symptoms it doesn’t matter, you are better off being told you are a hypochondriac than waiting months and months for a proper cancer diagnosis,” explains Emily
Emily had her first round of treatment on the 23rd of December, her 44th birthday. She endured seven weeks of treatment and was randomly chosen for a trial drug, cetuximab, rather than chemotherapy. Cetuximab is more targeted, less toxic, but it has plenty of unpleasant side effects of its own, including acne, extreme tiredness, increased risk of mouth ulcers and inflammation of the mouth. “When I was at my lowest I had given up all hope of ever getting better. If someone had said to me ‘I was in the exact same boat as you and now three months later I feel really great,’ I would have been really encouraged. I honestly thought that I would feel awful and be unable to eat for years to come,” says Emily.
On the other side of treatment Emily had the release of her new book, The Privileged to look forward to. “The book was written before my diagnosis and I was very excited about it. It was lovely to know that once I was out the other side of treatment I had something that had nothing to do with cancer to look forward to.”
“The book is about friendship, honesty and loyalty. Even though I wrote it before I had cancer, having cancer showed me again how incredible friends are, how much we rely on them and how brilliant they are in our lives.”
“The Sunday Times review compared The Privileged to Maeve Binchy’s Circle of Friends for the 21st century lady, and it is currently number three on their bestseller list. I am truly flattered,” Emily added.
At the moment Emily is concentrating on spending quality time with her children which means they are spending a lot of time in the kitchen: “I love cooking but I love baking more. They love to cook high calorie sugar fueled buns with icing and chocolate brownies but I am more interested in baking without sugar. I use lots of coconut flour and date syrup for a sweet taste. This afternoon I am making hazelnut bread.”
Emily’s final words of wisdom are simple: “If there is something in your life that you do, that you shouldn’t, my advice is to stop doing it. There is no momentary pleasure that is worth that kind of an illness. Life is amazing and sometimes we forget that because we are so bogged down by work or bills, and all the other stressful things that happen in our lives. Life can change at the tap of a finger and we should enjoy every moment.”