Updated: 26/11/16 : 07:54:36
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Cancer came officially during afternoon nap

By Eugene McGloin
Political Editor

GAY BYRNE crossed my journalism path just once, when the world seemed it might fall in on him.

Sunday Independent editor, the late Aengus Fanning picked three of us one Thursday afternoon in summer 1984.

Three things, he said: We had a huge story on our hands, we were not to discuss the details even with other staff.

Oh, and he wanted to see us, Business Editor Martin Fitzpatrick, Trevor Danker and myself, in the office early Saturday and available all day for drafts etc.

We nailed every last detail the editor wanted and it echoed around the land for days and even months afterwards.

For Gay Byrne the details which we revealed must have echoed even longer.

Six Figures

He had lost almost everything, a significant six figures sum of wealth in Irish pounds -- his personal fortune really  -- was gone. 

Not just Paul in RTE's 'Fair City' does it, but Gaybo had signed 'power of attorney' over to his accountant.

Quarter Million

Not just Gaybo's personal fortune was gone but Abbey playwright and author Hugh Leonard was out of pocket, too, by quarter of a million pounds.

Leonard himself had written an obit 20 days earlier calling the accountant ''the kindest man I ever knew.''

The dramatist stood solidly by that description when I debriefed him. 

In 1984, Gay Byrne had 22 years of top-rank broadcasting, home and abroad, radio and television, already behind him. A lifetime of achievement already.

Westinghouse wanted to see his talents permanently.....on their watch in the United States.

Instead, he presented and produced 'The Late Late Show' for another 15 years and retired from it in 1999.

But Gaybo has never retired from broadcasting, presenting top class stimulation on both TV and radio to this day.

Good President

I've been a fan ever since his sponsored programmes on (then) 'Radio Eireann' back in the 1960s -- never wavered, a Gaybo groupie is a fair description.

He might well have made a very good President of Ireland.....and he was in the official frame back in 2011.

Who knows what went through his mind when he pulled the plug on the Presidency.

Certainly, the scale of and INTENSITY of media scrutiny AND intrusion into his family's life must have impacted on that decision.

The reverse side of that particular coin guided Gaybo's decision to 'go public' last weekend on Lyric FM with his diagnosis of prostate cancer.

He did the state of having cancer some service, opened it up for freer discussion. 

Same as it ever was with Gaybo, allowing us to 'talk' to ourselves, in an individual way and collectively at one and the same time.

Prostate cancer came to me, officially, while I napped in the early afternoon seven years ago.

There were two messages on the phone when I awoke, one from a local consultant and one from a local GP. 

The results were back early, follow up tests to repeatedly raised blood tests. 

Both callers had the same bad news but I was never, ever frightened again after that evening. 

Henceforth, all decisions were mine. Never, in any walk of life, were such made with such clearcut  precision.....and cool determination.

The worst had been the waiting on results. That was now over. But as the comedian used to say: 'Wait, there's more.'

More biopsies in Galway and the Gleeson Scale, which rates these things, then classified this prostate cancer as aggressive.

Like the language with fifty separate words for 'snow,' I tried a vocabulary with 51-plus words -- and failed -- to say to my father just two explanatory words, one of them 'cancer.' 

So much for the communications industry. My original idea was to tell nobody at all!

Heavy Nappies

Tell nobody? Apart from a seven week absence from Sligo in Galway -- learning the beauty (mostly) of Oranmore in autumn 2010 between radiotherapy sessions.

It would have been hard, too, to 'hide' a seven hours surgery in Galway earlier that year and a ten days absence.

Not to mention the subsequent bags of heavy nappies and incessant leakage. Explain those.

Or the walking stick for a month or the loose pull-ups instead of cords for nearly two years.

Or limping across a field to shake paws with a neighbours lovely Labrador, limping too. Her name was Saoirse, freedom. 

Both limpers must have looked like a fraternity of the hanged making common cause on that one day. We were so glad to see each other.

How would I have (otherwise) explained why Leonard Cohen at Lissadell was a 'No, No' both nights, huh? 

Firework Pattern

The immediate aftermath of that surgery in Galway was easily the worst. 

The morphine make-up for night pain; like the coloured patterns of a Catherine Wheel firework, had phases which all released differently -- some unpleasant, unsettling.

In 17 prior years working full time in the specialist hospice movement I'd 'read into' pain control. This wasn't how I'd 'translated' at all.

Life Affirming

But the hospice years had offered more life-affirming insights, accumulated in travels across Ireland.

Notably, it offered insights on the hidden holocaust across the land, mothers of young children especially, whose Big Wish was to be left living but taken by cancer.

Gay Byrne and his family will hopefully understand the good service he has done in now opening up a new debate with ourselves.

Grace Notes

Same as it ever was with the maestro, opening up new debates and leaving us less 'afraid' (of ourselves) than just before. Early detection can save some lives, too.

Gaybo might find that the money taken from him will now be given back in ample grace notes -- in added years and even more quality in his life. Hope so.

This decade, the grace notes for myself evolved in a surprising late love of opera, about which I knew or cared little.

Knew as little then as I still 'know' about cancer, how it comes and how it leaves and how it leaves thousands of impressions, the colours of Catherine Wheel fireworks.