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Shock diagnosis Musician Fionnuala Sherry opens up about breast cancer diagnosis and losing mum

"I nearly missed my appointment because it happened to be the day before my mum's funeral and it was a pretty rough time for me"

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Fionnuala battled breast cancer

Fionnuala battled breast cancer

Fionnuala battled breast cancer

The day before her mother's funeral, Irish star Fionnuala Sherry had considered skipping her appointment for a breast screening.

Despite her heartache and stress, Fionnuala (58) ultimately decided to proceed with the check-up in February last year.

It turned out to be a fortuitous decision. When the results came back, the hit musician was shocked to learn that the test revealed she had an aggressive tumour.

"I nearly missed my appointment because it happened to be the day before my mum's funeral and it was a pretty rough time for me," Fionnuala tells the Sunday World from her home on Dublin's southside.

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Fionnuala with her music partner Rolf Lovland

Fionnuala with her music partner Rolf Lovland

Fionnuala with her music partner Rolf Lovland

"Only the fact that it [the BreastCheck clinic] was down the road in Monkstown where I live, I said I'd do it because I'd be in and out in 10 minutes. So I did it, and I was diagnosed quite soon after that.

"It was an aggressive tumour, so I was very lucky that they caught it early. BreastCheck is such a fabulous service, but the thing that worries me and everybody else now is that it stopped due to Covid for many months."

Breast cancer screening services resumed last month, but it has emerged it could take three years to screen the 153,000 women currently awaiting mammograms, due to the impact of the Covid-19 shutdown.

Tens of thousands of appointments have been cancelled and while the screening service has resumed, it is operating at reduced capacity due to coronavirus.

"I can't understand why they couldn't have kept the screening going with PPE, because you're quite distant from everyone in there anyway," Fionnuala says.

"With my diagnosis, if it was delayed another year I dread to think what I would have been facing. I know I'd be in a very different situation. Now I really hope they get through the backlog as quickly as possible."

A former member of the RTE Concert Orchestra, Fionnuala won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1995, representing Norway with her music partner Rolf Lovland. Their winning song was Nocturne.

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Since then, the duo have been successful around the world, including in America, China, Australia and Europe.

After Fionnuala was diagnosed last year, a worldwide tour was cancelled.

"I had two surgeries and the tumour was removed. I had John Crown, a very renowned oncologist, and I had an amazing surgeon. Afterwards, I had a month's radiation," she says.

"I actually said no to chemo because I felt they caught the tumour early enough, and there's a new drug called Herceptin that is proving to be fantastic for the type of tumour that I had. I had that every three weeks for a year."

Did she turn down chemo to avoid losing her trademark strawberry blonde curly hair? She laughs: "There is the vanity of that, because curly hair takes a long time to grow, so I didn't want that.

"But the particular chemo that they would have normally used for the type of cancer I had would most likely have given me nerve damage in my fingers and toes. So it was too big a price to pay, and the margins [of success] weren't going to be that much greater. It wasn't a light decision to say, 'oh, I'm not going to do chemo.' We weighed up everything.

"It really is 18 months to two years out of your life, with the recovery and all of that. There were days when it was grand, and then there were days when it was just sh*t, to be honest with you."

It's been a tough few years for violinist Sherry, who also suffered devastating injuries when she fell on a street near her home five years ago, and broke both her arms.

"I turned too quickly and tripped on the pavement, it was just one of those unfortunate accidents," she says. "They were bad breaks. I broke five bones in my right wrist and I broke my left elbow, and I can tell you it's not fun having two broken arms at the same time.

"My independence was gone. I had to have help in every day to shower and dress me. I had to wait for my husband to cut up every little piece of food and I drank tea and wine through a straw."

You didn't cut out wine? "Oh God, no!" she laughs. "Listen, you need some nice things in life to look forward to."

Fionnuala made a remarkable recovery and was back performing six months later. "It was so great to be back when it had looked like I would never play again," she says.

"I had to learn to play a bit differently with my bow arm because that's never worked fully properly, but to be able to do it was a fantastic feeling."

Then came her cancer scare, and Covid-19. "The funny thing is, I actually still think I'm a lucky person," Fionnuala laughs, adding: "Sh*t happens to everybody. I never actually felt sorry for myself through all of it."

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