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new doc 'My friend said the chemo I was on while I was pregnant gave my son superpowers', says RTÉ star

In her new TG4 documentary Ailse & Ise - Evelyn O'Rourke, Evelyn charts the experience of women who are diagnosed with cancer today.

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Evelyn O’Rourke hopes her documentary, which airs on TG4 on Wednesday week, helps women who may be struggling with a cancer diagnosis. Photo: Bryan Brophy

Evelyn O’Rourke hopes her documentary, which airs on TG4 on Wednesday week, helps women who may be struggling with a cancer diagnosis. Photo: Bryan Brophy

Evelyn O’Rourke hopes her documentary, which airs on TG4 on Wednesday week, helps women who may be struggling with a cancer diagnosis. Photo: Bryan Brophy

IN 2010, just two days after the surprise discovery that she was pregnant with her second child, RTÉ Radio 1 journalist Evelyn O'Rourke was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Her first child, Oisín, was not yet six-months-old.

"My pregnancy with him had been so perfect," she said.

"I had done my yoga, and I didn't eat prawns."

Second time around it was very different. But she says: "I was very black and white about it; I said to my husband: 'We'll have the baby and do the chemo afterwards.' He said: 'What planet are you on, Evelyn'?"

Her mind eventually changed.

Devastating

"It was devastating. It was going to be devastating anyway, but I also had a newborn at home."

Now, 10 years on in a country that is still reeling from the obscenely tragic fall-out from the CervicalCheck controversy, Evelyn charts the experience of women who are diagnosed with cancer today.

In her new TG4 documentary Ailse & Ise - Evelyn O'Rourke, there are moments of great hope, particularly when she explores the enormous advances made in treating some types of hormone-sensitive breast cancer.

There are also moments of exquisite sorrow, particularly when she speaks to Stephen Teap, about his wife Irene who died of cervical cancer, and Lynsey Bennett, who was failed so grievously by CervicalCheck.

The documentary also shines a light on cancer trials and their current status in Ireland.

When we speak, Evelyn is sitting in her garden enjoying the evening sunshine.

She is clear, direct and confident, but also full of warmth, an underrated bonus in journalism.

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She apologises for only having 20 minutes to talk before she picks up Ross and Oisín from scouts.

"I wanted the documentary to show what you can do, what you can overcome because I would have thought I wouldn't have been able to do it if you had asked me 10 years ago.

"Everybody knows the look, the shorn head and vicious toll it takes on someone's body.

"The weird thing with chemo is, it is so hard to endure, and yet it is saving you."

Evelyn endured chemo and surgery and several painful setbacks in her treatment - all while pregnant.

But the thought of leaving her children and husband John McMahon, the head of Entertainment and Music in RTÉ, kept her going.

"I used to say to John: 'just get me to the school gates. Let me get them to junior infants'.

"And then it was: 'Let me get them to their Communion'.

"You constantly bargain when you have kids. Everything is a rite of passage, and you get to see their lives unfold.

"That's why you will do anything. That's very powerful, it makes you braver."

Evelyn says she received "the most amazing care" from her medical team.

Her voice breaks as she recalls the moment her "miracle baby" Ross was born.

"They delivered him so safely and so perfectly. The minute he was born, a paediatrician immediately took him off.

"He came back and said: 'Your baby is perfect'. Ross is hilarious. He loves how special we tell him he is. His self-esteem is out the window.

Hope

"He is brilliant at sports, and a friend of mine is convinced the chemo drugs gave him superpowers," she laughs.

Evelyn hopes the documentary will bring hope to women who are struggling with a cancer diagnosis.

"There's often a sense that you can recover, but you are also plagued in a very fundamental way. But my energy feels really good," she said.

"I can happily put in the week I do, which is busy with work and two lovely, crazy boys.

"You can go back to work and raise your family and do all these things that matter to you."

Ailse & Ise - Evelyn O'Rourke goes out on TG4 on May 12

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