SINCE she lost her sister Anne to cancer, RTÉ presenter Miriam O’Callaghan tries to help cancer charities whenever she can.
And thus, the mum of eight was the guest speaker at the Cork Pink Week lunch in Collins Barracks last Sunday.
Generously giving of her time as the guest speaker at the event, Miriam had to leave for Dublin straight after being interviewed by MC Alan Shortt. She was especially keen to be with one of her sons, who turned 18 on Sunday and has been very ill. He is recovering but it will take time.
“He’s on an intravenous drip and antibiotics and will be for months,” she said.
Miriam put on a brave face for the 350 mostly female guests at the fundraising lunch for the Breast Care Unit at Cork University Hospital. Most of the women present wore pink, to mark Breast Cancer Awareness month this October.
Miriam wore a light purple patterned dress and regaled the audience with her wit and honesty.
Having lost her younger sister, Anne, to cancer in 1995, Miriam, who admitted to feeling “angry with the world” at the time, said that she tries to help cancer charities when she can.
She spoke about the difference between males and females, being well qualified to do so with four daughters and four sons.
Miriam says her girls (one of whom, Clara McGurk is a junior doctor at CUH and is going out with Munster Rugby squad member, Brian Scott) are diligent and hard-working and worry if people don’t like them.
“My lads are horizontal. Give them a hot chocolate or a beer and a rugby game and they’re happy out... I think they’re less complicated than we are.”
The reason why “women don’t reach the heights that some men do”, she said, is because “we hold ourselves back”. Miriam puts it down to a lack of confidence.
While stressing that she is not “a man- basher,” she said that “guys take more risks and we don’t take enough risks. We’re very cautious. Maybe it’s because we’re the nurturers. We’re largely the carers.”
Not afraid to laugh at herself, Miriam uttered the word ‘genuinely’ with her unique pronunciation as so often mimicked by Mario Rosenstock. Miriam has no problem with the comedian’s take off of her. She believes in enjoying life, laughing, staying away from “annoying people”, and sticking with “happy people”.
Asked who was the toughest person she interviewed, Miriam says the interview with Leo Varadkar on her Sunday Morning radio show a couple of years ago was challenging. The Taoiseach planned to out himself as a gay man to the nation in conversation with her. But he didn’t take her cue. She said she didn’t want to out him so she had to offer him another cue. This time, he took it and Miriam is proud that the Taoiseach chose her show on which to reveal his sexuality.
The best advice that Miriam received came the late Nobel Laureate, poet, Seamus Heaney. He said that if people are causing her distress or hassle, she should treat them with “implacable courtesy”. She applies this to her dealings with politicians.
“I think you should always ask the tough question of every party and everybody... Some people don’t like it but that’s my job and I’m happy to do it.”
It’s always done with implacable courtesy but Miriam admitted to a steeliness which comes from her family heritage of “tough Kerry farmers”.
Miriam’s role model is her mother, who is still alive. A “stoic” woman, who worked as a school principal while rearing five children, she coped with the death of her husband just eight weeks after Anne’s death. She goes to Mass every day and has “great faith”.
Cork Pink Week, which aims to raise €100,000 to help purchase a high specification ultrasound machine to improve diagnosis and monitoring of patients, is organised by Sylvia McHenry and Miriam Healy, both of whom have recovered from breast cancer.
Now in its second year, Sylvia is delighted with the support for the week-long events. But she says that organising Cork Pink Week “is exhausting. We’d like someone else to take it on.”
Speaking at the lunch, at which the One Brigade Band played, was Professor Mark Corrigan, consultant breast surgeon at CUH. He said that one in eight women will develop breast cancer and explained that he and his team can “fix 85% of patients”. It is the others he wants to reach. And thanks to sophisticated equipment, “we are finding cancers smaller than ever before.”
Cork Pink Week continues until October 18. For more see www.corkpinkweek.ie