Donegal Woman talks to Ena Barrett, a breast cancer survivor who wants to get the message out about cancer and stop it in its tracks.

The Irish Cancer Society’s ad campaign for 2017 comes with a shocking message that has been a big talking point for the last week. That was their intention and they have reported a massive surge in demand for information and support services since the advert aired.

Ena Barrett is a breast cancer survivor from Falcarragh, now living in Newtoncunningham. Ena, like many other survivors, was affected by the #IWanttoGetCancer adverts. The slogan shocked her, but not as much as the shock of being diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 45. That was ten years ago, and Ena has since worked with the Irish Cancer Society and Relay for Life to raise funds and awareness of the disease.

“I never expected that I would get cancer,” she says, “I went to the doctor for a routine appointment and they recommended a biopsy. Cancer was the last thing on my mind because I was well and tiredness was the main symptom I had.”

“My whole world turned upside down when I found out it was breast cancer.”

“The recent adverts came as a shock but I see they have had a positive outcome. I don’t have to like it to understand the message. The thought of saying ‘I want to get cancer’ is horrific but that’s the not intended message – it’s merely provocative.”

“It’s much easier to listen to that advert than it is to listen to a doctor telling you that you have cancer.”

Ena fought cancer for two years, undergoing a lumpectomy, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and brachytherapy. “I was a relatively strong person but I had intense treatment and various reactions. I needed a strong treatment to get the clearance we needed.”

“I was lucky it was got in time and thank God I haven’t had to look back. There are great follow up services here in Letterkenny and the treatment I had was amazing.”

Ena had to put her life on hold to get well again. She is a mother to three boys and saw that her role was reversed as she relied on them to look after her.

“Luckily my family was grown up at the time. It’s a big role reversal for the children to look after the parent, but that’s what cancer does to you. What was the norm is no longer the norm.

“Cancer robs a little bit of your independence and your confidence. Even getting dressed can exhaust you. Not alone is it a physical journey but it is an emotional and mental journey as well, which is sometimes harder.”

Ena at the Relay for Life event in 2016

The main message of the Get Cancer campaign is to alert people that Ireland is facing a cancer epidemic. By 2020, 1 in every 2 persons will get cancer in our lifetime.

Ena encourages people to not be afraid to talk about cancer. “I had a fear because cancer came knocking on my family’s door 30 years ago when my brother died. I was afraid to tell my parents because they associate cancer with death.

“People have a fear that is it going to be a fatal disease, but there is so much that can be done. What this campaign is about is to get people talking in non-threatening environment.

“The important thing is checking yourself and taking responsibility for your personal health. No doctor is going to turn you away if you are worried.”

Ena Barrett with the Irish Cancer Society Community Fundraising team in Daffodil Day 2014

On the launch day of the Get Cancer campaign, the Irish Cancer Society had a 100% increase in enquiries to their Cancer Nurseline. There has been a 280% increase in visits to the Reduce Your Risk page and a 127% increase in visits to the Cancer Statistics page compared the the same week last year.

As a fundraising ambassador for the Irish Cancer Society in Ulster, Ena welcomes the active reaction to the campaign.

“If it works for people and alerts them then it’s good. We all should go out and get cancer and stop it in its tracks.

Irish Cancer Society

“We live in a world where we are complacent about hearing news reports of murders and stabbings and we don’t flinch. Sometimes we need something shocking to make us stop and think.

“If this campaign saves even one person’s life in Donegal by making them look up the signs and symptoms and getting checked out before it gets to a detrimental stage then it’s a success.”

For more information on the Irish Cancer Society’s I want to Get Cancer Campaign, see
Follow the conversation on social media: #IWantToGetCancer