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Tragic Dr Sarah’s words to help others weeks before losing cancer battle

Sarah McAnallen

Family, friends and colleagues of Dr Sarah McAnallen turned out this afternoon to say their goodbyes and pay tribute as the young GP was laid to rest.

Mourners at the Church of St John the Baptist, Drumcree, were led by the 33-year-old’s parents, Doctors Gerard and Cora McAnallen, and her sisters, Orla and Susan.

Dr McAnallen was diagnosed two years ago with Stage 4 breast cancer.

Sarah McAnallen

Sarah McAnallen

It was just six weeks after she had graduated from GP training and she had been looking forward to starting out on her career path as a medical professional.

Tragically, she passed away on Sunday.

A justgiving page set up in her memory – to raise funds for the Friends of the Cancer Centre – has raised almost £2,000 in the couple of days since her untimely passing.

Dr McAnallen, who was originally from Portadown, was a graduate of Trinity College Dublin, where she was remembered as someone who had touched the hearts of so many people.

She had been diagnosed with cancer at the age of 31.

And she bravely, in the weeks before her death, wrote an inspirational article on a GP living with advanced breast cancer, detailing the shock diagnosis and how she had coped in its aftermath.

It had been Dr McAnallen’s hope that her words might help others.

The article – under the headline ‘Cancer – no answer to ‘why?’ – was chosen to be printed on the widely read website www.irishealth.com

Dr McAnallen wrote: “Overnight I became the patient. I had a small mobile axillary lymph node which appeared overnight during a holiday with a close friend, also a doctor. I examined it, and my breasts, and couldn’t find anything else suspicious. No other new lumps, skin changes or discharge.

“At my age, I settled on the likelihood that it was a cyst. I thought no more deeply about the lymph node. You don’t, when it’s yourself. You like to keep it simple.

“Weeks passed and the lymph node stayed the same – about 1.5cm in size. A precautionary breast clinic referral was arranged.”

She experienced pain, which she put down to camping out at a music festival, and had lost weight, but it was only the night before the referral she began to think she might actually have breast cancer, yet it still seemed “implausible, given my age”.

Dr McAnallen was told of the diagnosis by a family friend who worked at the clinic.

She believed that patients should be given the information they require.

“When life crises strike, I believe the human spirit can expand to cope with much more than you ever imagined,” she wrote in her article.

And Dr McAnallen continued: “I have found that being open about my disease normalises it to an extent, and eases the guilt that I feel for my loved ones who will be left behind. When the future seems overwhelming, we must remember that it comes to us all, one day at a time.

“I have learned of many young women in their twenties who are living with, and dying from, breast cancer. In the theory of ‘survival of the fittest’, I always considered myself to be one of these so-called ‘fittest’ people. There is sometimes no explanation, no answer to ‘why?’, or at least, not yet one discovered. There is no justice in illness.”

The GP said that just because doctors studied illness did not make then immune to it.

“I have experienced both sides of the coin,” she added. “I would advise GPs that next time a patient comes in to you for what turns out to be reassurance and direction, don’t see it as a waste of anyone’s time. It is time spent wisely and can be therapeutic to the patient.

“Regular self-examination is the only way for people, young and old, to pick up change. Indeed, patients within the breast screening age group should know what’s normal for them and report change. Being breast aware saves lives.

“Throughout the course of my diagnosis and treatment, I have asked questions. How the question is answered, and who answers it, makes a huge difference to the impact it has on me. It is not necessarily the answer itself.”

As Dr McAnallen was laid to rest today, donations have been pouring in along with tributes to the ‘beautiful’ GP who had passed long before her time.

“We are so sorry for the terrible sadness and loss Sarah’s family and friends feel at this time. Her funeral today was a fitting tribute to a very special person who touched the lives of so many,” read one comment on the special justgiving page.

Another said: “Sarah was clearly an inspiration to so many people. It was an honor to have had the opportunity to have met her and worked with her. She was a beautiful soul who has left an unforgettable mark.”

Yet another wrote of her profound sadness at the young doctor’s death, adding: “What a beautiful person inside and out. A truly special person. I feel priviledged to have crossed paths with Sarah. You will never be forgotten angel xxx.”

Visit the JustGiving page in her memory with donations to go towards Friends of the Cancer Centre.

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