‘The kids were so brave’ – Keelin Shanley’s husband tells how her last beacon of hope for treatment ended

Former RTE broadcaster Keelin Shanley’s husband has told how telling their children there were no more treatment options was really hard.

he award winning journalist, who had breast cancer, passed away at the age of 51 on February 8 this year.

She had been an anchor of the Six One News on RTÉ One, taking up the role alongside Caitriona Perry in January 2018.

Her memoir: ‘A Light That Never Goes Out’ was published posthumously today and her husband Conor Ferguson told Ryan Tubridy on the Late Late Show that she had been determined to keep working despite her cancer diagnosis.

“She always had a strong work ethic. Certainly once she got her foot in the door in RTÉ, she was like ‘okay, this is where I want to be. I love this’,” he said.

He told how Keelin had looked into a treatment in the States. “Keelin wasn’t the type to go clutching at straws. She put research into it.”

She found a treatment that had been underway just outside Washington DC. She was an American citizen having been born in the States, so she was eligible.

“She did all she could to get on this programme. We flew over there, not really knowing if she was going to get accepted or not. But she pulled out all the stops. She got her hair done, she bought a pair of yellow trousers. She got spray tan.

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Conor Ferguson – husband of the late campaigner and RTÉ journalist Keelin Shanley – with daughter Lucy and son Ben

Conor Ferguson – husband of the late campaigner and RTÉ journalist Keelin Shanley – with daughter Lucy and son Ben

“She was determined to go there and be a really healthy candidate. At that point she was using a stick quite a bit, but the stick was banished,” he recalled.

“She just had it in her own mind. I am going to do this. I am going to get onto this programme and I am going to get the treatment, and who knows, because one woman had been cured outright with stage four breast cancer and was in a bad way. So Keelin just latched onto things, she was really determined. Once she had something to aim for, that was always the case in her life.”

He said that she was accepted onto the programme. “They take tissue from the body, and they propagate cells and they use those cells back in the body to fight the cancer. But it takes months and months to propagate the cells and within that time unfortunately Keelin’s condition deteriorated too quickly.

“So we got a point where an email came in one day from the hospital saying: ‘unfortunately, you are not eligible any more as a candidate.’ So that was tough because that was sort of Keelin’s last beacon of hope.

“That was hard for her. It was hard for all of us and telling the kids was really hard. They were 11 and 13.”

“When it came to telling them that there was no more treatment, it was really, really hard but they were just so brave. They really were just amazing. They took the information in and obviously it was a very intimate time for us, but we really felt that the kids just seemed to manage it.”

Mr Ferguson said: “Keelin’s approach to the family was that we are one unit and all the information is shared and everyone has an equal vote. That is how she liked it. She didn’t know how to be secretive or vague with the kids.”

He said that once she got that bad news, “it was like, okay, let’s try and get to Christmas. We didn’t think we were going to get to Christmas. Then it was, let’s get to our anniversary, January 29th.”

He said his wife always had a mission.

Mr Ferguson said the main purpose of her memoir was she wanted to leave behind a story of herself for the kids, “just to leave a bit of herself behind.”

But also the book’s function was to help her remember who she was as a person herself, because cancer can defeat the person really, and “make you feel like just a number, or a patient. You are working to somebody else’s timetable. You have this appointment, and that appointment.

“But of course that isn’t the case. You are still the same person. The book allowed her to reconnect with herself and to go back and see the work she had done.”

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