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Inspiring GP Sarah McAnallen loses breast cancer battle at 33

By Victoria O'Hara

Published 09/12/2015

Inspiring: Sarah McAnallen
Inspiring: Sarah McAnallen
Sarah (right) with her sisters Orla and Susan

A family doctor who died from breast cancer just weeks after graduating has been described as an inspiring GP who "touched the hearts of many people".

Dr Sarah McAnallen, from Portadown, passed away on Sunday aged 33 after a two-year battle with breast cancer.

She had trained at Trinity College and was named as medicine student of the year in 2010/11.

In 2013, six weeks after graduating from her post graduate course, Dr McAnallen was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer.

Sarah underwent intensive treatment, including chemotherapy and a mastectomy.

She bravely wrote about her battle, with one article featured in Forum, the Journal of the Irish College of General Practitioners and on irishhealth.com.

Trinity College praised Dr McAnallen as an "inspiring" doctor and described her article as "influential", touching the hearts of many.

In her article, Sarah told of the moment she was given the devastating news she had cancer.

"I was 31 and was being told that I had stage four breast cancer," she wrote. "I have learned of many young women in their 20s 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.

"Just because we as doctors study illness does not make us immune to it. I have experienced both sides of the coin. I had graduated from my GP training scheme six weeks earlier and was excited to embark on the next chapter of my medical career. However, that moment in the 'quiet, comfortable, private setting' changed my trajectory forever. I veered suddenly onto an unexpected path."

"I would advise GPs that next time a patient comes in to you for what turns out to be reassurance, don't see it as a waste of anyone's time. It is time spent wisely and can be therapeutic."

In a statement last night, the Irish College of General Practitioners offered its condolences to the McAnallen family.

Dr Andrée Rochfort said: "She showed leadership and a positive attitude to the challenges facing young GPs today.

"Her article was so influential - touching the hearts of so many people, GPs and practice staff - that she was invited to have it posted on the website irishhealth.com, which meant that her story reached a public audience too.

"Sarah's article had two key messages from her personal experience of being a doctor with a serious illness: that being breast aware can help everyone, male and female, and secondly that there is no justice with illness."

A Just Giving page has been set up in Sarah's memory to raise funds for the Friends of the Cancer Centre.

Among the tributes posted on the page, one said: "A beautiful person, a wonderful doctor and a voice like an angel, may you rest in peace Sarah.

Dr McAnallen's funeral will take place today at the Church of St John the Baptist, Drumcree.

She is survived by her parents Cora and Gerard and two sisters Orla and Susan and wider family circle.

  • To donate to the Friends of the Cancer Centre, visit www.justgiving.com/sarahmcanallen/

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