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The NI woman who is also taking inspiration from the brave author Emma Hannigan

Melanie Kennedy tells Stephanie Bell why going public when fighting cancer can be a positive step

One Northern Ireland woman who has been especially touched by the courage of writer Emma Hannigan is Bangor mum-of-two Melanie Kennedy, who is known as the 'cancer warrior'.

When her youngest son AJ was just six months old in 2014, Melanie was told she had five years to live after discovering that breast cancer had spread to her liver.

That five year period was up in January and today Melanie says she has never felt better.

She had to fight for a treatment which is available in the rest of the UK but not in Northern Ireland.

Friends crowdfunded and within 48 hours had raised £22,000 to cover the cost of the treatment known as Kadcyla.

After two treatments paid for privately, the NHS agreed to supply it and Melanie used the money raised to launch a campaign for all cancer treatments to be made available to patients here.

Through Facebook she set up the NI Cancer Advocacy Movement and has continued to fight to have equality of treatment with the rest of the UK, even standing for election last year as an Independent in North Down.

Melanie (40), who has two boys, Josh (16) and AJ (5), says she admires novelist Emma Hannigan for speaking publicly about her terminal diagnosis.

She says: "It is really sad that time is running out for Emma but on the flipside she lived with it for over 10 years and that is brilliant for stage 4 cancer.

"I see her as a real beacon of hope for others as I know loads of people with stage 4 cancers who would love to have another 10 years. That is just not a prognosis you get with stage 4 cancer and Emma has got on with her life and is pretty inspirational."

Melanie believes there is still a stigma attached to cancer and the more that it is talked about, the more chance there is of changing attitudes.

She believes that Emma's openness over the years about her battle is a huge boost to other cancer patients.

She says: "More and more people are getting cancer. It used to be a third of us and now it is half of us and those figures are only going to get more dire.

"Every week I am being contacted by someone who can't afford the drugs they need and it is heartbreaking.

"It is a life or death issue and I think we need to talk about cancer.

"People are fearful of it and rightly so as it is dreadful, but we need to talk about it and the more we acknowledge it, the more likely people are to catch it early enough to be curable."

Explaining how she regards her own state of health, Melanie says: "I view myself as incurable rather than terminal. I've never felt better than I do now. My tumours have reduced and I think we need to get rid of that old-fashioned idea that people with cancer are very frail, lying with a bandana on in a hospital bed.

"More younger people are getting cancer and, to me, to be told at 35, as I was, that I had five years to live, was just not good enough."

Melanie doesn't intend to stop until Northern Ireland cancer patients have equality with the rest of the UK when it comes to treatment.

Speaking out about it is one of her weapons which earned her the title of 'cancer warrior'. She says she admires author Emma for how she is dealing with the fact that her time is now running out. Melanie adds: "She has dealt with it amazingly. She wasn't scared to talk about it and say I have cancer, I am terminal.

"Just because you have cancer doesn't mean you haven't got a brain in your head and she has continued to write her book.

"Cancer patients are functioning members of society and worth investing in and Emma is a great example of that."

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