Mickey Bradley “instantly knew that something wasn’t right”

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There’s no doubt that Mickey Bradley is one of Derry’s best known citizens.

As the bassist in iconic punk rock band The Undertones, his musical talent is without exception, and his current role as producer and presenter at BBC Radio Foyle means his voice is known the city over.

Yet it’s not widely known that Mickey was diagnosed with bowel cancer in November 2005, aged 46.

At the time of his treatment he put a statement on the band’s website letting fans know that his illness was the cause of their reduction in touring, but since then he only really speaks to his family and friends about it.

This week, he candidly sat down and retold the moments he realised there was something wrong, and how he was diagnosed.

He started, “I was out with some friends from Radio Foyle when I started to get terrible cramps in my stomach. I spent the next while at the bathroom and was astonished to see that I was passing fresh blood.

“I instantly knew something wasn’t right and that I needed to go to the doctors. But it was a locum female doctor and when she asked if I wanted to be examined I declined, purely because she was a woman.

“The next time it happened, some months later, I went back to the doctors and this time was seen by Dr Kevin Cosgrove at Quayside Practice who I knew well. He asked no questions but asked me to get up on the couch. There was no choice but to be examined.

“He immediately made me an appointment at Altnagelvin Hospital for a colonoscopy.”

It was at this stage that Mickey finally told his wife Elaine that he had even been to the doctors at all.

“I didn’t want to worry her.”

Yet it was the colonoscopy which started to worry Mickey himself.

“Throughout the colonoscopy I was thinking, ‘This isn’t too bad’, but at the end the lady doing the scan then said she thought she saw something. She couldn’t be certain but there was a possibility there was something there. It was then that I began to think ‘cancer’.”

Unfortunately Mickey’s thoughts proved to be right, as a few days later he sat in front of his oncologist to be told that it was in fact colorectal cancer - commonly known as bowel cancer.

Mickey explains, “He confirmed that they thought there was something there, but went on to say that they didn’t know if it had spread to the liver or other parts of my body.

“It was the word ‘spread’ that worried me then. I thought I was in for a long, lingering death.”

Two weeks of waiting followed before, thankfully, further tests revealed that Mickey’s cancer was confined to his bowel.

“Those two weeks were the longest of my life. I had been advised to tell my family, and I thought the doctor meant that I should tell them because I was dying, but I soon gathered that he wanted them to be tested because bowel cancer is hereditary.”

The next stage involved surgery to remove a part of his bowel followed by a week in hospital recovering.

“When they told me I needed surgery they asked, ‘When do you want to come in for the operation. I replied that I had a few gigs coming up over Christmas, so I was booked in for January 8th.”

Mickey’s surgery went well and there was no need for him to be fitted with a colostomy bag, but they couldn’t tell him before the surgery if chemotherapy would be needed.

It turned out it was and Mickey was booked in every Wednesday for six months.

“I was able to have my chemotherapy up at the Sperrin Room in Altnagelvin. They were great and the sessions only lasted around 30 minutes each.

“To be honest, I felt like a bit of a fraud, because I looked pretty well compared to a lot of people there. And I was lucky because my hair didn’t fall out and I didn’t get too nauseous.”

Advice given to Mickey at this time included not trying to conceive while on treatment. However, two weeks after the chemotherapy started Mickey’s wife told him she was expecting - their son Jim is now seven.

Following his diagnosis and subsequent treatment, Mickey wasn’t overly concerned about his prognosis.

“That sounds like I didn’t care but once I knew I wasn’t going to die, I accepted that the surgery and chemotheraoy had done its work.

“It never occurred to me to change my lifestyle. Prior to diagnosis I hadn’t smoked, I wasn’t overweight and I only drank socially. I suppose you could say I had no guilty conscience.”

But he admits that knowing the survival rates were better than when he was a boy had something to do with his positive attitude.

“Cancer used to be a taboo subject. Nowadays it’s spoken about publicly. People were coming to me with anecotes of others they knew who had bowel cancer and were still here ten, 12, 15 years later.

“It was good to hear those stories but I also recognise that not everyone has it as easy as me when diagnosed with cancer.

“It’s a case of the old cliché, ‘Your health is your wealth’. And I would encourage anyone who thinks there’s something wrong to always go to your doctor. Never, ever think about not going. It took me two goes to finally get examined, but the cancer was still caught early. That’s so important.”

And with that he talks of his touring plans with The Undertones which start again this weekend.

“I love playing and we’re off for ten days to gig in London, Paris, Montpellier, Turin and Rome.”

It seems not even bowel cancer can keep a good bassist down.

First published on 23 May 2014