herald

Sunday 19 August 2018

I'm a primary teacher who shed my clothes for the Dip in the Nip

Fear was cast aside as 150 women went for a naked swim for a good cause, says teacher Maire Ivanna Heneghan

Why would anyone in their right mind strip off and run naked into the Atlantic?

My mom Mona and I did just that when we took part in the very first Dip In The Nip. We were full of excitement (and giddiness) preparing for the dip -- as if exfoliating and tanning could make scars and stretch-marks magically disappear.

We persevered and irrespective of lumps and bumps and wobbly bits we made our way to Sligo on a misty morning in June last year.

About 150 women took part -- some nervous, some not too bothered (apparently when you've given birth, shyness is replaced by nonchalance about showing your lady-bits) but the atmosphere was electric.

I think we all knew it was the beginning of something special. It was a real girls' day out.

By chance, Baz Luhrman's song Everybody's Free (to wear sunscreen) was playing on the radio as we neared Lissadell Strand, where the dip was taking place. "Do one thing every day that scares you," was his advice. "Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don't be afraid or it or what other people think of it. It's the greatest instrument you'll ever own."

If there were any lingering doubts about the wisdom of what we were about to do, they were quickly dispelled by those lyrics.

My mom was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma in 2002. It was found while screening for an aneurism. Following a laparotomy and chemotherapy, she went into remission until her cancer returned in 2007.

The word "battle" and "fight" are often associated with cancer but mom never battled or fought cancer. She accepted it.

"Why spend my time fighting? It's so negative. Lots of people have bad backs or other conditions that are more debilitating. I've got cancer, but apart from that, I'm fine!" This was how she spoke. This was how she lived.

She travelled. She climbed Ben Nevis. She laughed. She enjoyed the company of her friends and family. She lived more with cancer than she ever did as a "healthy" person.

The opportunity to take part in the dip and pose for the calendar was a major high point in her life. She took Baz's advice and did something many women would be petrified of. The crippling damage to women's self-confidence as a result of life-long battling with body image can itself seem cancerous.

Surgeries

Mom had five children and numerous surgeries. Her body was far from perfect by the standards of today's beauty magazines but she was undeterred! Posing naked gave her a new lease of life, radiating enthusiasm and optimism and the kind of confidence and calm that only comes from facing fears.

Her greatest challenge lay before her because in January 2010, doctors discovered she had an aggressive brain tumour known as a GBM. She was told that with successful treatment, she had 14 to 16 months to live.

She died just seven months later. Taking part in the Dip In The Nip and posing for the calendar were two of her favourite memories. I cannot suppress the smile that comes to my lips thinking about the nervous giggling before we dropped our robes, the chattering teeth as we emerged from the water -- purple and shivering, the pride at seeing her beautiful calendar portrait unveiled.

If the thought of skinny dipping evokes dread in you, think of Baz Luhrman.

Think of the thousands of people who will benefit from funds raised by this Dip for the Irish Cancer Society. The reality is that cancer will touch your life somehow, sometime. You don't realise or appreciate the work done by this organisation until you need it, and then you are so grateful that somebody somewhere was brave enough (and crazy enough!) to take the plunge.

Why would anyone run naked into the Atlantic? Why not?! As my brother John-John would say: "You're here for a good time, not a long time!"

hnews@herald.ie

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