Legendary broadcaster Gay Byrne returned to RTE this afternoon to speak to Ray D’Arcy about his ‘gruelling’ cancer treatment, long career and ‘regrets’.
Gay (83) was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2016 and in the course of his treatment he has undergone eight rounds of chemotherapy, the final two of which were particularly ‘gruelling’ and overwhelming.
He is gearing up to meet his doctor Professor McCaffrey tomorrow morning and spoke of his fear of being told he would have to endure more treatment.
“I am scared witless that tomorrow he is going to say sorry, you gotta go back. I hope he doesn’t. I pray he doesn’t. I see no reason why he should but it’s a horror of horror,” he said.
He revealed that he is on 18 tablets a day which make him very agitated, explaining, “It’s like you are going to have a semi heart attack, and you don’t know what it’s all about and you have to try and control yourself as hard as you can.”
He told Ray on his show on RTE Radio 1 that he would hate to be a burden to his wife Kathleen and he praised her and his daughters and sons in law for giving him such great care during his illness.
“I hate to think of myself being a burden on her and slowing down her life,” he said.
“She’s in remarkably good health, she amazing active, she’s the same age as I am and we’ve been married…. this is our 54th anniversary coming up in June.
“It’s amazing, she looks after me so well and she keeps an even temper and she knows that when I act up, as I do regularly, it’s the tablets that are doing it. It’s the chemicals within you, which are forcing all of these things to happen and that’s the effect they have.”
Regarding his approach to his illness, he said he was “totally wrong” not to take a year off “to nurse myself” rather than continue to try to work and fit other things into his schedule while also enduring treatment.
Gay also spoke about his faith and memorable interviews on his series The Meaning of Life as well as his time in RTÉ, in radio and television, and covering the tragic story of Ann Lovett in 1984 as well as the Kerry babies case that same year.
After covering the Ann Lovett case and asking what it was all about he said his radio programme was inundated with sacks of mail from all over the country and they gave voice to many of those letters on the programme and they covered issues including “rape, teenage pregnancies, incest, family obscenities, all sorts of things” which shocked many listeners, some of whom “reported they pulled in their cars to the side of the road” they were so disturbed by what they were hearing.
“That was the beginning of all this culminating in what happened in the referendum, culminating in the marriage referendum, culminating in so many different things, but it has taken all this time.”
Christine Buckley wrote to Gay about her experiences in Goldenbridge and he revealed that the PS of her letter said that her father was a Nigerian doctor in Lagos and Gay recognised his name as he had been a medical student in Dublin when his brother Al, who worked in Guinness, was doing his degree at Trinity and he used to come to his house regularly to be “fed by my mother”.
Regarding his career, he revealed that he had regrets that he didn’t allow himself to take more time off, to be around his family.
“I have great regrets. I have only brief memories…” he said. “Thank God they were girls in so far as if they’d been boys it would have been very serious. I have only brief little snatches of memories of Crona and Suzy growing up around the place and I regret that.
“But generally speaking I regret now the amount of time I gave to this place. It was an awful lot of time and I should have taken time to do other things and I had the opportunity to do other things but I was dedicated to the place.”
However, he said that he had wanted to be a broadcaster from the age of 14 and he “lived my dream”.
A one-off programme, Once More with Meaning airing on RTE One at 9.35pm tomorrow night, celebrates Gay’s 60 years in broadcasting by looking back on 13 years of Gay’s hugely popular series The Meaning of Life.