Maureen Nolan says younger sister Coleen ‘regrets’ sharing cancer diagnosis on Loose Women
When Maureen Nolan discovered that her youngest sister, Coleen, had become the latest member of her family to be blighted by cancer, she was utterly shell-shocked.
She and her family have been living in the shadow of cancer for nearly 20 years. But Maureen, 69, only learnt of Coleen’s carcinoma diagnosis last month after the star opened up about it on Loose Women.
“I didn’t see her announce the news on the show, so suddenly I’m getting all these messages saying, ‘Sorry to hear the news about Coleen,’” says the singer.
“I was so shocked – I immediately phoned her and asked what had happened. I think she now regrets sharing the news on Loose Women.”
Coleen, 58, later explained she hadn’t wanted to tell her sisters about her diagnosis because it seemed like “nothing” compared to what some of them have been through.
But it was in fact Maureen who first raised the alarm about a worrying “bit of skin” on her Coleen’s neck months earlier.
“I remember seeing the mark on her neck some time ago. I told her to have it checked, which eventually she did,” she recalls. “Then they found this mark on her face, which I believe is the start of melanoma, which is the worst kind of skin cancer. But she’s using a chemo cream, so it should get better.”
Coleen is the fourth of Maureen’s sisters to have been affected by cancer. Last month marked the 10th anniversary of her beloved sister Bernie’s death, at the age of 52. The singer and actress died three years after discovering she had breast cancer, while Maureen’s eldest sister, Anne, 72, was diagnosed with breast cancer for a second time three years ago.
While Anne is thankfully now in remission, younger sister Linda, who has battled breast cancer since 2006, isn’t doing so well.
Last month the 64-year-old revealed she was struggling to stay positive after learning that her cancer had spread to her brain.
“I was there when she was given the news – I take her to every hospital appointment,” says Maureen. “The fact that the cancer is now in her brain is the news she was dreading.
“But there is still a little hope, because the doctor said there is a new wonder drug that he could put her on if the chemo isn’t working.”
Maureen says she marvels at her sister’s sunny outlook, after so many setbacks. “Linda really is an inspiration,” she says of her sibling, who documented her health journey in her best-selling autobiography, From My Heart.
“She gets up every day and smiles and I don’t know how she does it. She’s on this chemo treatment now, which doesn’t give her too many side-effects. But it’s the fourth time she’s had to lose her hair.”
Maureen says a glass-half-full mentality runs in the family. "With Bernie, who died in 2013, she had hope right up until the very last day and I think Linda has that same positive outlook,” she tells us. “So I’m still hoping for Linda.”
The Nolans’ remarkable resilience in the face of adversity has been an inspiration to many, but it’s hardly surprising their inner strength is so formidable. From an early age Maureen and her sisters – including Denise, 71 – learnt how to paint on a smile when the chips were down.
Born in Dublin, the girls had a tough upbringing at the hands of their alcoholic father, Tommy, who launched his children as The Singing Nolans when Maureen was just nine years old.
“Looking back, we were such a close family – and still are – but we were quite a dysfunctional family,” she says. “My dad was an alcoholic and he would drive us, usually drunk at the wheel, to all our shows. As a child I just thought that was normal behaviour. I thought I was happy but, looking back, it wasn’t all that happy.”
During her time in the all-girl group, Maureen toured with Frank Sinatra and went on to record one of the defining songs of the decade with their 1979 single, I’m In The Mood For Dancing.
“Doing Top Of The Pops for the first time was a huge moment. It meant you had finally made it,” she says, misty-eyed.
“But I think the high point came when we were asked to tour with Sinatra. He was my idol and suddenly there we were, sharing the same stage and using his orchestra. It’s a moment in my life I will never forget.”
Still going strong today, Maureen will soon be treading the boards in a touring production of Gary Barlow’s hit musical Calendar Girls.
“It’s a fabulous, funny show and it’s all based on a true story of these women trying to raise money for blood cancer,” she says. “The musical is based on the movie and Gary Barlow has written some fabulous songs for this show. The tour is also supporting the charity Blood Cancer UK, which I’m really pleased about.”
So will Maureen get to meet the Take That legend himself? “I’m really, really hoping so,” says the star, who’ll appear alongside West End icon Marti Webb and former EastEnders actress Tanya Franks. “I have instructions to phone my sisters immediately if I see him, so they can all come and meet him.”
As well as starring in the feel-good musical, Maureen has another reason to celebrate – her son, Danny, and daughter-in-law Maddison recently gave her a fourth grandchild, a little girl called Marlie.
Beaming, Maureen says, “She just makes me feel so happy to have her close. I know she’s my fourth, but I’m still over the moon and so happy for Dan.”
For ticket information on Calendar Girls – The Musical visit musicalsontour.co.uk
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