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Lincolnshire Gateway Academies Trust
Proud to be a member of the
Lincolnshire Gateway Academies Trust

Diagnosis inspires author

Breast cancer diagnosis inspired a teacher to fulfil a childhood dream and write a book.

Mrs O’Donoghue at Waltham Toll Bar Academy

‘A Woman on Fire’ reflects Isabel O’Donoghue’s experience of successfully fighting the condition.

The modern and foreign languages teacher at Waltham Toll Bar Academy was diagnosed with cancer in 2019.

She said: “I didn’t stop working when I got my diagnosis and students noticed that I was looking thinner and different.

“I had a language competition with my Year 10 class one day and a student shouted ‘Miss, you are on fire!’ and that stayed with me.

“The phrase kept cropping up and when you go through cancer, it can make you feel burnt out. The title ‘A Woman on Fire’ is a positive and a negative message and means several things throughout the book.”

The support of her students and her experience inspired Isabel to follow her childhood dream and write a book.

“Since I was a child, I wanted to write. Living in a town in the Andes Mountains, I didn’t know what it involved. It’s the whole reason I decided to study journalism, but life has directed me in another way.”

The Colombian, who moved to the UK in 2000, hopes ‘A Woman on Fire’ will help other women and families to improve their outlook on life when faced with a lifechanging diagnosis.

“Writing the book was very therapeutic. When you write, you can say exactly what you feel with no judgement. It was a way of getting it all out onto paper and explain all of the emotions you feel whilst you’re going through it.”

In her story, we meet Chabela Kennedy, an upfront and honest woman on her journey from the first discovery of a tumour, to a diagnosis of breast cancer.

It follows her through treatment and recovery and shows challenges of keeping her job and looking after her family, all whilst facing her illness.

The book is a rollercoaster of emotions showing fear and positivity throughout her cancer journey.

It was originally written in Spanish by Isabel and translated into English by one of her private Spanish students. The book is now available in both English and Spanish.

Isabel O’Donoghue with her published books in both English and Spanish.

She commented: “I wanted to write a book to show the struggles and offer some support. I know that if I’d had a book to read that related to my situation, I would feel less isolated about the whole matter.”

Isabel has also started to offer support online via a cancer survivor website. She said:

“Fear comes up a lot but it’s very rewarding because I have the confidence to help those going through it, having overcome the situation myself.

“I hope that having gone through it myself, it has developed me into a better person.

“I feel that I understand the world better and became more aware of my surroundings. I see more colours, am more receptive to people’s words and take more notice of the way people look at you.”

She began working as a language teacher after moving to the UK from Colombia. She taught herself languages including Italian, French and Portuguese.

Isabel’s love for writing started when she was very young, which encouraged her to study Journalism at university in Colombia.

Through research during her Master’s Degree in economics, she followed the path to become a teacher.

She joined Toll Bar in 2016 following a 15-year stint at Franklin College.

Her students have continued to support her with her book by attending a ‘Meet the Author’ event in the library at Waltham Toll Bar Academy.

Isabel and Librarian, Mrs Hodgson, with students at her ‘Meet the Author’ event at Waltham Toll Bar Academy Library.

Her passion is to write true stories featuring drama and life reflection and in 2019, she wrote a short story, “Compartiendo con mi abuelo en El Espino”. This won first prize in a competition organised by the Town Hall of El Espino, Colombia.

“A Woman on Fire” is available to buy on Amazon: