Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas: Where to wee?

Radiation therapy has left this reader with incontinence problems that severely affect her quality of life. Doctors say she must "learn to live with it", but how can she?


Dear Virginia,

I’m 35 and I’ve had radiation therapy for cancer and the resulting scarring means that I find it very difficult to stop leaking urine at times during the day. I really need to be near a loo all the time and as a result my life has been severely hampered. I’ve tried pads, but I’m always worried about the smell. Because I can’t go out very far my kids have to stay indoors all the time and it’s not good for them. I’ve tried every doctor, but no one can help and they just say I must “live with it”. But I can’t. Do you have any suggestions? 


Yours sincerely,



Virginia says...

Let’s get the medical stuff out of the way first. You say you’ve “tried every doctor”. But have you attended any of the numerous Incontinence Clinics there are around the country? Have you rung the National Association for Continence ( Have you been in touch with Pelvic Radiation Disease Association – set up specifically to help people like you, (

Now if the answer to all these questions is “yes” then let’s look at the the advice you find so unsatisfactory – the recommendation to “live with it.” Honestly, it’s not such bad advice, but it does require great courage and a huge psychological shift.

You have become – and quite understandably I may add – a victim in this scenario. You are being bullied by your bladder. And my advice for how to deal with bullies is the same, whether they’re thugs in the playground or bladders. Stand up to them.

If you monitor your weeing patterns, and perhaps ask your doctor for a pill that would make you wee less on certain occasions, you could probably manage an hour or two at least without this problem occurring. Give it a trial run. Next, before you go out anywhere, get a map with all the nearest lavatories, so that you are quite secure that if you do need to rush to one, at least you know where it is.

Finally give up trousers, take up skirts, and wear pads at all times. Healthy urine shouldn’t smell much, anyway, and if you go fully kitted out, you can change the pads every time you find a lavatory nearby. 

Be bold about your problem. If you’re visiting friends, tell them in advance that this is a horrible side-effect of your radiation treatment and you hope they’ll understand. If you find yourself unable to get to a loo in time, be open about it. Explain you’ve had an “accident”. People are more sympathetic than you’d think. 

But you must not be dominated by the problem, not just for your own sake but your children’s. You don’t want them growing up having never had a run-around childhood, never able to go on trips with you.

A bit of leaked wee is, to be quite honest, not the end of the world. It’s not as if you’re occasionally vomiting uncontrollably, or becoming hopelessly drunk, or suffering attacks of temper and lashing out. It’s just a little bit of water. Get help. And be brave.

Readers say...

Try some physio

Urinary urgency and incontinence can be caused by a number of factors. In this case it sounds like the scarring caused by the radiation. However bladder retraining, fluid advice and pelvic floor muscle exercises might help. Simple measures such as cutting out caffeine/fizzy drinks can reduce bladder over-activity. Women’s health physiotherapists use a frequency/volume chart to determine fluid input and output. This can be a very useful exercise to show bladder capacities and habits. The website can put you in touch with a women’s physiotherapist in your area.

Philippa Irvine, by email

Help is out there

Macmillan Cancer Support ( has a booklet called “Managing the Late Effects of Pelvic Radiotherapy in Women”, which gives advice and possible remedies for these problems. And there’s the Bladder and Bowel Foundation ( These organisations have a lot of experience in this field and can offer much more than the “just live with it” advice.

S Parnell, by email

Next week’s  dilemma

Dear Virginia,

I’m 23, and ever since I was young I have suspected I was adopted. I have a younger sister who not only looks nothing like me, but is completely different in personality. And I don’t seem to share any physical characteristics with my parents. I love them, but I’ve never felt I belonged in our family. And now I want my birth certificate for a passport, my mother became very odd and said she’d lost it. I asked my dad if I was adopted, when I was 18, but he just avoided the question. How can I find out?

Yours sincerely,


What would you advise Stacey to do?

Email your dilemmas and comments to Anyone whose advice is quoted or whose dilemma is published  will receive a £25 voucher from the wine website Fine Wine Sellers

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Solicitor - City

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A first rate opportunity to join a top ranking...

Day In a Page

Read Next

After Savile, we must devote our energies to stopping the child abuse taking place now

Mary Dejevsky
A ‘hugely irritated’ Sir Malcolm Rifkind on his way home from Parliament on Monday  

Before rushing to criticise Malcolm Rifkind, do you know how much being an MP can cost?

Isabel Hardman
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower