TO cheat death once is lucky. To cheat it twice is little less than a miracle. Yet one woman is living proof that miracles do happen.

Sheila Dolan knows she shouldn't be here after beating breast cancer and a blood cot on the brain but she's not about to apologise for her extraordinary good fortune.

Like so many who have dodged the reaper's scythe, she is just happy to be alive.

She doesn't mope about po-faced and whinge about her ordeal - she cracks jokes, frequently, and with all the pitch-perfect timing of a seasoned stand-up comedian.

Mrs Dolan, a 54-year-old solicitor at Parkinson Wright in Worcester, said: "I remember my brother Alan said to me, You're like a cat with nine lives but pack it in now, you're going to run out'.

"It was quite a journey, a frightening journey but I'm blessed with good family, friends and colleagues who supported me.

"A lot of people in the same situation may decide to lie down and die or cry or shout but what's that going to do for you? You might as well have a laugh and a joke and take it as best you can."

Mrs Dolan's latest brush with death happened when she fell during a walk at Portland Bill, near Weymouth, Dorset, and hit her head as she tried to catch a friend who had slipped over.

She was left with an egg-shaped bruise on her temple but thought little more of it until it began to develop into a huge bruise, covering the entire left-hand side of her face.

Mrs Dolan said it looked so bad her husband was afraid to be seen with her in case people thought he had beaten her up.

Mrs Dolan prides herself on her high pain threshold but the crushing vice-like pressure in her head remains the most intense agony she has ever felt.

The sensation reminded her of a mediaeval torture device she had once seen on holiday in Tuscany - it was like a having metal band around her head and some invisible inquisitor was tightening the screw.

Just when she thought the pain could not get any worse, it did, and all she could do was keep herself topped up with high-strength painkillers.

She went to her doctor three times following the fall at the end of April because of the splitting headaches.

Mrs Dolan knew something was wrong as she had never suffered headaches before and is not the sickly type, keeping physically fit with badminton and regular sessions at the gym.

However, doctors could not find out what was causing the headaches so she arranged for a private scan.

Before she had the scan she collapsed at her home in Abberley, near Worcester, on Tuesday, June 12, last year.

She was discovered by her husband of 14 years, Andrew, lying unconscious and was taken to A&E at Worcestershire Royal Hospital, Worcester where she was told she had a chronic subdural haematoma - the technical name for a blood clot on the brain.

Even before surgery Mrs Dolan was lucky to be alive because surgeons discovered two clots on the brain, an earlier one which she had not known about and another, triggered by the fall.

As her condition worsened she was taken to hospital in Coventry in the middle of the night for the emergency surgery that saved her life.

She still has two dents in her head where they drilled holes to drain away the blood.

They could not drain all the blood away immediately as this would increase the risk of her getting an infection and she was told she could not drive for six months because of the risk of fits or seizures.

Surgeons said there was a risk she could have been brain-damaged and suffer epilepsy for the rest of her life but, mercifully, none of these symptoms have developed.

Mrs Dolan said: "When I woke up in the hospital I did not know where I was. I had an oxygen mask on and there were all these tubes sticking in me. I said to my husband, Stop messing about, I want to go home now'. I thought the surgeon was in on the joke too. It must have been because I was still high on all the morphine they had been giving me.

"It must have been horrendous for my husband. He was just told I was having emergency brain surgery and that's scary but he has been an absolute rock to me. He has been marvellous. Every woman should have a husband like Andrew."

She does not remember the days before her operation and believes she may have blacked out the memory because of the pain.

Mrs Dolan, who has only recently become a grandmother, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1997 and had the lump removed at Worcester's South Bank Hospital in Bath Road before she had six months of chemotherapy and five weeks of radiotherapy until she was given the all-clear.

She said a belief in the life of the spirit after death had helped to keep her going during both her battles when others might have given up.

"You have to embrace life and all these type of things are character building. Somebody up there must be looking after me" she said.

"It must be pretty good up there - nobody ever comes back."