IN Ireland, an average of 43,000 new cases of cancer are diagnosed each year, catapulting people into a world of uncertainty, worry and sadness.
The three words, ‘you have cancer’ devastates individuals and families every day.
“Cancer is the experience of everybody’s life,” says Ellen Joyce, who is director of Cork ARC Support House that supports and informs people with cancer and those that care for them.
“Our aim is to provide therapies that complement the medical model, so that we make a difference to the lives of those affected by cancer,” says Ellen.
ARC House relies on the generosity of public donations and sponsors to maintain and continue its valuable services for those who need them most.
UCC student, and Kinsale native, Eimear Kiely, aged 19, who lost her beloved Dad, DJ, to oesophageal cancer in November, 2018, is raising funds and turning Cork purple for Arc House.
“I didn’t know how to move forward without my Dad,” says Eimear.
“Cork ARC Support House gave us a new lease of life, providing warmth and comfort and an extended family.
“They really need all the help they can get,” adds Eimear, who availed of the services of Cork ARC Support House after her dad’s passing.
“I wanted to give something back. I don’t think ARC House gets the recognition it deserves,” says Eimear.
“It is a cause very close to my heart. I’m in awe of the work that they do.”
How did the Kielys hear about Cork ARC Cancer Support House?
“A good friend of my mother’s suggested that we visit ARC House on the Sarsfield Road,” says Eimear, who has an older sister, Jennifer, aged 24, and two younger brothers, Luke, aged 15 and Alex, aged 12.
“We were grasping for anything, still in shock since Dad’s cancer diagnosis in April, 2018. When we heard about it, we just went for it.”
When Joan and her daughter rang the door bell of Cork ARC Support House, they were welcomed into the inner sanctum.
“I first started there with bereavement support counselling,” says Eimear.
“I was really unsure because I had never been to bereavement support counselling before, so I didn’t really know what to expect. It was so unlike anything you’d hear about counselling. It wasn’t clinical or anything. You just walk in the door and it is so warm and homely. People were just so sweet and so friendly.
“The personal touch at ARC House is so lovely. You are invited in and offered a cup of tea. The decor is so homely, calm and inviting.”
A listening ear and sound advice when you don’t know where to turn, are always welcome.
“You know they are there to help,” says Eimear. “The staff and volunteers treat everyone as individuals; they tailor the support services to your own needs.
“I found the one-to-one bereavement counselling and therapeutic massage hugely beneficial.”
Eimear and her family found a safe haven close to home.
“ARC was amazing and so comforting. I want to create awareness about ARC House and get the word out there.”
The Kielys knew when the time was right.
“It was the best call we ever made,” says Joan. “We were ready for it.”
She, like her husband, had to stay strong at a dark time.
“The boys, Luke and Alex, were so young to lose their dad,” says Joan. “It was important to me to get help and support indirectly for them after D.J passed.
“We didn’t know about the services of Cork ARC Cancer Support House when DJ was ill. Afterwards, I availed of bereavement support. They gave me the tools to help me stay strong for the boys and the two girls.
“We are very open; we speak about everything together as a family. It has always been that way.
“DJ’s diagnosis had a huge impact on the whole family,” says Joan.
“We were in a constant state of shock. On the first anniversary of DJ’s death, we were still in shock, not able to process and digest it.
“The six of us were always so close. We now go day by day. Today could be OK. Tomorrow; it could be awful.”
DJ’s untimely passing is still very raw.
“We still ask ourselves, where is he? What has happened?”
Cancer can cast a dark shadow over happy families. It instils uncertainty, fear and utter devastation.
“Because of ARC, we were given hope in a time of darkness,” says Joan.
“You know they are there and that you are not alone. ARC has been a light in a dark time. They have been wonderful to us.”
A cancer diagnosis causes huge upheaval in families. The shock, devastation and pain it causes is beyond words.
“DJ fought the cancer every day and he had a positive attitude,” says Joan.
The 52-year-old father of four finally succumbed to the disease seven months after his diagnosis.
“DJ spent a lot of his illness in hospital. As a result we spent long hours in the hospital with him,” says Joan.
“You just have to keep going, while still trying to maintain a routine for the family, keeping things as normal as possible.
“It is a huge job to keep everything normal, school, homework, meals, activities. It is so important for the children to have even a small bit of routine.”
Eimear was studying for her Leaving Cert when her dad was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer. She worked so hard and made everyone proud when she achieved her goal of getting a place on her chosen course in UCC.
She, too, has the strong family genes.
“I was focused,” she says. “This was the rest of my life. Dad wouldn’t want me to defer my Leaving Cert. I decided to go with it.
“Often, I was studying in the hospital. Dad was really good at Maths and Business. He used to quiz me!”
Eimear is studying Irish and Law in UCC. And she is helping to raise vital funds for a very special house close to heart.
Last month, she launched #GoPurple4Arc social media campaign and GoFundMe page to raise much-needed money for Cork ARC Cancer Support House.
The campaign, based loosely on the ice bucket challenge, asks people to post a purple-themed picture on their social media feeds and then nominate friends to do the same.
On March 19, the campaign was extended to businesses, schools and teams in a bid to ‘turn Cork purple’ for a day.
The response has been overwhelming.
“There’s been such a great response; it’s crazy!” says Eimear.
“I only expected to raise about €500 because I’ve never done anything like this before. We’re nearly at the €5,000 mark.”
Jennifer’s assets were invaluable.
“She was a great help during the fundraising campaign for ARC House,” says Eimear.
“Jen has a masters in Management and Marketing.”
Similarly, ARC House was a massive help throughout my whole campaign process,” says Eimear.
“From the start of my campaign, Joanne and myself were in daily contact. Our endless email conversations have without doubt contributed massively to the success of the whole thing. I cannot thank her enough.”
Joan says the tools ARC House provided for the family are extremely valuable.
“They can be applied to any situation,” she says.
“They help you cope with the horrendous, overwhelming days.”
Other sources are there to support the family too.
“Our friends and close family are great,” says Joan. “Like all families, we have our really close friends to call upon. The children’s friends have been amazing.
“The schools, Scoil Naomh Fionáin, Rochestown College and Bruce College, were hugely understanding and accommodating. UCC is brilliant. They offered huge support to the children during DJ’s illness and afterwards.
“The Irish Cancer Society Night Nurses were also fantastic during the late stages of DJ’s illness. They supplied us with medical help and reassurance in the middle of the night. The same support was offered during the day by the Marymount Homecare Day Team.”
“It was an extra pair of hands when we needed them most,” says Eimear.
“ARC House continues to support us. They help the girls directly and they help me guide and support the boys,” says Joan.
“We are still searching for a new normal.”
Life is so different without DJ.
“The five of us have our Friday nights with a takeaway watching Netflix together. We still go on our little trips to Mahon Point for a coffee.
The simple things in life become more important, even like sharing meal times together.”
The sixth chair at the table remains empty, but DJ’s presence is always there.
“We are an incredibly close-knit family,” says Joan. “It’s this closeness between us that really helped us.”
And Cork ARC Support House continues to help patients with cancer and their families with wonderful fundraising efforts like Eimear’s.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
To get involved or make a donation, visit GoFundMe.com and search GoPurple4Arc.
Closing in late April, the funds raised go directly to Cork ARC Support House.
All services in Cork ARC centres, Cork city, Bantry, and in Cork’s North side, are free.
Complementary therapies and one-to-one counselling are available at drop in centres. Weekly drop in classes include yoga, Pilates, Relaxation, stress management, T’ai chi, and mindfulness.