THIS Sunday, the community of Allihies in West Cork will welcome people from near and far to join them for the fourth annual Ger Kelly Memorial Walk, in aid of the Mercy Cancer CARE Centre.
“Ger was a real Allihies man,” says Catherine Kelly of her late husband Ger, who sadly lost his battle with cancer in the Mercy Hospital on September 6, 2015.
“We used to go to back to Allihies very often and we have a place there.
The memorial walk on August 11, which takes place around the beautiful Allihies loop, is in his memory.
Following his passing, Catherine, her daughter Aideen and son Pete, along with family and friends, got together to organise a walk to celebrate Ger’s life, while raising much needed funds for charity.
“We wanted to do something special to remember Ger and to celebrate his life,” says Catherine.
“From day one of Ger’s cancer diagnosis, the doctors and nurses and staff at the Mercy Hospital were fantastic and this meant so much to Ger and to our family.
“When Ger passed away, we wanted to give back to the Mercy for their excellent care and we decided to create the Ger Kelly Memorial Walk.”
Ger’s beloved Allihies was a place of rugged beauty where the couple often walked together.
“He walked the route of the memorial walk many a year,” says Catherine.
The couple had many happy years together.
“Losing Ger was never going to be easy, but the walk has been a great comfort and something we very much look forward to each year.”
Ger was well-known and well-loved in the beautiful south-westerly outpost at the tip of Beara.
“He was a very popular man,” says Catherine. “He worked in the UK in construction for a lot of years and came back and forth to Allihies in the summer for his holidays and for the Allihies Festival. That was one of his favourite events every year.
“Ger loved fishing too and he fished in Castletownbere and in Galway. He always loved Galway.
“The close-knit community of Allihies always welcomed Ger back with his brother and everyone loved it when the Kelly brothers were all ‘in town’.”
During one of those idyllic summers, love blossomed under the humpy backbone of the Slieve Miskish mountains.
“We got engaged in November, 1999, and we got married in Allihies on a beautiful bright day in November, 2000. The sun shone,” says Catherine.
The couple’s happiness was complete when Aideen was born in 2001 and Pete in March 2005.
“Ger was a great family man,” Catherine says. “He adored his children and he was very proud of his son and his daughter, especially when they played sports for their local Ballincollig teams.
“Ger would always be on the sidelines, watching them and cheering them on. He was a sports fanatic, always supporting his local home clubs back west, Garnish and Beara, also Cork teams.
“And if he didn’t get to the Cheltenham racing festival or to a GAA All-Ireland final, then he’d be glued to the TV in the sitting room for the whole time. He’d shut the door and that was his domain!”
Life was good for the Kellys. Then it changed, changed utterly.
“Ger was diagnosed on July 24, 2012,” says Catherine. “Our lives changed forever on that day.”
A fine big strong man, working in construction, Ger had developed a persistent cough.
“He got a cough in April and the doctor prescribed antibiotics and then steroids,” says Catherine.
“Ger, who always had a good appetite, began losing weight. I made an appointment for him at the hospital for a chest X-ray when he wasn’t getting better. It showed up fibrosis.”
Fibrosis is a build up of scar tissue in the lungs.
“A CT scan of the thorax showed up nodules on Ger’s lungs,” says Catherine.
She recognised the warning signs that her husband might be seriously ill.
“I knew this was it,” says Catherine. “Ger was getting worse and he looked worse. Even though he was in pain, he still went to work every day.”
After Ger had a bronchostomy, he was admitted to St Catherine’s ward in the Mercy Hospital. It wasn’t good news.
“Ger’s primary cancer was located in the bowel,” says Catherine. “His bloods were up in a heap and the cancer had spread to the bone. He was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer on July 24, 2012. Mr Criostoir O’Sulleabhain said he might have until Christmas. I said, no-one can tell me that.”
Ger was in the best of hands, under the care of Dr Derek Power in the Mercy Hospital, he began treatment, chemotherapy and radio-therapy in CUH in Septemberc 2012.
Ger had the best of attitudes dealing with his diagnosis.
“He was very positive,” says Catherine. “He remained in good form throughout the treatment. He always rallied and he was able to come home.”
But even this man with his positive disposition and his zest for life eventually got weak.
“He began to go downhill in April, 2015,” says Catherine. “Dr Power did his utmost to treat him, even putting him forward for trials. But Ger’s regular infections prevented that.”
He made the Ahillies Festival that year though.
“The horse-racing on August 15 was always one of Ger’s favourite outings,” says Catherine.
“That’s why we organise the memorial walk around that time.”
Catherine knew in her heart that year would be Ger’s final trip to his beloved Allihies. “I knew when we went down that year; it would be his last time,” she says. “He was very sick.”
Aware that so many families are affected by cancer, she never thought it would come knocking at her door.
“I see so many people struck down by cancer. Younger they are getting,” says Catherine, who works as a health care assistant in the Mercy Hospital.
“You never think it is going to come to your door.”
She is grateful that she had Ger for a precious three years after his cancer diagnosis.
“The treatment always kept him positive. He lived to see Pete getting his First Communion and Aideen getting her Confirmation.
“Ger was a very positive man. He said ‘I was struck with it. I’ll deal with it’.”
Ger’s loved ones found it hard to deal with his passing, but his memory is very much alive.
For the past three years, hundreds of people have gathered to walk the route where he loved to walk and where he felt the most alive.
“The donations are amazing,” Catherine says.
“Even in the heatwave last year, the whole community of Ahillies came out to support the walk in Ger’s memory. It makes you feel good.”
Ger spirit is always alive and well in Ahillies. His wish was to be laid to rest there.
“He was a good man,” says Catherine. “He’d do anything for anyone.”
Now, his family, friends and community, are doing their bit for the Mercy Cancer CARE Centre.
“The walk has grown legs!” says Catherine.
She is happy that the annual Ger Kelly Memorial Walk will help others who have to cope in the same situation they had.
“The care Ger got at the Mercy Hospital was second to none,” says Catherine.
All funds raised through the charity walk will go towards the Mercy Hospital Foundation and their Mercy Cancer Appeal, as well as St. Joseph’s Hospital in Castletownbere.
Funds raised for the Mercy Hospital Foundation will go towards the building of the Mercy CARE Centre. Having recently secured a location in closer proximity to the Mercy Hospital, the foundation is one step closer to building a specialised cancer CARE Centre to provide a quiet, safe place for patients and families to help them deal with their diagnosis or to receive ongoing support during their cancer journey, through one-to-one support, peer-group sessions and bereavement counselling in a non-clinical and relaxed environment.
Since the memorial walk began in 2016, a phenomenal €12,738 has been raised for the Mercy University Hospital Foundation. This has enabled the team at the Mercy to purchase furniture for a new Consultancy Room called the ‘Quiet Room’ in St Therese’s Ward.
Thanking the Kelly family for their support, Deirdre Finn, Campaigns & Community Manager at the University Hospital Foundation, said: “I would like to thank the Kelly family and everyone who has supported the Ger Kelly Memorial Walk to date, what they have created and achieved is fantastic.
“Receiving a cancer diagnosis can be a very traumatic experience and we want to do everything we can to provide the best possible support and facilities.”