WHEN Katie Ahern was told her friend had cancer in the middle of a crowded Patrick Street, she was stopped in her tracks.
“I tried not to cry,” says Katie, 34, from east Cork. “I thought; is she going to die?”
Katie tried to focus on something positive.
“I decided then and there that I would run the Cork City Marathon for Cork University Hospital cancer services and Arc House,” says Katie.
“My friend has a great attitude and, having been diagnosed with breast cancer and then with stage 4 liver cancer, she is learning to live with her condition and to manage it. She is still with us, living her life.”
Running is not Katie’s first love. But her beloved dad is her first love. And recently Brendan, 79, was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer.
“He went for routine tests, as men should at a certain age,” says Katie, who is a supervisor at Garryvoe Health Club.
“His GP ran some tests and then referred dad to the Mercy Hospital. We were told to come and meet the doctors, thinking the worst.”
Indeed, it could have been worse.
“Dad can be treated for oesophageal cancer in the Mercy,” says Katie. “He starts treatment in a matter of weeks.”
Brendan, like Katie’s friend, has a great attitude too.
“Dad is a loyal Cork GAA fan,” says Katie. “He went to the Cork-Tipperary match. He wasn’t going to miss it!”
And Katie isn’t going to miss an opportunity to raise vital funds for CUH cancer services and for Arc House, who support thousands of people going through their own personal cancer journeys.
“Anyone who knows me, knows that I hate running!” says Katie.
“Ask any of my football or camogie trainers over the years!”
Like all of us, Katie knows people who have survived cancer, and knows people who didn’t.
“I know people who have had cancer and survived, I know a number of people my own age in our parish, who had cancer and who survived,” she says.
“Often, you associate cancer and leukaemia with older people, but young people can get those diseases as well.”
Some are not so lucky.
“I also know people who have not survived,” adds Katie. “There is an element of luck involved.
“Since my friends, who are running the relay, and I, have started fund-raising, my dad has been diagnosed with stage 3 oesophageal cancer. This has made it more personal for me now.
“I’m more motivated than ever to complete the Cork City Marathon.”
So Katie is taking up the challenge, going the whole nine yards to fund-raise for vital cancer support services that will help people like her friend and like her dad.
42.195km, 26 miles, 385 yards... it’s a fair old distance to run for somebody who doesn’t like running?
“The only thing stopping most of us from doing things is what is between our ears!” she explains.
“Our bodies are capable of amazing things but our minds tells us they are not! It is a privilege to be able to get up every day and go for a walk or a run, that we all take for granted! There are plenty of people in the hospital who would love to be able to get up and go for a walk, but cannot.”
Katies’ can-do attitude has her training four to five times a week, running longer distances three times a week, in preparation for the Cork City Marathon.
“You need to be strong mentally to be a long-distance regular runner,” says Katie.
“You need to be strong-willed all the time to run in all weathers.
“I went online to source a training programme to suit me and my lifestyle,” says Katie, who is very knowledgeable about diet and fitness.
“My job is very vigorous and very physical, so I needed a training programme that fits into my schedule.
“I’m building up distances gradually, mixing up the terrain on the flat and on the hills, pacing myself and incorporating some sprinting. Rest is important too. I’m not setting out to win!”
Katie and her sister Marian, 31, are setting out to help the essential supports that people living with cancer can avail of in their time of need.
“I roped in the pals!” says Katie. “Marian, Roisin O’Farrell, Ann Hegarty, Jennifer Manning and Rebecca Irwin are running the relay, doing five legs to boost the fund-raising effort,” says Katie.
Marian’s son, Cillian, aged five, and her twins, Tom and Chloe, aged nine months will be cheering the ladies over the finish line.
Everyone is behind the girls’ efforts to fund-raise for CUH cancer services and Arc House.
“We held a coffee morning in the local pub, The Thatch,” says Katie. “The amount of cakes and sandwiches that were donated was amazing. People were ringing me for days beforehand asking where and when they could drop the baking and the sandwiches. The support we got was phenomenal.”
Katie says the aim of running a marathon doesn’t have to be just a pipe-dream.
“A marathon is do-able for everyone,” she says. “If you build up your fitness and your endurance slowly over time, you can run a marathon.
“I’m doing it because I can. So many others who are sitting in the CUH or lying in a ward in the Mercy can’t walk or run, even if they want to. I’m able to, so I will.”
Her dad, always championing his two daughters, will be there for them at the finish line, proud as punch.
“Dad is great,” says Katie. “He loves the grandchildren. When they come in the front door his face lights up.”
Katie’s mum, Marian, is with her girls all the way.
“She wishes us all the best of luck,” says Katie.
“Dad is saying ‘what are you doing that for!’”
With everyone rooting for them, the girls will jubilantly cross the finish line on Sunday, June 2 .
And with everyone in Ladysbridge and Ballymacoda parish rooting for Brendan, and having the wonderful support of CUH cancer services and Arc House, no doubt he’ll benefit from the positivity and can-do attitude too.
To donate to Katie’s fundraising efforts, see www.justgiving.com/teams/katieandcancer
Registration takes place for the Cork City Marathon, Half Marathon and Team Relay at the Cork City Hall, on Saturday, June 1. Race day takes place on June 2.