Relay beacon of hope for cancer sufferers

The Relay for Life offers light at the end of the tunnel for people diagnosed with cancer. CHRIS DUNNE talks to people involved
Relay beacon of hope for cancer sufferers

ON A MISSION: The Relay for life Midleton Committee, from left, Adam Sterhouse, Billy Foley, Rose Finn (Chairperson) Jenny Rutledge, Mariane Foley, Elaine Duggan, Sinéad O’Sullivan, Caroline Byrne, Jonathon Finn

WHEN she was seriously ill, Mariane Foley admits there were some dark days.

Now the cancer survivor is sending the message to people battling the disease that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Mariane will be among the millions of people worldwide taking part in Relay for Life on September 1/2.

The 24-hour event, which runs from 3am to 3pm, aims to bring whole communities together to celebrate the lives of cancer survivors, remember those lost to the disease, increase awareness of cancer, and raise money to fund vital research and services of the Irish Cancer Society, such as the night nurse service and the volunteer driver service.

In 2017, four million people took part in Relay for Life in more than 20 countries, and Mariane will be taking part in the Midleton Relay for Life.

“It is a celebration in memory of those who passed, and the determination and hope for a cure for cancer,” she explains.

When did her own cancer journey begin?

“My journey began at the end of 2012 when I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer,” she says.

“Like many other ovarian cancer patients, my symptoms were quite silent. I was putting my stomach weight gain down to my age.”

It was one of her symptoms — and the urging of her daughter Louise — that prompted Mariane to go and see her doctor.

“The symptom that saved my life and pushed me to see my GP was a sensation that I needed a bathroom nearby, should I need it.”

Mariane was oblivious to the fact there was anything sinister lurking in her body.

“Little did I realise the sensation was caused by an ovary tumour pressing on my bladder.”

Things then moved rapidly.

“To the credit of my GP, everything moved quickly after the initial visit,” says Mariane.

“Following a pelvic ultra-sound, I was referred to a gynecologic oncologist, Dr John Coulter, and within a week, I had an abdominal CT scan and surgery.”

It was a surreal time.

“It seemed like a whirlwind at that point,” says Mariane.

“But even the word cancer was the last thing on my mind.

“It took a few weeks for biopsy results to come back. A 15.5cm tumour was removed on the day of surgery.”

It wasn’t all plain sailing.

“Unfortunately, I was admitted back to hospital twice due to complications,” Mariane recalls.

But support was at hand.

“After a further trip to theatre, Eileen Kennedy came to see me. This was a very black time for me,” admits Maraine.

“During my diagnosis with the multi-disciplinary team, I was formerly introduced to Eileen, who is a gynae-oncology nurse.

MASKED HEROES! Relay for life committee members Jenny Rutledge and Elaine Duggan at the event last year — four million people take part worldwide, raising awareness and funds for cancer charities
MASKED HEROES! Relay for life committee members Jenny Rutledge and Elaine Duggan at the event last year — four million people take part worldwide, raising awareness and funds for cancer charities

“From this meeting, Eileen assured me that she would be there for me every step of the way and she was true to her word.

“Eileen was ever only a phone call away at all hours of the day. She provided me with a support network for chemotherapy and radiotherapy.”

This meant a lot to Mariane as she continued with her treatment plan.

“As any cancer patient knows, this is extremely daunting and the greatest fear is of the unknown.

“Eileen was also instrumental in providing me with information on what to expect at every stage including, for example, my hair loss.”

She was a godsend.

“What struck me throughout my journey was the number of cancer patients that I met and that Eileen was the sole gynae-oncology liaison nurse for the Cork area at that time,” says Mariane. “Through my volunteer work for the Irish Cancer Society, I now know that the gynae-oncology liaison nurses are funded through the Irish Cancer Society and Relay for Life.

“As a survivor, and knowing what nurses, such as Eileen, meant to me, I feel it is such a worthwhile cause.”

There were other people there for Mariane.

“On a personal note, my journey was driven by the support of my husband Billy, who is also a committee member, my daughter, Louise and my son-in-law, Steve.

“Without their love and support, I’m not sure that I would be here today.”

Where there is life,there is hope.

“I want to emphasise that there is hope and there is light at the end of the tunnel,” says Mariane of the Relay for Life event.

Last year, she was among the hundreds of cancer survivors who donned the purple t-shirt and, together with their families, raised in excess of €40,000 to help fund vital research and services, giving hope to those battling cancer.

Mariane adds: “There are no guarantees in life. For me, every day is a bonus. Relay for Life provides the opportunity to raise awareness and much needed funds. It enables us to remember and to gain strength in unity.”

Caroline Byrne, who is a fellow committee member, agrees. Her daughter, Kate, was the youngest ever participant in Relay for Life when she took part in the event at six years old. She had been diagnosed with juvenile melanoma when she was four.

“Kate really understood and she embraced Relay for Life,” says Caroline.

The Byrne family enjoyed the experience of camping out under the stars.

“We heard the zip opening in the tent and Kate was off out doing a lap in her onesie!” says Caroline.

Kate is full of the joys of life.

“She was wearing her purple jersey doing cart-wheels,” says Caroline, who together with her husband Vinnie, son Jack, and Kate, is looking forward to camping out under the stars again this year.

“The atmosphere is really special,” she says.

“When the Candle of Hope is lit, signifying a lost loved one, or in support of a loved one affected by cancer, it is very poignant. It gives people the opportunity for self-reflection.”

Everybody enjoys the special camaraderie uniting young and old, forging a bond together, determined to fight back the spectre of cancer.

“And we have a lot of fun too,” says Caroline. “That is very important!”


Relay for Life is a 24 hour event that brings the whole community together to celebrate the lives of cancer survivors, remembering those lost to the disease and fight back by increasing knowledge of cancer and raising money to fund vital research and services of the Irish Cancer Society, such as the night nurse service and the volunteer driver service.

Cancer survivors take on the first lap at 3am. Teams of family members and friends commit one member of the team walking round the track at all times, while a festival of fun and entertainment continues.

Relay for Life, Midleton is on September 1/2 at the CBS grounds.

To register a team see:

David O'Connor-volunteer driver with the Irish Cancer Society
David O'Connor-volunteer driver with the Irish Cancer Society


DAVID O’Connor likes driving, so when he retired, he decided to put it to good use.

“I have been a volunteer driver for the Irish Cancer Service for five years now,” says David, from Midleton.

“I like driving and I like meeting people, so it ticked all the boxes for me. Often, cancer patients going through treatment can’t drive a car, or maybe don’t have use of one. Going to and from the hospital for their chemotherapy or radiotherapy treatments can be stressful for them.

“Having a driver come and pick you up, wait for you and drop you home again, takes the pressure off regular hospital visits. It also gives the person a sense of independence and means less disruption for the family.

“Sometimes, the client could live a mile down a boreen, or have no access to public transport in the area where they live. I am scheduled on the volunteer driver rota to take people for their appointments once a fortnight.

“I arrive promptly and the client is in good time for their appointment. I am their driver for the day.”

David likes interacting with his passengers.

“I automatically say; how are you today?” he says. “I can quickly glean if they want to talk or not. Often after treatment, the patient is tried or lacks energy. Then I know it is better not to have a conversation with them.”

Does David come across the same clients often?

“Yes, I do. It is nice for the client to have familiarity with their driver. And it is great to see their progress as their treatment progresses. “Then, there are those I don’t see again. I never know if they survived or not.”

He did come across a former passenger once when he was off duty.

“I was walking one weekend with my wife on the Tork Mountain in Killarney,” says David. “On one spot, it is quite narrow and people coming down stand aside on the path to let others pass. One woman stood aside for us and she struck a chord with me.

“Later that night, when we got home, I remembered that the woman was a passenger of mine who had breast cancer. I used to drive her to her hospital appointments. She was my first spin. Now, she had come full circle. She was on another journey.”

3,500 patients in Ireland have availed of the volunteer driver service since it began in 2008.

21 hospitals in Ireland currently participate in the programme.

There are 1,200 volunteer drivers country-wide.

Info call:01-2310520

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