CORK nurse Michelle Hayes had a way with her that made everyone feel special. She beamed radiance and positivity.
“She took care of everybody else first, and herself last,” says her husband, Derry O’Donovan.
“Shelly had that rare ability to connect with people. She was as straight as an arrow.”
This woman, who was the life and soul of her family, passed away in February from malignant melanoma, aged 38, leaving an empty void in the lives of her husband, her dad, Steve, and all her family and friends, including her two older brothers, James and Peter, and two younger sisters, Aoife and Rachel.
“Shelly never wanted to reveal the extent of her cancer,” says Derry. “She was always thinking of others. She said; ‘I’m living with the cancer. Not dying of cancer’.”
Shelly and Derry had to think about the time they had left when she got the diagnosis.
“When we were told to make plans, we decided to get married quickly, on May 29 last year, in Fernhill House Hotel in Clonakilty,” says Derry, “It was a wonderful, special, emotionally charged unique day.
“It was a match made in heaven.
“Shelly had the first dance with her dad. She was a beautiful bride, despite the fact she had undergone recent radiotherapy treatment.”
Nine days before she passed, Shelly asked her beloved dad to organise a fund-raiser for Marymount, where she had received tender loving care and where she passed away.
‘Shelly’s Gala’ takes place in the Celtic Ross Hotel, Rosscarbery, on May 13.
Derry recalls: “She said, ‘Dad, get the boys together. You have to do a fund-raiser for Marymount’.”
Her dad, Steve, got on the job straight away.
“I got the lads together and we got going,” he says. “We’ve already planned an auction and car wash days. A coffee morning held at John and Sheila O’Regan’s raised €7,788.27 for Marymount.”
Steve adds: “The 24 hour service in Marymount is wonderful. The nurses there are unreal.”
People live meaningful lives in Marymount Hospice, even where life expectancy may be short. The heart, and soul of the place evolves from the people; the patients.
“From day one, the prognosis wasn’t great,” says Derry. “Shelly was under the care of oncologist, Dr Derek Power, who organised a care management plan for her.”
Dr Power is a member of the Irish Co-Operative Oncology Research Group, a National Body that brings International Clinical trials to Ireland.
“He met with us regularly,” says Derry. They were often tough meetings. He told us the time was very short. Shelly took everything in her stride. She never spoke about the seriousness of her condition. She kept it to herself. She was very private about it.”
When Dr Power suggested that Shelly be included in a clinical trial for a new immune therapy treatment, Keytruda, she agreed.
“Shelly was the first person in Ireland to undergo the clinical trial,” says Derry. “Dr Power told us there were no guarantees.”
She took on the challenge with her usual gusto.
“She addressed the workers who actually make the Keytruda from Merck, Sharp and Dohme, MSD,” says Derek. “The head physicist was in attendance as well as the MD of MSD Europe. Shelly showed physically living proof how the researchers made a life-changing difference, which was extremely powerful. Here were people looking at molecules all day.”
“The life-changing improvements and advancements gave us the gift of an extra three years that we so appreciated and we packed a lot into our lives.”
The couple were grateful for a reprieve from the cancer that intruded upon their happiness. They made the most of the three years.
What did Shelly, who had a lust for life, like to do?
“She loved travel,” says Derry. “We went to Italy, France and the USA.
“She was a GAA fan and supported Rosscarbery Rangers, travelling with her dad in a borrowed bus to all the matches. Shelly loved her glad-rags and Stella McCartney handbags. She loved bargaining and her drink of choice was champagne,” says Derry, smiling.
She lived life to the full.
“Most of all, she loved her family, her work, and looking after people.
“Shelly achieved her Nursing Degree from UCC and a place at the Royal College of Surgeons to study for a Masters last September. It was deferred until his year.”
The cancer, which had been delayed by the immune therapy treatment, resurfaced, ruining the lives of all in its wake.
“When Shelly began experiencing lower back pain in July, 2017, we were facing a situation of huge magnitude,” says Derry.
“Since being diagnosed in 2012, each year Shelley had one or more surgeries. Each time it came back, she said; just take it out. And she continued to get on with things, even when she developed thyroid cancer. Shelly liked being in control and she had amazing drive.”
Shelly’s Gala takes place in the Celtic Ross Hotel, Rosscarbery, on Sunday May 13, 2pm-8pm. All are welcome.