IRENE Bryan is just as determined and resilient as her late sister, Jane.
Even though she has a fractured foot, Irene fully intends to be involved in the Evening Echo Women’s Mini Marathon this Sunday. Although, this time, she will have to be content to be on the sidelines, cheering on the group of 27 family, friends and neighbours who are taking part in the event, for the Brain Tumour Support Group, Cork.
Irene, who lives in Tallow, said: “I’ve done the mini-marathon numerous times, mostly for Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind.
“Our sister, Jane passed away from an aggressive brain tumour in June last year. This year it’s for her and for the Brain Tumour Support Group Cork, which offered us massive help and support, even after Jane passed away. The group is there for us.”
Jane’s sisters were always there for her. The middle girl of a family of seven, Jane’s whole life was her three boys, Andrew, now aged 10, Cameron, aged six and Darragh, aged four.
“She lived for her three boys,” says Jane’s younger sister, Georgina, who lives in Conna. “They were her priority.”
When Jane, from Conna, who moved to Cashel, was diagnosed with a stage 2 brain tumour aged 35, she wanted more than anything to live for her boys.
When the tumour progressed to a more aggressive stage, called Glioblastoma, she never gave up hope.
It all began when Jane, who worked as a sales rep, started to experience unusual symptoms.
“She had a glass feeding bottle for Cameron,” says Georgina. “When she started dropping it, she wondered why. She got sensations of numbness and she suffered from episodes resembling seizures. It was frightening.”
The whole family were in a state of fright and fear when Jane discovered she had a brain tumour.
“The doctor rang her when Jane was in the car,” says Irene. “She heard the awful news by herself on the side of the road.”
Jane underwent surgery which successfully removed 90-95% of the tumour.
“The operation went well,” says Irene. “We were unaware that it might come back.”
Jane remained positive, the love of her boys and her close-knit family buoyed up her spirits.
“Jane was on medication and she continued to go for routine scans and check-ups,” says Irene.
“She gave up work and she moved home. She was very dependent on us.
“Georgina and I both helped out, looking after the boys. Fred, our brother at home on the farm, drove Andrew to his school in Cashel for 12 to 18 months.
“Cameron was happy to be with our mum. Darragh came along in July 2013. Our friends and neighbours were fantastic.”
A series of MRI’s in 2015 didn’t detect any abnormalities. The signs were good.
“Jane then began to get other symptoms,” says Irene. “She smelled smoke, a symptom which signalled a change in the tumour. She suffered a seizure that October, the effects of which were like Bell’s Palsy, where one side of her face was drooping.
“Jane attended Mr O’Sullivan at the Bon Secours Hospital in Cork and after experiencing more episodes her medication was changed. But the tumour was back.”
Jane underwent a biopsy, a Craniotomy.
“It was the week of Cameron’s’ fifth birthday,” recalls Irene. “And it was coming up to Christmas.”
The little boy’s birthday celebrations’ were marred by his mother’s devastating news.
“I was with her when we were told that the tumour was now grade 4,” says Irene.
“We were told that it was incurable and inoperable. With successful treatment, Jane could live for between 12-17 months.” That was back in 2015.
How did the sisters deal with this terrible news?
How did they take in the words that held the threat of a death sentence?
How did they deal with the fact that Jane’s three beloved boys would be left without their mother?
They had each other. And they had their family, who supported them through thick and thin.
“Jane was distraught,” says Irene. “She couldn’t believe it. Her first thoughts were of her three small boys.”
The sisters had to face telling everybody the bad news.
“They all balled their eyes out,” says Irene.
But nobody sat idly by. Neither did Jane.
“I am going to fight this,” she said. “I will still be around in five and 10 years’ time.
“Jane never believed that nothing could be done,” says Irene. “We looked for hope.
“As the days passed, we met people who knew people who had similar news. They had hopeful stories.”
However, she added: “The tumour was unpredictable. It resembled a bunch of grapes, sprawling out, affecting the left side of Jane’s brain.
“Her right side and her speech were affected. Sometimes, if she couldn’t think of the right word, she used another word. Luckily she was left-handed so she could write down the words. Jane never lost the ability to communicate with us.”
And her sisters never stopped caring for her.
“She became more dependent on us,” says Irene. “She could no longer drive. Her boys were her main concern.”
Everyone was concerned about Jane and they wanted to help her in any way they could.
“A neighbour, Anne Kennedy, told us about the Brain Tumour Support Group in Cork,” says Irene.
“We hoped that we’d meet someone who had a brain tumour who was cured. Georgina and I went along with Jane. The meeting is held in a small room, with both patients and their families present, and also with the families of those who have passed. The support we received there was brilliant as well as the information, like a person’s entitlements, and advice from the dietician.
“Jane could talk to other sufferers in private if she wanted. We got solace there and we still do.”
Jane continued to battle. She was determined to celebrate her 40th birthday with those who meant the most to her.
“She had deteriorated a bit by then,” says Irene.
“Marymount had stepped in and advised that Jane get her affairs in order.”
Jane got her wish and the family and her close friends had a memorable day in Ballyvolane House.
“It was a family affair. We were all there,” says Irene.
As Jane got weaker, her medication increased.
“The steroids were increased to take her through Christmas,” says Irene.
“It was a short-term solution to keep her as good as possible. She suffered a couple of knock-backs. Jane still had private consultations in Dublin.
“On January 5, the Beacon Hospital delivered the bad news that a new growth had been discovered. This was disheartening,” says Irene.
“Jane continued her treatment in Cork to keep thing stable. In April she planned a celebration for the boys and her close friends with a pig on a spit, a bouncing castle and an ice-cream van. It was for the boys.”
The tumour had other ideas.
“The unpredictability of the tumour was difficult,” says Georgina. “Two days before the party, the ambulance had to be called when she had an episode. She was taken to CUH, due for an MRI the next day; she wouldn’t stay there and the party went ahead.”
The MRI results were not good.
“The tumour was coming nearer to the surface of her brain,” says Georgina. “Mr O’Sullivan operated to relieve the pressure that the swelling was causing. Jane was in awful pain.”
That was the beginning of the end. Jane lost her battle for life on June 19, 2016, aged 40. Her sons, her sisters, her brothers, and her parents, will always have a void in their lives.
“Us girls all shared a bedroom growing up,” says Georgina. “Jane fought for her corner.”
She never stopped fighting an on-going battle to see her sons grow up.
“They were her priority,” says Georgina, remembering the special things that the sisters shared.
“Jane and I bought our first car together and we travelled to work together.”
Now Jane is nearby in their mother’s house.
“Her urn is at mum and dad’s” says Georgina. “Her funeral service was recorded for the boys. They will treasure that when they are older. They were involved in the arrangements when their mother died. Jane organised her own funeral. She wanted to die at home.”
The sadness of losing a sister lingers on.
“I get upset sometimes and I cry,” say Irene. “I think; all these people are still alive and Jane isn’t.”
But this weekend, they are putting their energies into something positive in memory of their beloved sister.
A group will take part in the Evening Echo Women’s Mini Marathon for their chosen charity on September 24..
“The Brain Tumour Support Group Cork, offered us and Jane vital help and support when we most needed it,” says Irene.
“The chairperson, Caroline Kane, a Waterford woman, is very dedicated. She commutes to Cork for the meetings. I am going to a meeting tonight,” says Irene.
“We’ve a great group going,” says Irene. “There is a bus organised.”
Irene isn’t accustomed to being on the side-lines. Her foot won’t be better in time to do the route.
“Never mind. I’m still all jazzed up for it,” says Irene. “I’m looking forward to the day out and having a few drinks afterwards.”
The sisters will be together with friends and family, just like always.
“Yes, we’ll all be together,” says Irene.
The Brain Tumour Support Group Cork meets at 7.30pm the first Wednesday of every month in the chemotherapy department at CUH. Phone: Caroline Kane, 087-1465742 info@braintumour Ireland.com