Cancer support house in Cork provides a safe haven

As thousands of people seek solace at Cork ARC Cancer Support House, CHRIS DUNNE visits the centre to find out more
Cancer support house in Cork provides a safe haven
Ellen Joyce, Director of Services at Cork ARC Cancer Support House. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

THREE words, ‘you have cancer,’ catapult people into a world of uncertainty, worry, and sadness.

“Cancer is in the experience of everybody’s life,” says Ellen Joyce, who is the director of Cork ARC, Caner Support House, that supports and informs people with cancer and those who care for them.

“Our aim is to provide therapies that complement the medical model, so as to make a difference to the lives of those affected by cancer,” says Ellen.

Her 20 years of working in oncology nursing and management gives her the understanding of the need for the services that ARC House provides.

“We receive 100 new contacts per month and we had over 6,000 visits from people last year,” says Ellen.

“The newbies, including patients and relatives, number over 1,000 all over the county, between us, Knocknaheeny, and Bantry,” says Ellen.

“My experience in counselling over 15 years allows me support people in more depth with their feelings and experience of cancer.”

Cancer’s tentacles can grip everybody within its sights.

“Cancer just doesn’t affect the person who is offered steps to manage it; relatives, who feel helpless and hopeless, are often frozen and petrified,” says Ellen.

“Cancer is never in isolation. People go through difficult times in life anyway; the early years of adulthood, starting out in married life, having a baby; these are vulnerable times.

“Maybe it’s as I get older, I see more people being diagnosed with cancer younger. They are more inclined to access us.

“Then there are people who are thinking of retiring after half a lifetime working… next thing; cancer is coming at them. There are multiple losses. No job income, uncertainty of the future. All these things cause trauma. Not everybody can manage the trauma of cancer. They make it their life, not just part of their life.”

The call to Cork ARC Cancer Support House might be the most difficult call you’ll make, but it is the most important one, to someone who understands.

“ARC House provides a safe space,” explains Ellen. “It is a space where people tell their story to someone who will listen to it in confidence. Our trained volunteers, who numbered 12 at the start and now number 70, see what needs to be seen.

“They see cancer coming to the door of wonderful families who go into shock and disbelief. 75% of people diagnosed with cancer struggle with anxiety.”

Cork ARC Cancer Support House, O'Donovan's Road, Cork. Picture: Jim Coughlan.
Cork ARC Cancer Support House, O'Donovan's Road, Cork. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

Cancer need not be a death knell.

“Now, there have never been better treatments since I started out in nursing,” says Ellen.

“For people who are diagnosed with reoccurrence, it is not the end. These are the most isolated. We identify that and we offer one-to-one support to deal with the sense of isolation.”

The ambience and caring atmosphere in ARC House ensures that nobody who knocks on the door ever feels isolated.

“We found people who joined the groups for mindfulness loved it,” says Ellen. “The Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Programme, (MBSR), reduces stress and uncertainty. It helped lessen the worry of what tomorrow might bring.

“When someone dies, it is difficult to manage the lost connection. The programme offers the skills to cope with that. It is an intense 10 week programme that involves commitment.”

There is a good take up on the exercise, pilates, and dietary advice programmes.

“In the past 13 years, it has been shown that exercise and a good diet helps to prevent cancer,” says Ellen. “Our diet and nutrition information workshops take place three times a year.

“Our registered dietician is entertaining and people ‘get it’. The research and education carried out is reassuring.

“Education is important. Emotional and psychological education is important too. Often Cancer is glamorised or ‘awful’-ised. People need to get the balance of it. People do manage it.”

Sometimes, all someone needs is a willing ear to listen to them.

“All you need is someone to hear you,” says Ellen. “‘My hair has grown back’, we hear that all the time. The psychological impact of cancer is only hitting them then.”

Nuggets and tips are shared in the house.

“The various groups, like the prostate cancer group, are very supportive and respectful of each other,” says Ellen. “They operate like a team line up, shoulder to shoulder. You see the kindness in them. They say it as it is.”

The volunteers say kind and consoling things at the door.

“The volunteers manage a lot of loss too,” says Ellen. “They deal with crisis at the door every day.”

The volunteers who give of their time and services are very special people.

“Our volunteer listeners and therapists receive extensive induction and training to the centre and all our counsellors and therapists have achieved professional accreditation in their discipline,” says Ellen.

“We believe that being listened to in confidence and accepted without prejudice can help to alleviate the difficulties experienced on the cancer journey. The volunteers’ kindness and goodwill ensure continuous delivery of services free of charge.

“The kindness of the volunteers is the one thing people always mention when they visit here. For some people, they feel it is the right time to volunteer. We have a selection process. We see how the person is with the absolute sacredness of the safe place. There is no middle ground.”

Cancer visits the old and the young.

“A young person with cancer is not the norm,” says Ellen. “It causes huge upset in the family, the workplace, and among friends. There is no making sense of it.”

It comes with a lot of worry attached.

“The economic climate is not easy,” says Ellen. “During the downturn, people were out of work. They had to take sick leave perhaps and didn’t know their entitlements.

“Our social welfare volunteer is on hand to offer advice about what they need to do. And that is big for someone struggling.”

Big gestures are involved.

“The St Vincent de Paul are very, very, good,” says Ellen. “They work with us. If someone is not comfortable engaging with SVP locally, we do it here if they need it.”

The pillars of strength are in place.

“Listening, counselling and stress management is one pillar,” says Ellen.

“Information, education and understanding, and groups, (prostate cancer), is the second pillar.

“The third is; social information, exercise, well-being and relaxation. We build the programme around those.”

The hard-working board of trustees provide a solid foundation for ARC House.

“They work tirelessly behind the scenes,” says Ellen. “Their time and commitment is testimony to their belief in providing the best possible care and the best possible support services to cancer patients and their families.”

The gardener who keeps the garden in tip-top shape is hard-working too.

“Yes, indeed,” says Ellen, joining me to admire the luxuriant shrubbery nodding in the windows of the calm oasis that is ARC House.

“We have volunteer gardeners and we also employ a gardener. They all do a great job.”

The good vibes travel across the entire county, from west to east.

“The spirit of generosity is alive and well,” says Ellen. “We saw that wonderful quality in the community in West Cork when ARC House was opened in Bantry almost three years ago. The basic human kindness is always there.

“The community spirit is thriving. The support from the people of Youghal and the enthusiasm of all the people involved in getting ARC House up and running there is magnificent. You can feel the energy of that.

“Things are revving up and gathering momentum. People can push the boundaries out. It is going to happen.

“The donations from coffee mornings and the offers of items like blinds and curtains, are just wonderful.”

ARC House comes to life early in the morning. The drop-in centre is the focus of the house.

Fiona Moriarty, Cork ARC Cancer Support House Breast Cancer Nurse Counsellor.Picture: Jim Coughlan.
Fiona Moriarty, Cork ARC Cancer Support House Breast Cancer Nurse Counsellor.Picture: Jim Coughlan.

Fiona Moriarty, breast cancer nurse counsellor, is getting ready to welcome her guests.

“The group share information and the feeling of connectivity is real in the room,” says Fiona.

“People who have finished breast cancer treatment wonder; what’s next? We put things into perspective and there is much relief with reassurance. I see my role as a co-pilot,” says Fiona.

“Helping people navigate through the various storms of challenges that can accompany a breast cancer diagnosis. Support is available at any stage of the cancer journey.”

Claire Daly, Voulnteer Touch Therapy at Cork ARC Cancer Support House. Picture: Jim Coughlan.
Claire Daly, Voulnteer Touch Therapy at Cork ARC Cancer Support House. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

Claire Daly, masseuse, is in residence too.

“I can really see the benefit of touch,” says Claire. “Not just with cancer patients, but with their relatives too. They feel their life enhanced.

“Gentle, soothing touch makes people take ownership of their body. In this space, in this atmosphere, touch in emotional pain starts the process of healing.”

No two visitors to ARC House are the same.

“Just like no two people are the same, everyone requires different types of support designed specifically for them,” says Ellen.

“People who come here are so honest and open in their struggle finding out how to cope and gain strength and meaning.

“The connection they allow me to make with them is what inspires me in the most difficult of times.”

ARC holds the sick and the healthy, the vulnerable and the strong. It is a good place to visit if you just want a cup of tea and a chat. Never be afraid to make the call. You will be welcomed with open arms.

The Cork ARC Cancer Support House Summer Lunch takes place at Hayfield Manor tomorrow, (May 19) and is one of the fundraising highlights of the year, sponsored by Dunnes Stores.



THE core of Cork ARC’s support is provided through drop-in and telephone services where people can call without an appointment and chat with a trained volunteer in a warm, welcoming environment.

ARC House is open to people with cancer and those who care for them at their centres in Cork city, Bantry, West Cork, and in Cork city’s northside.

Due to the demand in the community, the West Cork Centre is thriving and ARC House, Youghal, servicing East Cork and West Waterford, is due to open in late May.

Visitors will be able to simply drop in to the service on Wednesdays between 10am and 4pm to meet with the support team. Whether patients or family members, everyone is welcome to use the facility to find the support they need during their cancer journey. Counselling and massage is also available there.

Complementary therapies and one-to- one counselling are available in the drop–in centres too.

Closed group courses include mindfulness, stress management and relaxation, also run.

For people living with an advanced or secondary cancer, Cork ARC have developed a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction,(MBSR), programme, where participants learn a range of mindfulness tools that can be used in daily life to reduce stress and enhance well-being.

Bereavement Support Evenings are also organised and are information workshops open to those who feel they would like to learn and understand more about the grieving process. The evenings include a mix of information and discussion that may support people in their loss.

Weekly drop in classes include: yoga, pilates, relaxation and visualisation, stress management, mindfulness and relaxation courses.

Their series of information workshops includes: Cancer and fatigue, Cancer and nutrition, Positive appearance and Citizens Advice Service.


 ARC stands for Aftercare, Research and Counselling. The centre is open to adults diagnosed with cancer, as wall as parents who have children with cancer and adult family members and friends.

Cork ARC Cancer Support House is located at 5, O’Donovan Rossa Rd. Cork and is open Monday-Thursday 9.30am to 4.30pm and Friday: 9.30am to 3.00pm.

All services are free of charge and are available by appointment. They include:

Counselling, Dedicated Breast Care Service, Therapeutic Massage & Reflexology, Yoga, Meditation, Tai Chi.

They also provide information on General Welfare/ Benefit Entitlements, run Support Groups and Information Workshops. Individual Support is available for one-to–one appointment.

Support Groups are facilitated in a safe space where people who are finished their cancer treatment can share experiences and learn tools to help them move on with their lives.

Phone: 021-4276688 or ARC House, Knocknaheeny, Harbour View, is open Thursdays 10am to 12.30pm. Phone: 021-430 0135 ARC House Bantry, The Bungalow, Gories, is open Tuesday 10am to 4pm and Thursday 10am-4pm. Phone: 027-53891 or

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