Women share cancer stories as they launch vital fundraising drive for Cork Cancer Care Centre

This May, Cork Cancer Care Centre are calling on people to support an important fundraiser towards the vital services they provide, writes EMMA CONNOLLY
Women share cancer stories as they launch vital fundraising drive for Cork Cancer Care Centre

Mandy Gabriel and Liz Muldoon, launching the Walk With Warriors fundraiser in aid of Cork Cancer Care Centre.

CORK Cancer Care Centre never once closed its doors since the outbreak of the pandemic, because it simply wasn’t an option.

That’s according to Linda Goggin-James, who runs the charity, which is located behind the Paul Street car park.

“We obviously had to work within the guidelines, but with many of our clients contacting us saying that they were experiencing a very significant increase in anxiety and distress, our services were more vital than ever,” said Linda.

The charity, entirely self-funded, was set up by Anne Downey Spillane nine years ago. Sadly Anne has since lost her fight with cervical cancer but her legacy lives on in the centre, which offers a range of completely free services such as holistic treatments and counselling.

The Counselling Room at Cork Cancer Care Centre.
The Counselling Room at Cork Cancer Care Centre.

They are available to people undergoing treatment, or at any stage of their cancer journey, as well as their families and friends.

“We started offering counselling sessions via Zoom, but it just doesn’t work for everyone, especially young mums with small kids. They can’t relax, also, for others, there’s that fear of being overheard, so we had no option but to keep our doors open,” said Linda.

The centre supports around 30 people a day usually, but Linda remembers last New Year’s Day, when the most recent Level 5 restrictions were coming into play, as being exceptionally busy.

“I got five phone calls that day from women who were crying, sometimes hysterical, saying they couldn’t cope with the isolation.

“When you’re not feeling well, everything just impacts you twice as hard. Cancer is a very lonely illness,” she said.

One of the treatment rooms at Cork Cancer Care Centre.
One of the treatment rooms at Cork Cancer Care Centre.

Directly, through the centre, they have helped more than 10,000 people who are on, or have been on a journey with cancer.

Indirectly, through their Blankets of Hope initiative, they have handed out more than 25,000 blankets to men, women and children in oncology units, radiotherapy units, haematology wards, ambulances and by post. That’s been entirely by post during Covid, which added to their expenses.

All their bills, like with many operations, have been higher during Covid, and with most fundraisers derailed, they’ve announced their second virtual fundraiser ‘Walk With Warriors’ for the month of May.

Last year, they raised an incredible €17,000 and they are hoping this year will be as successful.

“Each day for the month of May we’re asking people to walk or exercise for 30 minutes, to make it a fun time with your family, dress up and honour the warrior in your life, and at the same time raise vital funds for the Cork Cancer Care Centre, so that we may continue to support our cancer warriors, both now and into the future,” said Linda.

See social media and corkcancercarecentre.ie

HERE, TWO WOMEN SHARE THEIR INVALUABLE EXPERIENCES OF THE CENTRE

Mandy Gabriel.
Mandy Gabriel.

Walk With Warriors Ambassador: Mandy Gabriel

IN the space of 10 days, Mandy Gabriel went from being diagnosed with breast cancer to having a mastectomy.

“One day my life was totally fine, and the next day it wasn’t, and the strange thing was that I still felt completely the same way,” she remembers.

It was back in March, 2018, that Mandy noticed a change in size in one of her breasts.

At the time, her second child, Eddie, was only eight months old, and she figured it may have been linked to his recent birth, but nonetheless she made an appointment with her GP, who referred her for a mammogram to CUH, which came back all clear.

That December, Mandy, who works in the hotel industry, was at her Christmas party, and remembers wearing a v-neck dress, and saying to a colleague that she just didn’t feel comfortable in it, something didn’t seem right.

“I just had a gut feeling, even though I said to my GP when I went back that I must have sounded like a hypochondriac,” said Mandy, from Mallow.

But, when referred for a second mammogram, a tumour measuring 7.5cm was detected.

“When I was getting my diagnosis, I really did think there had been a mix up and they were talking about someone else. I felt 100% well, no fatigue, and there’s no family history of cancer.”

That was on December 1, and on December 18 she underwent surgery.

“I know some people may feel sad about losing part of their body, but I just felt relieved. All I was thinking about were my two babies.”

At that time Eddie was just over a year old and her daughter Izzy was three.

Five months of chemo started in February, followed by radiotherapy in late summer.

“I was told at the start that I’d be handing over a year of my life to this, and that’s what it was,” she said.

At the end of the treatment plan, she says, it was a case of ‘being released back into your old life’ but without any great certainties.

“Before I had cancer I always thought the medical world had solutions for everything but cancer is still such an unknown. They never know if they have got it all,” she said.

She described having cancer as a ‘full time job,’ as you’re either busy with medical appointments, or being ill.

“When the dust settles, when you’re supposed to celebrate, that’s when it gets tough, and that’s the important time to contact the Cork Cancer Care Centre,” she said.

Mandy heard about the centre from her husband Ronan, who heard about it from someone else, and a ‘fellow warrior’ accompanied her on her first visit.

“The thought of knocking on the door initially was daunting, but after the first contact you don’t need anyone holding your hand,” she said.

She has availed of its counselling services and also, pre-Covid, the holistic treatments on offer completely free of charge.

“What is so great about the centre is that you can leave cancer behind you, and have opinions on other things. Also, you don’t always hear about cancer success stories, and I feel that you can’t be what you can’t see, and here you see people who have gone back to work, who have gone on to have great lives. It’s very inspiring and you think if they can do it, so can I.”

Even though Mandy, now aged 42, has made a full recovery, she feels she’ll be connected to the centre for the rest of her life, where she has also made friends for life.

“I used to think about cancer every minute of the day, then it was every hour, and now it’s just at some one point in the day, and that’s due to both the passing of time and the support I get at the centre,” she said.

She now wants to pay it forward and hold a hand out to help anyone in her situation. She’s an ambassador for the virtual fundraiser ‘Walk With Warriors’ and is urging people to support it.

“I never thought I’d need the centre. No one does,” adds Mandy.

 Liz Muldoon with her husband Keith and two girls Cara and Grace.
 Liz Muldoon with her husband Keith and two girls Cara and Grace.

Walk With Warriors Ambassador: Liz Muldoon

LIZ Muldoon describes her five and a half months of treatment for breast cancer as hell. But it was a hell that worked, and she came out the other side cancer free.

That’s why she found it hard to reconcile her positive outcome with feeling so broken afterwards, and that’s where Cork Cancer Care Centre stepped in.

Rewinding to April, 2019, Liz noticed a lump on her breast when changing for bed one night, and again the following morning.

There’s a history of breast cancer in her family, and she always insisted that if she ever found a lump she’d get it checked.

After a visit to her GP, she underwent a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy in the Bon Secours hospital four days later.

“I was told there was a 50/50 chance it could be cancer, and a fortnight later I was given the diagnosis,” she said.

“My whole world fell apart,” she admits.

“It was an out of body experience, like watching something happening on TV. My husband Keith was beside me and all I could think about initially were our two kids, Cara, who was five at the time and Grace, just two.”

Hers was Triple Negative Breast Cancer, an aggressive and difficult type to treat, so she underwent chemo, radiotherapy and surgery.

“By the end of chemo, the lump had virtually disappeared, it was amazing. Radiotherapy was just mopping up stray cancer cells and afterwards I was told there was no trace of cancer cells in my body.”

But the gruelling five-and-a-half months of treatment, that included hair loss and four stone weight gain, all the time while still being mom to her young girls, had taken its toll.

Liz had struck up a conversation with another woman, now a firm friend, one day on the chemo ward, who told her about the Cork Cancer Care Centre.

“My first time going was in November, 2019, after my treatment, and walking through the door was like getting a warm hug,” she remembers.

“It was so comforting, like being in a friend’s house.”

Liz, who is originally from Roscommon, and lives in Frankfield, availed of the centre’s free counselling services, as she said “my head just wasn’t there”.

“Once you finish treatment, it’s almost a case of, back to work and back to normal, but I didn’t know where to even start. Everyone in the centre just got it. I felt like I didn’t have to pretend, I could let my mask slip. I found I could be more open in the counselling sessions as there wasn’t any emotional connection there, or a risk of burdening or upsetting someone. It was invaluable.

“Also, after my treatment ended I was terrified of it recurring or spreading. It was my first waking thought in the morning and on my mind until I closed my eyes at night. I never said it but Keith knew how scared I was. I was carrying that around the whole time, and the biggest breakthrough moment for me was to admit that.

“That fear is still there, still part of my life, but it no longer has any power over me.”

Liz works with the HSE, who she said were incredibly supportive, and she said, as well as everything else, having cancer is expensive what with not being able to work, and treatments, etc.

“But everything in the centre is free. You don’t spend a penny and and you come out feeling a million dollars.”

She’s an ambassador for the ‘Walk With Warriors’ fundraiser and said: “It’s heartbreaking to think they don’t get any national funding. It’s time to give back, and I’d urge people to support it however they can.”

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