Diagnosed with terminal cancer - Cork youth work still has a lot of living to do

After spending years helping others as a youth worker, Barrie Deehan found he needed support himself when he was diagnosed with cancer. He tells CHRIS DUNNE about his positive mindset
Diagnosed with terminal cancer - Cork youth work still has a lot of living to do

POSITIVE: Barrie Deehan, of Castemartyr, keeps fit and likes being with nature

They say what goes around comes around, and the old adage is certainly true for Castlemartyr man Barrie Deehan, who has spent his life helping others as a youth worker.

When he was diagnosed with appendiceal cancer in May this year, Barrie, aged 37, found he had plenty of help and support at hand.

“There are some things in life that you can’t face alone,” says Barrie, the second oldest of five siblings. “I’ve been incredibly lucky to have a loving family and friends supporting me.”

Barrie, who has supported others throughout his life, was beyond grateful for the wonderful people who rallied around when he was at the lowest point in his young life. Receiving a shock cancer diagnosis when he felt fit and well floored him.

“Although I’m a positive and independent person, there are times that I’ve felt terrified,” admits Barrie. 

“There have been times when I’ve been terrified, when I was sad and when I was angry.”

He was told he was facing a terminal cancer diagnosis as the tumour attached to his appendix had ruptured. 

“That was pretty scary all right,” says Barrie, whose friends and family set up a GoFundMe page to raise funds for alternative cancer treatments for him.

Now he is intent on dealing with his condition, which is incurable but treatable.

“I am beyond grateful for all the support I’m getting,” says Barrie, who is currently living with his parents in Castlemartyr.

“The donations to the GoFund Me page are one thing, but the messages and emails from people to say they’re thinking of me and my family, and that they are 100% behind us, has just been amazing,” says Barrie.

The cancer treatment has been difficult.

“The first round of chemo hit me like a bus, but the response to the GoFundMe page and the way people have rallied around me has actually taken a weight off. It definitely helped.”

Barrie had an idyllic childhood.“Growing up in rural east Cork, me and my siblings were never in the house. We were out climbing trees, building forts, scaling walls.

“The whole family are really big sports fans, into GAA and soccer, but I was always a little different, I was more introverted as a child and I liked to spend my time doing arts and crafts surrounded by nature.”

Barrie had a caring nature.

“I realised many young people can feel isolated growing up in rural Cork and I volunteered with Castlemartyr Youth Club doing community work.”

He had found his niche.

“I had worked as a painter and decorator,” says Barrie. 

“But I found it wasn’t for me. I preferred working with people rather than working alone.

“I did Social Studies by night and I found working with youths very fulfilling and rewarding. Being involved in youth clubs in the community and youth projects was a great way to be a part of the community and get to know the community. Over the years, I got to know adults as well as my work evolved.”

Barrie is a home-bird.

“I’m a bit of a home-body!” he says. 

“Many of my peers left Cork, but I never did. My heart is in Cork, I like knowing what is happening, or not happening, on my own doorstep. The impact voluntary services have on communities is invaluable.”

Barrie’s work is invaluable.

“I worked with the Family Resource Centre, Cobh, and was involved in after-schools programmes for primary school students, helping co-ordinate activities and give assistance.

“Doing Level 5 Fetac in Community Care, I began working in advocacy programmes for youth. I worked with youth at grass roots level, going into their homes trying to help manage crises. I worked full-time is a residential home for young people where my approach was always holistic. Seeing young people grow and thrive with a little support is a privilege and it is amazing.”

That all helped him when Barrie’s own crisis hit. It didn’t hit out of the blue.

“In November, 2020, I was experiencing chronic pain in my stomach and went to my GP who suspected appendicitis. I was admitted to CUH to try and figure out what was wrong and for pain management.”

“It was frightening, I was not one to go the doctor, only for check-ups and for ailments. On this occasion, I knew there was something serious wrong.”

Follow-up appointments, a visit to the A&E with chronic pain, a week in hospital where a laparoscopy and a biopsy was carried out, determined that something serious was wrong.

“I got my diagnosis on May 14. I knew in my gut something was badly wrong. I was in very good health up to that.

“Like so many other people, I took up running during lockdown. I was never sporty, but I was healthy and fit, especially in January when I was in excellent health.

“Fitness was new to me. I thought, Ok, I’ll look after myself. I enjoy the outdoors. It gives me energy. So yes, I was feeling quite healthy prior to the cancer diagnosis. I was happy with myself.”

In Dublin in May he was told the tumour had ruptured and he was dealing with a terminal cancer diagnosis.

“It took me days to process it,” says Barrie. 

“I felt I should tell my family individually. I put on my professional hat and I’d walk and I’d cry. Ideally I wanted to tell them face-to-face but that wasn’t possible because of Covid. I had to tell my parents over the phone, there was no easy way to say it.”

Bad news is hard to bear.

“But at the same time it was important that it came from me, not from the doctors, not from the oncologists.”

He had a capable team around him.

“My family are all very positive,” says Barry. “When there is a problem, they see it as not being a problem. We think outside the box. “We said, Ok, We’ll manage the crisis and get through it together.”

“I think my youth work helped me cope,” adds Barrie.

“There are moments from an outside perspective where you might think: there’s nothing wrong with them! We laugh at the situation, which we need to do to fuel us. Sarcasm and inappropriate comments are all in jest and fun. We hope we can look back at this as a magical time and absorb everything on board.”

He is absorbing all the loving care and support he is getting.

“I’ve always been a great believer in holistic medicine and practices,” says Barrie, who with specialist advice has launched into using a combination of food supplements, CBD treatments, flaxseed oil, antioxidants and other things proven to work against cancer.

“Alternative practices help the immune system,” says Barrie, who also meditates. 

“Energy healing is a big interest of mine. The generous donations to the GoFundMePage will help me access alternative and complimentary medicines and therapies. The emotional support from services like ARC House is fantastic.”

Team Barrie is fantastic.

“Mum and dad are a great support,” says Barrie. 

“I consider myself so lucky. All my brothers and sisters are rowing in behind us. There is great energy within the family circle. My family have helped me all my life. I can’t thank them enough.”

Barry exudes a fair bit of energy himself. And the man who gave so much to his community is getting back the love and support he so deserves.

“I’m always aware that there a lot of younger people out there who didn’t have the opportunities or experiences we did. I feel very fortunate for having a loving and active childhood,” says Barrie. 

“It became my mission to reach out to young people and give them a way to connect, whether that’s through a project or having a safe place to hang out.”

What goes around comes around. The community is reaching out to Barrie and connecting with him. He has a lot of living to do.

“Damn right I do! I’m going to use all the positivity people are sending my way, because I know that it is powerful stuff.”

To donate, see Barrie Deehan’s GoFundMePage or leave a message of support there.

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