Cork leader in Operation Transformation shares her grief behind the TV show experience

The Cork woman taking part as a leader in this year’s Operation Transformation TV show tells CHRIS DUNNE how the death of her sister, and surgery that brought on the menopause, are driving her to succeed
Cork leader in Operation Transformation shares her grief behind the TV show experience

Cork Operation Transformation leader, 50-year-old Kathleen Hurley Mullins, from County Cork.

THE Cork leader in this year’s Operation Transformation TV show has spoken about the grief of losing her sister, and the surgery that brought on the menopause at the age of 49.

Kathleen Hurley Mullins, 50, is a beautician, salon owner and farmer, who lives with her husband Tony and their two children on their farm in Carrignavar.

She was announced as the fifth and final leader in the popular annual RTÉ health show last week, who will all aim to reset and kick- start a new chapter in their lives in the coming weeks.

The series began on RTÉ1 last Wednesday and continues tonight as we follow the progress of Kathleen and the others.

Kathleen, from Youghal, has enjoyed many happy years with her family, but 2020 was a particularly challenging one for the mother of two when she lost her eldest sister Susan, aged 62, to ovarian cancer.

“My daughter, Heather’s birthday is on November 5 and mine is November 8,” recalls Kathleen. “We were down at mam and dad’s for cards and goodies.

“Susan was complaining of a pain in her hip and the pain got progressively worse. She had to go for an X-ray and a scan but before the appointments came up, Susan suffered a seizure.

“An ambulance was called and our mother thought Susan was suffering an aneurism. There’s a history of that in mam’s family.

“That night, mam and dad were called up to the hospital. Mam didn’t feel up to it, so my other sister, Noreen, went with dad.”

The news was not good.

“The doctor told dad and Noreen that Susan was dying. They looked at the doctor in shock.”

The family were told that Susan’s body was full of tumours. Multiple brain tumours had caused her to have the seizure. She had a compound fracture from the tumour that broke her hip.

Everyone was traumatised.

“Susan said, ‘get them to cut the tumour out’. I told her to rest,” says Kathleen.

“There was no cutting out. We kept vigil at her bedside.

“It was very hard to watch this wonderful woman who I idolised in such a terrible state. It was very hard to do. I felt broken.

“Susan was a talented artist and you could go to her with anything and she’d have the answer. She put everyone else first before herself.

“She passed away 10 days after being admitted to hospital, on December 27, 2020. She had a silent killer that crept up on her.”

As a result of Susan’s death, Kathleen and her sisters got checked out.

It was discovered that Kathleen had a benign cyst and her ovaries were removed. The operation was a success but it took its toll as Kathleen went into surgical menopause at the age of 49.

“I went in to the operation at 49 and coming out; I felt 69,” she recalls.

“Two weeks after the surgery I was in full-blown menopause with every symptom.”

She admits her whole mindset was impacted by it.

“You feel that’s what makes you a woman and you mourn the ability to have children. I was plunged into menopause. I was shattered.”

Kathleen, who has her own beauty salon in Youghal, KCH, and also helps milk the cows on the family farm in Carrignavar, put on weight after the traumas in her life.

“I put it on around my midriff,” she says. “I had tried to lose the weight before and I had filled out the application for Operation Transformation before but I didn’t submit it.

“When trying to lose weight, I go to a certain stage and then it all stops. It’s like I want to lose the weight but something inside me says I don’t deserve to.

“I want to succeed every time but something stops me.”

Viewers will hope there’s no stopping her now that she one of five leaders on Operation Transformation, which features medical and fitness experts who help the leaders reach their healthy weight.

“Susan gave me a lifeline,” says Kathleen, speaking of her motivation to succeed. “I want to share my story with other people. And I want to lose the weight! A problem shared is a problem halved.”

SHARING THE JOURNEY: Operation Transformation presenter Kathryn Thomas
SHARING THE JOURNEY: Operation Transformation presenter Kathryn Thomas

Kathleen and her parents have got a boost from the TV show.

“They got a lift when I was named one of the leaders,” says Kathleen.

Her parents are in their eighties.

“It’s like a new beginning,” adds Kathleen. 

“I want people to hear our story how Susan’s death impacted our lives. It is normal to feel like that. We hide our feelings; if you share your story everyone can help you. Susan gave me a life-line. I must use it.”

Kathleen gave herself a kick-start.

“I decided I could go for Operation Transformation. I could do this.

“Out of respect for Susan, I want to live a fulfilled life as much as possible. She’s spurring me on to live my best life.”

Kathleen will have the backing of husband Tony and her children in the challenging weeks ahead.

But she explains that she nearly didn’t meet the man of her dreams.

“I was at a race dance in the Walter Raleigh Hotel,” she recalls. “My brother-in-law Hugh asked me if there was anyone I fancied at the dance. I put my eye on this six foot four handsome man and Hugh said he’d introduce me to him.”

‘I’ll bring him back and introduce you to him,’ Hugh said.

But things didn’t progress that far.

“A fight broke out between two jockeys,” says Kathleen. “Tony intervened and he got thrown out!”

But all was not lost.

“A few weeks after, I was at a dance in Silver Springs and I felt a tap on my shoulder; and it was Tony!”

The two were clearly smitten.

“That was in April, 1998, and we got married in December, 1998!

“I grew up on farm so I knew all about the lifestyle. I love the freedom of the farm.”

Week one of Operation Transformation saw Kathleen getting with the programme.

“I’m out walking the last few days,” she says. “Every day it gets easier. I used to walk when I was younger but I became erratic.”

Kathleen signed up with the experts, and has experts at home.

“Anthony, 22, is doing Food Science in UCC. Heather, 19, is in first year doing nutrition and health in MTU.”

What do they think of mammy being on the telly?

“At first they said, what is mammy after doing now? Now they think it’s great fun. The other leaders are great fun! John Ryan from Kilkenny is a real character.”

The food plan is do-able too.

“We had a meal the other night with peppers and cheese. I thought my stomach would still feel empty, but it was fine, like a meal you’d get in a hotel.

“After my walks I have grapes, melon and yogurt with a spring of mint. It’s delicious.”

What was Kathleen’s downfall when she was piling on the pounds?

“Chocolate,” she admits. “If you were an alcoholic, everyone would know. If you’re a chocoholic nobody knows.”

Kathleen weighed in at 17 stone 1 pound - 108.4 kilos. Her target for week one was to lose 3 lbs which is not a big ask.

“I should lose at least 3 lbs this week,” says Kathleen.

“I’m going to really try and lose the weight this time and I hope to be a source of encouragement to others too.”

Kathleen has the motivation to succeed.

“I love a trip to a nice boutique,” she says. “I love fashion and clothing.”

She loves feeling good about herself too.

“50 the new 35!” says Kathleen

“I’m confident now that I can help myself and help others. It’s all good.”

Operation Transformation continues on RTÉ on Wednesday at 9.35pm.

HERE TO HELP: The Operation Transformation experts, from left, Karl Henry, Aoife Hearne, Sumi Dunne, and Eddie Murphy
HERE TO HELP: The Operation Transformation experts, from left, Karl Henry, Aoife Hearne, Sumi Dunne, and Eddie Murphy

Over the course of eight weeks, the audience will see what transformation means to each leader. All of them are looking to the experts for guidance and information that can help them to begin and sustain a healthy lifestyle.

Some are seeking work/life balance, while others want to find the energy to keep up with their kids. No matter what their motivation the five leaders are here to inspire the nation to find their own transformation and start the year as they mean to go on.

Devising the health and wellness plan and guiding the new leaders are fitness coach Karl Henry, principal clinical psychologist Dr. Eddie Murphy, dietitian Aoife Hearne, and general practitioner Dr Sumi Dunne.

The five leaders began their transformation in November when they were fully assessed by the experts. They also underwent a minimum fitness test with Professor Niall Moyna of DCU and his team. All the information from this stage assists the experts in charting the safest way for each leader to become healthier.

Each week, the leaders meet the experts as they chart their weekly progress.

During the series Dr Eddie Murphy will also highlight some useful tips to help with mental wellness. As we all navigate our way through these difficult times Eddie will offer simple, practical advice that we can all use in our everyday lives.

Also back for 2022 is Ireland Lights Up. This popular initiative by the GAA encourages clubs from the 32 counties to open their grounds and allow people to safely walk under their lights with public health advice adhered to at all times.

After a tough couple of years, the GAA and Get Ireland Walking are delighted to invite communities back into the safe outdoor spaces where everyone can get moving at their own pace.

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