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'Get up, dress up, show up and never give up': Family of cancer victim helping others battling disease

“No matter how you feel, get up, dress up, show up and never give up” - such fighting talk inspired supporters of the late Breeda McGrath, not least her beloved husband Mattie, to come up with a way of not just honouring her memory, but of helping others battling cancer.

Breeda, from Kilfinane, Co Limerick, had breast cancer and died aged 50 last January, but despite the heartbreak of losing his soulmate, Mattie threw himself wholeheartedly into continuing her passion for charitable work. The upshot was a massive turnout for the Limerick Ladies’ Mini Marathon last September where 64 of her supporters togged out - men in drag and women with t-shirts featuring Breeda’s spirited motto - among them Bridget Leonard, her 77-year-old mother.

Participants, including Breda's mum, Bridget Leonard (second left) who took part in the Limerick mini marathon in memory of Breeda McGrath.

Between them, they raised more than €20,000, a capital start to what is now the Breeda McGrath Memorial Fund, which gave a dig-out to families affected by cancer this Christmas.

“Breeda was always helping charities,” Mattie said, “and when she was undergoing treatment at the Dunmanway day unit at Cork University Hospital (CUH) patients would be discussing the financial burden of being unwell - the carparking charges, the heating bills, the loss of income as a result of being out sick.

“She wanted to give something back. We thought a good way of doing that would be to use the fund to help families who are experiencing hardship during the Christmas period,” Mattie said.

This year, five families each received €400 All4One vouchers. The plan is to do this every year, Mattie said, adding that he is committed to continue fundraising to ensure his wife’s legacy lives on.

Breeda’s oncologist, Professor Séamus O’Reilly said it was “a wonderful legacy to a remarkable woman”.

“We feel it would have resonated with her to give to patients experiencing difficulty at this time of year.

Breeda McGrath

“We hope that the fund will inspire similar acts of kindness and that further donations will be made to the fund to allow others to benefit in the decade ahead, Prof O’Reilly said.

A survey by staff at the Irish Cancer Society Daffodil Center at CUH showed that the financial burden for cancer patients is significant - spending increases include 55% more on heating, 54% more on phone bills, 38% more on food and drink, 26% additional household support and 12% additional childcare costs. The average extra spend is €862 per month, while three in five of those working have had their income reduced with annual income reducing by over €16,500, equating to about €1,400 per month.

The Breeda McGrath Memorial Fund will donate approximately €2,000 to families each year, with patients prospectively identified through liaison and clinical staff.

The fund is held by CUH Charity and donations can be made via the charity website www.cuhcharity.ie reference Breeda McGrath Memorial Fund cancer services.