SUPERHEROES don’t all wear capes. Some like Christine (Deen) Fenton from Mayfield dye their hair blue and red to make sure their children have happy memories of the time their mum lost her hair due to chemotherapy.
Diagnosed with a rare form of breast cancer in 2018, Deen, who turned 40 last year, was determined to be honest and upbeat with her twin boys, Connor and Cillian, who were aged eight at the time.
“When I knew I would be losing my hair I wanted to make it a happy occasion rather than a sad one. Cillian follows Chelsea and Connor supports Liverpool so I dyed my hair blue and red and the two boys dyed theirs too. We had great fun”, says Deen.
But the fun didn’t end there.
Unbeknown to Deen, many of the local children love the DC Superhero Girls TV cartoon series. One of the characters is the mischievous Harley Quinn, who has a blue stripe in one of her pigtails and a red stripe in the other.
“When I came home after one of my treatments, I was out the front garden with my blue and red hair. All the young kids thought it was hysterical. They thought I was like Harley Quinn,” Deen tells me.
“Within 15 minutes, every child appeared in my garden dressed as Harley Quinn or some other superhero character. There was a big party, all the kids thought I was cool and my boys loved it,” laughs Deen.
Connor and Cillian shaved their mum’s head when her hair started to fall out.
“I wore my baldness like a badge of honour. I loved it”, says Deen.
“I was very fortunate that my cancer was caught in time and I never got very sick when I was going through my chemotherapy”, Deen acknowledges.
It was only when the cancer treatment was over that she started to flounder.
“People think you should be grand because you’re finished your treatment, but that’s when everything sort of went downhill.
Your support network is gone and you’re left to your own devices”, Deen points out.
Her husband, Ian, was very encouraging but he was out at work all day.
Family and friends did their utmost to help, but they were always afraid of saying the wrong thing.
“People were terrified about saying that they were getting their hair done because I had no hair, but that didn’t bother me. People got very odd with me because I joked that the only weight I lost during the cancer treatment was when the boob went,” says Deen.
A nurse from the South Infirmary Hospital had encouraged her to go along to the Cork Cancer Care Centre, as indeed had her own mum.
“It was like finding the key to a locked door. I could be myself there. They got it that I could joke about the cancer but I could also have a good cry there. Linda Goggin James, General Manager of the Centre, always knew what I needed.
“Going to the Cork Cancer Care Centre is like getting a hug from your grandmother or mum when you cut your knee as a child” says Deen.
The Centre provides all those touched by cancer and their families with a whole range of free services including counselling and holistic therapies, all wrapped in a blanket of friendship, good humour and love.
Thankfully that comfort blanket is still available for Deen and all the other cancer warriors, even though the Centre is temporarily closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Our unbelievably supportive Cancer Warrior group can’t meet up at present but our Whatsapp group is on the go every hour,” says Deen.
This online contact with her fellow cancer warriors helps keep Deen’s fear of contracting the virus at bay, as well as her worries about the Centre’s future.
“ I would be traumatised if the Centre went kaput due to the Covid-19 pandemic. I wouldn’t know what to do”, Deen admits.
Linda Goggin James is continuing to work behind closed doors at the Centre together with part-time staff, Mary Nott and Clare Murray.
“We are still manning the phones, organising online counselling, and holding regular wellness checks with our warriors by email or Whatsapp”, Linda points out. The Cork Cancer Care Centre receives no funding from the HSE or the Government and is totally dependent on fund-raising and public donations. All 18 counsellors and holistic therapists provide their services free of charge.
“We have had two months without any funding and that’s a huge hit,” acknowledges Linda.
As a result, the Cork Cancer Care Centre is appealing to the public to participate in its Walk With Warriors fund-raiser during the month of May.
Participants are asked to walk or exercise for 30 minutes each day in honour of, or in memory of, the warriors in their lives.
“A lot of our warriors are doing it in honour of each other but it’s open to family, friends, and work colleagues.
“People can take part at any stage by putting it up on their Facebook page with a donate button and the money will go to the Cork Cancer Care Centre. Donations can also be made through our website or Facebook page”, Linda points out.
“We’re depending on the people of Cork. We need to be still here when our cancer warriors are ready to come back to us”, says Linda.
Cork Cancer Care Centre: Tel. (021) 4949090;
Linda Goggin James : (087) 0948921;
Website : www.corkcancercarecentre.ie
Email : firstname.lastname@example.org
See also the Centre’s Facebook page.
Meanwhile,in a separate initiative, The Marie Keating Foundation is offering a free six-part Cancer and Covid-19 webinar series — bringing expert advice on a wide range of topics into the homes of cancer patients and survivors.
The series started last Thursday and aims to give expert advice to those on a cancer journey on how to stay healthy while at home or cocooning.
The Marie Keating Foundation initiative covers topics such as diet and nutrition, exercise, sleep, mental health, managing stress and managing side effects of treatment.
The series, kindly supported by Roche, is delivered by the cancer charity’s Director of Nursing Services, Helen Forristal who will be joined each week by expert speakers in their respective areas.
Anyone currently undergoing cancer treatment or recently finished, is more vulnerable to the spread of Covid-19.
The Foundation has noticed a rise in calls and emails reflecting the feeling of increased levels of stress and anxiety out there. Each one-hour episode is designed to provide vital support and reassurance while allowing those most at risk to remain safe in their homes.
Director of Nursing at the Marie Keating Foundation, Helen Forristal said: “Despite restrictions with social distancing and cocooning, it is imperative that we remain together as a community while we are apart and offer support and advice to anyone who needs it during this challenging time.
“Our webinar series is designed to give those on a cancer journey and their families a sense of togetherness as well as tailored information to help everyone stay healthy while staying safe at home.”
Deirdre Dowling, a mestastatic breast cancer survivor, said: “This time is challenging, not being able to see or hug loved ones and the feelings of isolation that can come from cocooning are difficult to deal with. Having support and advice available online and using technology to feel connected is so important right now. I will be tuning in for the webinar series as it is crucial that I take all the advice and help I can get to ensure I am as strong mentally, physically and emotionally as I can be, while I am on on-going treatment and cocooning. I would encourage anyone in a similar position to myself to do the same.
“We may all be apart but it is important we stay connected and continue taking support where we can, so that we can all come through this safe and well and stronger than before.”
The six-part series is designed to be enjoyed as a series but if preferred individual sessions can be subscribed to as well.
Registration for each webinar is free and attendee’s will be sent a link to their chosen webinar two days before the event. Visit www.mariekeating.ie/event