HAVING successfully completed a half Ironman, Helena Coleman isn’t too daunted at completing the distance in a triathlon in Farran Woods next week.
But the fact she’s taking part to raise funds to support oncology services at Cork University Hospital, after losing her mother to the disease, and having two sisters subsequently diagnosed with the illness, will make the occasion extra meaningful.
Helena’s mum, Anne Marie, was successfully treated for breast cancer when she was in her 70s, back in 2011.
“She responded well to her treatment, remained very positive and gave it 100%,” remembers Helena.
Sadly, a decade later, her cancer returned, and she lost her battle during the pandemic, passing away in Marymount in October, 2020, aged 80.
Her sister Marguerite, 42, was faced with her own breast cancer challenge within two years of their mum’s death when she was diagnosed last August.
In a third, hard-to-believe blow, a second sister, Barbara, 45, also had to face the illness four months later and is currently undergoing treatment.
That’s a lot for one family to process, agrees Helena, who is the eldest of four girls and a boy. But, describing themselves as a very practical family, she said their resilience kicked in and they rallied around for each other.
“We were in the middle of grieving for mum when all of this happened and we just had to put our emotions to one side, and be there for Barbara, who has two teenagers, and Marguerite, who has a three-and-a-half-year-old,” she said.
“Marguerite found a lump and got it checked out; straight away she was referred to the breast check clinic, she had to go through a mastectomy, with six-eight weeks of physical recovery,” said Helena.
“CUH didn’t give her time to dwell on anything, they took her in straight away and got her treated.
“So far, so good, she’s minding herself, eating healthily, and trying to look after her mental and physical health.”
Barbara was diagnosed after also finding a lump and is currently undergoing treatment in the Bon Secours Hospital. Their diagnoses, she stressed, highlight the importance of routine self-examinations.
CUH’s oncology unit is now also assessing other family members, including Helena, 52, to identify their risk of cancer, based on the family history.
“Professor Seamus O’Reilly (consultant oncologist) called us into a room as a family; it’s hard for them too, one of the toughest part of their jobs, to explain what was going on,” said Helena.
“As well as the medical support from CUH, we also benefitted from the emotional support,” said Helena, who lives in Silversprings
“They are trained to do the medical treatments, but it’s that empathy and emotional connection they have with families too.”
To give back to CUH, where Anne Marie and Marguerite were cared for, Helena, who works with global IT company Logitech, is embarking on the CUH Charity Triathlon in Cork’s Farran Wood on May 27, which involves a 1km open swim, 32km cycle and 6km run. She did the half Ironman in her native Youghal, where she smashed a 1.9km swim, 90km cycle and 20km run, so she knows how strong her body is.
And having experienced the unique challenges of the past few years, she knows how emotionally strong she and her sisters are.
“As a family, we are very practical and we realised, having gone through all of this, how resilient the human spirit is,” she said.
So far, Helena’s raised more than €2,000. Search ‘Helena Coleman idonate’ to donate.
Sign up to the event on www.cuhcharity.ie/triathlon23