Cancer is as much a psychological journey as it is a physical one, and the new manager of Cork ARC Bantry wants to give a place of shelter to all those who are on that road.
More than 850 people have availed of services in Cork ARC Bantry since the beginning of the year, and over 5,000 since their doors first opened in 2015.
That shows just how vital the cancer support service is for the West Cork community, says its newly appointed general manager Catriona O’Mahony.
Catriona, a trained nurse who is originally from Clonakilty, saw first hand how organisations like ARC are a lifeline for cancer patients and their families while she was working as an oncology nurse in the community.
‘This allowed me to truly understand the patient’s journey, seeing them outside the clinical environment,’ she said.
Cork ARC was founded in the city in 2003, and mum-of-two Catriona was involved in its subsequent development in Bantry.
She felt strongly that cancer patients deserved support locally, without having to travel a distance for it, especially if they already had a gruelling schedule of medical appointments in the city.
‘From the start of my nursing career I had an interest in the psychological aspect of illness and how this impacts the patient’s journey. Cancer is as much a psychological battle as a physical battle, not just for patients but for their family, friends and extended community.
‘What we see professionally is that dealing with the psychological aspect is very difficult. I am passionate about having professional help like Cork ARC available free of charge to people at this most vulnerable time of their lives. For every oncology patient the outcome is better where their mental health is better.’
Her aim is that every person who visits their service feels that they are in safe hands.
‘And that they find a place of shelter with us during their experience with cancer. Cancer is a journey with many bumps along the road but I hope more and more people (both patients and family members) will make Cork ARC a touchstone of support during their time affected by cancer.’
All services are free of charge and services are available for both oncology patients and their loved ones.
‘Some of the services offered include counselling, stress management, yoga and pilates for patients, along with an information service as we often find that patients and families aren’t aware of the practical supports available to them such as medical cards and illness benefit.
‘We also provide bereavement services. Experiencing the death of a loved one is one of the most painful and difficult experiences you will have to deal with. We are here to support people in their loss.’
Like many other charities the pandemic impacted their ability to fundraise to sustain their services into the future.
‘But we have had amazing support from the community this year and people have really stepped up in their creativity in organising virtual events and challenges to raise funds and keep our message in the public eye so that we remain available to those who need support in dealing with a cancer diagnosis.
‘We couldn’t provide these services without the amazing support of our volunteers who give so willingly of their time. It’s extremely important for us to be able to provide these services for free at a time when the person has a lot of additional costs, such as travel expenses and medications.
‘We receive a small amount of State funding each year towards these supports (trips to Cork, medication etc), but at the core of our ability to provide these services is the generosity and support given by the people of Cork.’
Catriona’s message for anyone who is thinking about making that first contact with them, is to just pick up the phone.
‘Give us a call and we’ll take it from there. It can be daunting making that first step, but our message is simple: you are not alone.
‘There is no limit to how long after a diagnosis or finishing treatment that someone can avail of the services. It can very often be well after finishing treatment when trying to settle back into life that people feel they need support.
‘They no longer have the same contact and support with their doctors and nurses in the hospital, and the routine of appointments and treatments and check-ups is gone.
‘You may feel isolated, not really part of the world you were part of beforehand and unsure of what life after cancer looks like.
‘At Cork ARC Cancer Support House we are here to support you during this transition.’
Catriona lives in Rathbarry with her husband Conor, and their sons Dylan and Luke.
‘I couldn’t have taken on this role without the endless support of Conor and my parents Padraig and Mary,’ she added.