Jackie Keogh explores the supports for cancer patients that may be accessed at a tranquil location near Bantry
SOME people ring the doorbell and don’t know why, but when they cross the threshold they know they are in safe hands.
Some people send scouts – family members who come to check if it is a safe place. Ultimately, those who do call to the ARC Cancer Support House at Gories in Bantry find a place of shelter.
Tricia Lyne, the West Cork co-ordinator, said: ‘It is not for everyone, not everyone needs to come here. Some of the people that come know the support they want and will be able to name it.
‘Other people don’t know. They know they need something and they are hoping it will be here for them and, together, we explore what that something might be.’
The Cork ARC Cancer Support House in Bantry opened in April 2015 and the following August had a resplendent opening with Graham Norton doing the honours.
Professor Seamus O’Reilly, chairperson of the board of trustees of Cork ARC Cancer Support House, spoke at that event. He said he was all too acutely aware that the figures for cancer have changed: ‘In my lifetime, cancer has gone from affecting one in six in our community to one in two.’
Cancer is a physical illness, but there is also the psychological aspect of it as well – not just on the patient, but on the family, friends and extended community.
The Cancer Support House is a place where – from 10am to 4pm every Tuesday –people with cancer and their families can find emotional support, practical help and trust, as well as therapies that complement medical treatment.
In addition to having qualified, professional, therapists in counselling, massage and reflexology, it has a core group of volunteer listeners. Sometimes that is all people really need – to be heard.
Tricia said some people are overwhelmed by all the information that is out there, including the information that is on the internet. ‘Here, we can help them with that, or allow them the space to find their own way.’
Tricia found her way to the Cork ARC Cancer Support House when studying psychology at UCC. The work being carried out at the Cork centre – which is located on Rossa Avenue near the gates of UCC – resonated with Tricia whose own mother took a while to die.
‘That was the first personal experience I had with death and I saw how it allowed the opportunity for healing right up to the very last moment.’
The healing that Tricia speaks of comes from dealing with unnecessary lingering hurts – the letting go of negative, unhelpful stuff. It comes with being connected – that beautiful, basic human connection of being with another person. Put another way: ‘the unimportant stuff falls away.’
In a former life, Tricia worked in the corporate world in the UK and Europe, where she would have been ‘the Speedy Gonzales tearing at your ankle.’ Marriage, motherhood and a move to the beautiful Beara Peninsula changed all that.
‘My experience with people who have been recovering from cancer, or dying, has stripped me down and redirected me to what is important. I find all of the volunteers here have that same sense of connection and compassion.’
More volunteers are needed because more and more people are travelling to the Bantry Cancer Support House from all parts of West Cork. There are, at present, 80 people using the centre, which correlates with the provision of more than 500 services.
Some people volunteer as listeners, some do admin, others bring fresh cut flowers every week, and then there are those who are only comfortable in the kitchen making the teas and coffees.
‘Whatever your unique talent or skill is, we can use it,’ said Tricia. ‘More volunteers would allow us to open another day in the week and to extend our hours.’
One person who uses the service in Bantry said: ‘Cancer is a journey and you may have to walk the road alone, but there are many places along the way to be refreshed. If you are on that journey make sure you make Cork ARC House in Bantry one of those stops.’
Another person said: ‘When one is exhausted from anxiety and the treatments themselves, it is such a boon to have a calm space to discuss problems, meet other patients, and share experiences.’
The work done at the centre in Bantry would not be possible without two other towers of strength – the Bantry Hospice Project and Cancer Connect.
Tricia also acknowledged the fundamental support provided by fundraisers in the community.
‘Forevermore,’ Tricia said, ‘we are guided by the words that were written on the back of one anonymous donation. It said, “Use the money wisely”.’
Call 027 53891 or 083 1988580 or email: [email protected].