THE strength and determination of a young Bandon farmer who died just six weeks after getting married will be remembered at a charity livestock sale.
Denis Canniffe was diagnosed with Gliobastoma, a rare and aggressive form of brain cancer in June 2020 when he was just 36.
In his typical way, he never gave up hope, but sadly passed away 16 months later, last October, while on the road fighting his illness.
That’s how much of a warrior he was, says his wife Kate, who is organising the auction in his memory, but also to raise vital funds to help Breakthrough Cancer Research (BCR) in their brain cancer research.
BCR has strong West Cork ties as it funds Cork Cancer Research Centre which was set up by the late Prof Gerry O’Sullivan from Caheragh.
Kate, who works as branch manager of EBS Clonakilty, recalls how Denis developed a bad headache one random Monday in June 2020.
‘It just didn’t go away, so he went to A&E and by that Friday he was diagnosed with a brain tumour. That was how our cancer journey began,’ she said.
The Sligo woman met Denis on a night out in Cork city – on Washington Street. Her sister is also married to a Bandon man and she was down on a visit when their paths crossed.
‘I was working in Dublin at the time, but he persuaded me to move to Cork,’ she said.
Denis was an Ag Science graduate from UCD and also worked off-farm as a pharmaceutical rep for HIPRA.
He loved farming, said Kate, and had an extensive knowledge of dairy farming, as well as all other sectors, especially animal health.
He soon had Kate trained up as a milker. ‘I never quite mastered the tractor, but I loved the calves!’ she said.
She says Denis was highly intelligent, and after the diagnosis the couple embarked on their own research in a bid to beat the disease.
That involved working with doctors in Germany, Sweden, the US and the UK as well as undergoing chemo, radiation and surgery here.
‘Nothing has changed when it comes to brain cancer treatment here in 20 years, unfortunately,’ said Kate. ‘Some people are lucky and have an amazing response to what is available. Denis wasn’t one of those but he never gave up hope. He was so strong, always looking forward. He had great faith and he never complained. For every hurdle that was put in our way, he’d sit down and try to figure out a way over it, or around it.’
During his illness he came across BCR researcher Patricia Flynn who is conducting research into Gliobastoma and decided to fundraise for her.
‘He never got to do it, so I’m doing it for him. It’s a fitting tribute to him and I’ve had great support from the agriculture community where he was so highly thought of. Everyone he crossed paths with was all the better for meeting him.’
The couple got engaged in January 2021 and were wed in Sligo last September in what Kate remembers as the happiest day of her life.
Among the items up for auction at the sale in Bandon mart on April 18th is a pedigree Aubrac bull donated by Sean O’Driscoll of Thornhill’s in Skibbereen.
Kate bought two in-calf Aubrac heifers from him as a Christmas present for Denis, and they have been great friends since.
Cork GAA star Timmy McCarthy will be helping out at the auction, along with well-known vet Tommy Heffernan.
In many ways, Kate says, the fundraiser has been a great focus and a distraction for her.
‘The sale is a way of taking something positive from it and using Denis’ legacy to make a difference,’ she said.
‘Denis’ time here may have been short, but he packed more into his 37 years than most people would in a lifetime. Cancer was only a very small part of him. He was an amazing person and I’m going to keep going for him.’
• See idonate.ie to donate or for more information.