October 10: Circle of Friends made me stronger

As a Limerick Leader reader living in Kilfinane, I wanted to write to you to give praise and recognition to a wonderful organisation, The Circle of Friends Cancer Support Group in Tipperary Town.

As a Limerick Leader reader living in Kilfinane, I wanted to write to you to give praise and recognition to a wonderful organisation, The Circle of Friends Cancer Support Group in Tipperary Town.

I never believed I would be writing a letter related to the subject of cancer support. To me, cancer was a disease that other people got. On Friday April 19, 2013 my life changed permanently and dramatically. At 36, with a one-year-old baby girl and three-year-old little boy, I was diagnosed with Stage 2B cervical cancer. The usual assault of dreadful but necessary treatment took place on my body, concurrent chemotherapy and radiotherapy over several months. Thankfully by late 2013 it was apparent that my tumour was reducing and we were winning the battle.

Believe it or not while the treatment was taking place, the daily journey and back to Cork University Hospital actually gave me comfort and the routine of it all provided security. For me it was like going to work and it was following the end of treatment when I really needed support. I remember feeling so alone, and lost in the winter months. I wasn’t physically able to go back to work or mind the children so was at home a lot, something I was not used to. I had no friends or family who had gone through cancer (luckily). I also didn’t want to always burden those close to me with my fears and worry, as I felt everyone at home had been through enough. Many cancer survivors speak about feeling so grateful to be alive after cancer treatment. Although I felt gratitude, another part of me was scared and lonely and it was too early to breathe a sigh of relief.

It was at this point that I saw a post on Facebook about a new cancer support group, Circle of Friends, which was setting up in Tipperary Town, which is only 30 minutes from my home in Kilfinane. Other support groups in Limerick and Cork were an hour away and just that bit too far. I contacted Jennifer Jones Hickey, the founder of Circle of Friends, and she invited me to the launch night. On the night I sat in the car, and when I eventually went through the door I knew I was in the right place. The centre was alive, filled to the brim with people dressed in their finest, looking great and full of life. The setting was lovely, two rooms in the old station house, warm and comfortable and filled with light and laughter. I met Jennifer, a beautiful girl living with cancer and similar in age to myself and connected with her immediately. I remember coming away that night with a sense of positivity, hope, anticipation and acceptance.

Since that point almost two years ago, I am now a regular service user. My cancer journey did not end, as unfortunately I am suffering from chronic/permanent radiation damage from the treatment which affects less than 3% of people. I can honestly say that all of this has all been made bearable through assistance and support that I have gotten from many people, including my wonderful circle of friends in Tipperary. I believe that for someone who is going through illness, to feel like you belong and fit in somewhere outside of the hospital environment is very important.

For me, to put on my make-up, a smile and get out of the house, gave me an objective for the day. I began to attend the ‘knit and natter’ group every Wednesday and have met a wonderful group of women of all ages, touched by cancer in some way. Very seldom do we speak of illness, but if anyone wants to talk there are many willing listeners. Every Friday there is a coffee morning, which is always good fun and attended by men and women from all walks of life. I have been availing of free-of-charge treatments including reiki, mindfulness, counselling, art therapy and these have helped my body and mind so much.

The centre has gone from strength to strength since Jennifer set it up in 2013. It is fully volunteer led, and supported by many voluntary therapists and counsellors. It also offers outreach services to the small rural towns and villages in Tipperary, Limerick and North Cork and it is Circle of Friends’ intention to create a purpose-built cancer support centre by 2018. Plans are now on view of the new centre and fundraising is now taking place.

I have a wonderful family, an amazing husband and two beautiful children and now know what it feels like to be truly grateful for my life. I have realised my own strength and resilience, the love I feel for my family and have learned the importance of empathy in our lives. I feel that much of this is down to the friendship and support that I have gotten from Circle of Friends.

If this letter is published, and helps one other person, then writing it has been another experience I am delighted to have had. Details about Circle of Friends can be found on www.circleoffriendscancersupport.com.

Sarah Gleeson

Kilfinane, CO LIMERICK