Friday, January 06, 2023

The East Galway and Midlands Cancer Unit does invaluable work to provide “a cocoon of love and care” for families rocked by a cancer diagnosis

A cancer diagnosis is a shock not only for the patient but also their families. The East Galway and Midlands Cancer Unit support children between the age of five and 12 who have an adult in their life with a cancer diagnosis.

“If you give with an open heart, you get it back ten times.” So says Jacqueline Daly, who knows all about giving.

She has been helping people with cancer and their families for over a decade through her involvement with the East Galway and Midlands Cancer Unit. The charity offers much-needed support, from complementary therapies to counselling, at its centre in Ballinasloe, Co Galway. It has grown from humble beginnings to helping up to 200 patients a week.

“We started in 2010 with no fixed abode. Some of the meetings were held around our kitchen tables,” says Jacqueline.

After significant fundraising efforts, the unit found a home which they called Le Chéile — Irish for together.

“We were getting busier and busier at that stage, we were probably seeing about 200 patients a week,” she says.

The unit offers practical support to people with cancer, including a bus service to Galway for radiotherapy treatment, as well as invaluable emotional back-up.

“We provide a whole host of complementary therapies and counselling as well. We have support groups, a walking group, yoga, weight resistance classes, bra-fitting and lymphatic drainage,” says Jacqueline.

As she points out, a cancer diagnosis is a shock not only for the patient but also their families, and the unit is there to help them through it.

“We do the CLIMB (Childrens Lives Include Moments of Bravery) programme for children between the age of five and 12 who have an adult in their life with a cancer diagnosis. It is done through art and drama and it takes the fear away from cancer and explains it at a level that they can understand.”

The East Galway and Midlands Cancer Unit receives welcome support from the Tesco Community Fund, which has donated more than €6 million to over 21,000 community projects nationwide since it was launched in 2014. The fund supports local initiatives in the communities of each of its 164 stores across Ireland — every 12 weeks, each Tesco store donates up to €2,000 between three local good causes in its community.

The fund allows the unit to train its staff to help them continue to offer the right treatments in a safe and supportive environment.

Jacqueline faced her own battle with cancer before becoming involved with the unit.

“We don’t treat any cancer patient here unless they are signed off by their oncologist. You wouldn’t do ordinary massage on somebody who is undergoing treatment, you would do oncology massage. We use the Tesco funding to make sure all our therapists are up-skilled and it is not costing them. Those are the kinds of things that are important, that help us to run a safe service. For example, first-aid courses, manual handling, the fund is so valuable to us, so we can make sure everyone is trained in what they need,” says Jacqueline. She adds that the Tesco Community Fund also helps raise awareness of the unit and the work they are doing.

“When somebody is in Tesco in Ballinasloe, and they see East Galway and Midlands Cancer Support Unit, they might know someone who has used the centre and they will remember us,” she says.

Jacqueline knows first-hand the turmoil of a cancer diagnosis. She was diagnosed with malignant melanoma before becoming involved with the unit.

At the time, her brother also had colon cancer and she was a full-time carer for her mother. When her husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer, it spurred her on to become involved in setting up the unit.

“My Mom died in 2008 and in 2009, my husband Mike was diagnosed with prostate cancer. When he was diagnosed, I realised how little support was there for men. Trying to get help and support for him was really difficult when I felt I was drowning myself. We did it and I am so incredibly proud of him, he has qualified as a psychotherapist himself while working full-time.”

Le Chéile is ultimately a place full of joy and compassion, where “somebody hands you a cup of tea with a smile and a good heart and you can sit at the table and talk and laugh.”

Despite the many challenges, the unit continued to help patients throughout the Covid lockdowns.

“We felt that you can’t start to support somebody and then pull that rug from under them. In particular with counselling, we felt we could not stop, and we didn’t. We did it by telephone, video, whatever the client wanted,” says Jacqueline.

Having been a volunteer at the unit for seven years, Jacqueline is now its director of services, and there is one other member of staff. She says the unit would not exist without the help of volunteers and the local community.

“We have a couple of sports groups around that help us and they do fundraising. If we didn’t have community support, our doors would be closed. I don’t know where this country would be if it wasn’t for the volunteer sector. We have over 40 volunteers that keep us going.”

There is also a beautiful garden at Le Chéile which is looked after and maintained by volunteers. It is a source of much solace and comfort for people who avail of the unit’s services.

“Sometimes people will come in and just sit on one of the benches, they might say a few prayers or read a book but they get a bit of tranquility and peace there. I might send a text to the local Cappataggle Hurling Club, saying the garden needs a bit of TLC, and you would have people in here from eight to 80, digging, pulling weeds. They are just fantastic.”

The beautiful garden at Le Chéile is looked after and maintained by volunteers.

“Somebody hands you a cup of tea with a smile and a good heart and you can sit at the table and talk and laugh. I remember one of the nicest things that someone said about the centre, it was a volunteer here whose sister said to her when she went home, ‘oh, God it must be so sad there, it must be terrible’ and she said, ‘no, it’s like going into Granny’s house’. For me, that is the nicest thing someone can say, that you come in and you feel you’ve got a cocoon of love and care wrapped around you.”

Meanwhile, SOSAD Ireland, a fellow recipient of Tesco’s Community Fund, does very important work, offering free professional counselling to those in need.

A spokesperson for SOSAD said: “Our Counselling is available to those age 16 or older. We help people with a wide range of life challenges. If you are feeling suicidal, depressed, anxious, overwhelmed, are struggling with self-harm or have been bereaved by suicide, we are here to help support you. All we ask is that you reach out.

“At the intake session, you will sit down with one of SOSAD’s support workers. They will listen to you, in a safe and comfortable environment, and discuss how you have been feeling. From your intake session, you will then be matched to a counsellor who is suitable for your needs.”

Christine Wynne, branch coordinator with SOSAD in Cavan, which delivers vital counselling services to its local community.

Christine Wynne, branch coordinator with SOSAD in Cavan, which delivers vital counselling services to its local community. Photo: Courtesy of The Anglo Celt

Its head office in Drogheda and its other offices in Dundalk, Carrickmacross, Navan and Cavan, Kells, Laois and Monaghan bring a range of invaluable services to their local communities, including counselling, crisis support, drop-in services along with live chat helplines and messaging services.

For instance, in Cavan SOSAD has four counselling rooms available.

“We have our counselling service along with our Drop In Centre HOPE,” said Christine Wynne, branch coordinator, who is also part of the senior management team in Cavan.

Working from the office to provide the services are: 30 counsellors, three Admin, four Support Workers and three SIO’s, one CE Worker, two Rural Social Scheme workers and five drop-in centre volunteers. Up until the end of October in 2022, this dedicated team at SOSAD Cavan has provided:

  • 18,881 in-person counselling hours
  • 2,346 received calls
  • 363 messaging chats

An essential part of community life in Cavan, on average 115 clients attending for counselling weekly in the Cavan community, and the Drop-In Centre sees eight people per day.

This year, the Tesco Community Fund has pledged to donate €1 million to local community groups all over Ireland. For more information on the Tesco Community Fund, and to nominate a local cause to receive a donation from the fund, see here.


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