‘Life has to go on’

Modelling at the fashion show in Foyleside Shopping Centre for the Foyle Hospice Brides Across the Bridge record attempt on the 27th April are, from left, Jane Veitch, Hannah Vail, Marie Martin, Ewelina O'Donnell, Maire Cassidy and Catriona Cooper. People can register in person or by phone for the event in Guildhall Sqaure at the Foyle Hospice, Yellow Moon, The Coffee Cup Buncrana and The Loaf Cafe Carndonagh. INLS1613-173PG

Modelling at the fashion show in Foyleside Shopping Centre for the Foyle Hospice Brides Across the Bridge record attempt on the 27th April are, from left, Jane Veitch, Hannah Vail, Marie Martin, Ewelina O'Donnell, Maire Cassidy and Catriona Cooper. People can register in person or by phone for the event in Guildhall Sqaure at the Foyle Hospice, Yellow Moon, The Coffee Cup Buncrana and The Loaf Cafe Carndonagh. INLS1613-173PG

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With her hair dyed bright pink, teacher Maire Cassidy certainly made an impression when she joined the hundreds of ladies taking part in the recent Brides Across the Bridge event in aid of the Foyle Hospice.

You would never have guessed that the mum of two had been unsure whether or not she would even be able to attend, her own cancer battle leaving her weakened and exhausted the previous day.

But 58-year-old Maire, who celebrated her birthday yesterday with the news that her latest round of chemo is working, is never one to pass up an opportunity to support the Hospice.

And that is why, if she is well enough, she plans to take part once again in this year’s Female Walk/Run, one of the biggest fundraising events in the Hospice’s calendar.

“Life goes on,” said Maire, who’s from Drummond Park. “You have to get on with things and think positively, I suppose. It wouldn’t do me any good to sit back and let the world go on without me.”

Those are brave words indeed from a woman who has a new primary cancer in her breast, and secondary cancers - hangovers from her previous cancer battle in 2004 - in her bones and liver.

“That’s me, greedy,” Maire laughed. “I can’t just get once cancer. I have to get a few of them!”

Maire, mum to grown-up children, bank worker Tom and teacher Eibhlin, and granny to Aimee, was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004 after noticing a change in her breast while dressing.

“I didn’t have a large mirror in my bathroom; I could only see myself from the neck up. Maybe if I had looked earlier I would have seen it earlier; who knows. But I would urge every woman to get a mirror in their bathroom in which they can see themselves from the waist up.”

It was Maire’s husband Tom who noticed the change in appearance of her breast as he walked in on her getting dressed.

“He asked me was it a bruise, and when I looked at it, it was dimpled and when I then felt around I could feel something.”

Maire remembers that Saturday morning vividly, and the weeks which followed in which she was fast-tracked through the hospital and given the news that she did indeed have breast cancer.

She was scheduled for a wide excision, and that was followed by a course of chemo and a course of radiotherapy at Belvoir Park where she said she met the “most beautiful people”, sadly some of whom have since passed on.

When her treatment concluded she was monitored over the years but unfortunately in March 2011, after she fainted while at Mass, Maire found herself being tested once again for cancer.

In June of that year she was given the devastating news that her original cancer had metastasized into her bones and her liver. But typical of her trademark spirit, after receiving the news Maire got back into her car and returned to work at St. Mary’s, Limavady. “I figured I’d be better off preparing my fifth years for their French oral than sitting at home feeling sorry for myself.”

Maire went on to undergo chemo in a bid to stop the spread of the cancer further but yet more bad news was to come when when in June of last year a mammogram showed a new cancer growing in her breast, which would require further radical treatment and more courses of chemo.

And yet, despite the treatment being gruelling - and forcing her to give up the work she so loved - Maire remains positive and is determined to live life to the full.

“I want to embrace life,” she said, adding that taking part in Brides Across the Bridge gave her a chance to show off her strength of spirit. “I decided to do it tongue in cheek, so when we went to get our hair done for the photo shoot, I just told them to dye my hair pink. It was great fun.”

Maire and her daughter Eiblhlin managed to raise £800 between them for the Hospice.

There are days though when she says she just feels “completely flattened”. “Chemo is like a box of chocolates,” Maire said, “You never know what you are going to get. Each day is different from the last.”

Each year Maire takes part in the Foyle Hospice Walk and this year she hopes to be among the Derry women taking part in the walk on June 16.

“If I can do it, anyone can get out there and do it too.”

Maire wishes to thank all the medical staff and voluntary organisations who have helped her throughout her treatment, and also her family, husband Tom, and children Tom and Eibhlin for their ongoing support through her illness.