The mother of a Derry man who died from a rare form of cancer has described the Foyle Hospice as a “piece of heaven.”
Cathy O’Donnell said that without the care and compassion shown by staff at the Hospice her son, Jonathan, would have suffered a painful death.
“Without the Foyle Hospice I would have seen my son suffer,” she said. “I could never thank them enough for what they did. The people who work in the Hospice are simply angels.”
Jonathan passed away peacefully at the Foyle Hospice on October 21st, 2010, he was just 26 years-old.
His mum, Cathy, explained that Jonathan had been born with a mole on his leg. But she became alarmed about the way the mole was growing when she watched Dr Chris talking about it on ITV’s “This Morning” programme.
“Jonathan was mad about football, especially Man United, and while he was getting ready for a match I looked at the mole on his leg. He was already going to the doctor about a sore throat so I asked him to get it checked out.
“Jonathan was immediately referred to a skin specialist and was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma. He needed an operation to remove it.”
Jonathan went into remission and for the next eight years pursued his dream of becoming an artist.
He achieved an A* for his A- Level art work at St. Brigid’s College and went on to study at the Tech and later the Manchester Metropolitan University.
However, unexpectedly in Manchester, Jonathan discovered a lump in his groin and his parents were urged to travel to Manchester.
“Jonathan had to have 15 lymph nodes removed,” explained Cathy. “This was followed by radium treatment. But Jonathan took a clot in the leg and kept having to have fluid drained.
“He would come home to recuperate and when the leg would swell up he had to go to Dundonald for treatment.
“Jonathan returned to Manchester but he began complaining of feeling like he was going to fall and was immediately referred to ‘Christies’ in Manchester who gave him a scan and confirmed that the illness was back in his lymph nodes.”
Cathy said after this Jonathan’s health deteriorated rapidly.
“Jonathan came home but he had a terrible pain in his back. The out of hours doctor would come out but could only give him an injection. That night Monica Cunningham, from the Foyle Hospice, came to see me. She was like an angel at my door.”
Jonathan decided to return to Manchester.
“I kept telling Jonathan that the chemo was working,” said Cathy. “He would tell me he was going to be ok. We were both protecting each other.
“But all I wanted was to get him home. The only way the hospital in Manchester would release him was if the Foyle Hospice agreed to take him.
“I got in touch with Monica and we made the arrangements. Jonathan came home on the plane with a drive in each arm, one for the sickness and one for the pain. The doctors didn’t think he’d survive the flight.
“My husband and sister met me at the airport and we took Jonathan to the Foyle Hospice. Margaret Burns was there to meet us and I’ll never forget the words she used. She turned to Jonathan and said ‘Welcome Home.’
“Jonathan would come in and out of the Hospice. When the football was on he would come home to us and take over the front room. Then when he was ready he would tell me he needed to go back. I would ring the Hospice when we were on our way and they would tell me they’d have everything ready.
“Jonathan wanted to be at the Hospice because he was sick, but at the same time he wanted to be out and about.
“When Jonathan first went into the Foyle Hospice he would ask how long he would have to stay, but I remember the doctor telling him - “It’s not jail, you can come and go as you please.” He liked that.
“At the Foyle Hospice Jonathan wasn’t eating. He was given vitamin drinks but he didn’t like them. The Hospice staff got him ice cream and fresh fruit and made him milkshakes. I don’t know how many of those milkshakes he was drinking in a day.
“One day he asked if he could go swimming and I thought maybe I would be able to take him out. Jonathan decided to try the Hospice jacuzzi. I’ll never forget it because I took him down but I put too many bubbles in. The jacuzzi room was filled with bubbles and Jonathan just stared at me with a knowing look.
“The Hospice gave Jonathan his dignity and his quality of life . They did their utmost to keep him pain free. The respect he was shown was unbelievable. I could go on forever, but everyone in the Foyle Hospice, the doctors and nurses, domestics, catering staff were amazing.
“It’s like a bit of heaven in Derry with angels. No one should be afraid of going there.
“Jonathan’s friends came in and spent the night with him at the Hospice. They had lots of craic with him. One of them brought a Liverpool scarf for him to wear - he said “no chance.”
However, the Hospice is not a luxury, said Cathy.
“It’s a necessary building in Derry. One of the most important things the Hospice did for us was to always be truthful.
“The staff explained everything to me and not once did I feel that I was in the way or not wanted.
“Of course it was scary at the start, but that’s because people think the Foyle Hospice is only there for the end. It’s there for pain control and anti-sickness.
“It’s so peaceful and one day when Jonathan looked out of the window he saw a rainbow, he said ‘Ma - if you are ever looking for me, I’ll be behind the rainbow.”
Jonathan slipped away quietly on October 21st surrounded by his family, Bishop Edward Daly, Father Dermot Harkin, nurse Helen Foley and the many friends that came from Manchester.
“Jonathan was a free spirit,” declared Cathy. “He had his own unique way of doing things. He loved going out and partying; he loved to have a pint. The girls loved him.
“He didn’t like me fussing and would say ‘Calm down ma!’
“It’s very hard for any mother or father to watch their son go through this. I would appeal to local people to do as much fundraising as they can, even just having the copper hunt moneybox on their desk. It’s not right that the Hospice has to fundraise so much and it should get more funding.
“Cancer is not going to go away. It terrifies me. But you’ll never find a better place to get help. This building is a bit of heaven. It is the most peaceful and calming place.
“Please support the Hospice.”