When I meet Deborah McGlinchey in the reception area of the Derry Journal offices I go to shake her hand; Deborah is still weak from the breast replacement surgery she endured over two months ago and has very little power in her right arm; she offers me her left hand instead.
“Hello, pleased to meet you, I am Deborah, thanks for doing this,” smiled Deborah.
In January 2010, at the age of 36, Deborah was diagnosed with breast cancer and after intensive treatment she started to recover and a year and a half later instead of worrying about hospital appointments she was considering joining Old Library Trust running club ‘Bolt’ in Creggan. She was well on the road to recovery.
“I couldn’t run the length of myself when I started with ‘Bolt’ but I really enjoyed the craic,” said Deborah.
“I didn’t know that many people in the group but now I’d regard many of the people I have met as friends for life.”
Breast cancer may have taken its toll on Deborah physically but mentally she appears stoic, strong, enduring and robust. Her smile really does light up a room and to describe her laugh as infectious wouldn’t be doing it justice, you have to hear it for yourself.
“Look, I really don’t want this to be about me, I want this to be about the amazing people at ‘Bolt’ running club. The last few months have been really difficult but my new friends at ‘Bolt’ made me feel like I wasn’t alone.”
Anyone who has not been diagnosed or experienced the heartache that accompanies cancer can’t even begin imagine what it must be like.
Listening to a cancer survivor recall their experiences evokes images of awful mental and physical strain, loneliness and despair but after talking to Deborah she offers inspiration and hope.
“I was always aware that there was a history of cancer in my family but believe me, nothing can prepare you when you hear the words ‘you have cancer’.
“It’s completely life changing but after I was diagnosed in 2010 I underwent all of the treatment and got support and after about a year-and-a-half I was back on my feet.”
As Deborah pieced her life back together again she remained positive and started to think about how she could get fit and start to develop her strength.
“When I was sick I was limited to what I could do physically so when I started to feel like I was up to it again I decided to join ‘Bolt’ running club.”
‘Bolt’ running club was set-up on the back of Creggan’s Biggest Loser which was a project managed by the Old Library Trust in Creggan.
Creggan’s Biggest Loser encouraged local people to set-up teams and try to lose as much weight as possible. In a bid to speed up weight loss and improve fitness levels the Old Library Trust founded ‘Bolt’ running club and since that time the group meet twice every week to run the roads of Derry.
“My next door neighbour told me about ‘Bolt’. I was really nervous at the start - I didn’t know what I was letting myself in for but with the benefit of hindsight joining ‘Bolt’ was one of the best decisions I ever made.”
Deborah, who is from Culmore, convinced a close friend to accompany her on her first night as a member of ‘Bolt’ and a new pair of decent running shoes later she was pounding the streets of Derry like so many other fluorescent jacket wearing fitness aficionados.
“The coaches at ‘Bolt’ were great. No matter what level you were at they would tell you what to do and how to improve.
“I remember one time I was out doing a three mile run with the rest of ‘Bolt’. I was so nervous that I might not be able to complete it. I remember jogging past St. Patrick’s Church in Pennyburn and one of the coaches, Sean Hargan, told me that I’d run five miles already and to keep going. I couldn’t believe it. I’d been chatting with a few of the others from the group throughout the run that I didn’t even notice how far I had run,” laughed Deborah.
Evenings spent running with other ‘Bolt’ members was not only helping Deborah to get fit but it also acted as a dose of twice weekly therapy. Once strangers became friends and new friends became friends for life; Deborah was well on the mend.
“If someone had have told me when I was going through my cancer treatment that I’d join a running club and start jogging the streets of Derry I’d have said to them they were mad.
“I really looked forward to the nights we went out running. The craic was great and although I was improving my fitness I was having a good time too - it soon became a social outing for me,” she said.
Small steps got Deborah back on her feet again but just when her life appeared to be moving in the right direction again her world came tumbling in around her again.
Deborah was scheduled to attend a routine check-up with a consultant at Altnagelvin hospital. The initial mammogram came back negative but her consultant noticed something and sent Deborah for further tests. As soon as the test results came back, Deborah was given the awful news that she had breast cancer again.
“After the results came back the consultant delivered the news I had been dreading - I had breast cancer again.
“Words will never be able describe how I felt that day. It was so surreal - I didn’t know what was happening. I felt so alone and just didn’t know where to put myself.
“I can’t even begin to describe to you what that felt like. I was back on my feet again, running with ‘Bolt’ and enjoying life and then wham - I had breast cancer again.”
Deborah is also a member of the local breast cancer support group the Pink Ladies and earlier last year, whilst she was in recovery, she let herself be filmed checking her breast for symptoms of breast cancer for a DVD. The video was made by the Pink Ladies and distributed to schools and community centres all over Derry.
“It’s strange to think that earlier last year I was being filmed for a DVD to show other women how to check for early signs of breast cancer and then fast forward a few months and I am dealing with it [breast cancer] again. You couldn’t make it up.”
The consultant acted immediately and Deborah started to receive treatment and four weeks later on January 31 she underwent a full mastectomy in Altnagelvin hospital.
“I’d spoken to a few women who recommended I go for reconstructive surgery after having my breast removed. I can safely say that that was one of the most horrible, scary and traumatic experiences I have ever had to endure.”
The surgeons removed muscle tissue from the right side of Deborah’s back and a breast implant to complete the reconstruction of her breast.
“Although it’s been a few months since the surgery I am still very limited in terms of what I can and can’t do. My right side and arm is still very weak but with the help of a physiotherapist I am making good progress,” she smiled.
Recollecting the experience is clearly something Deborah does not like to revisit but she explained that the members of ‘Bolt’ running club gave her much needed strength and support.
“They were there for me from day one,” she said.
“From the day and hour they heard I had cancer again they did everything they could to make sure I was ok - that’s something I will never be able to forget.”
In the months before Deborah’s second breast cancer diagnosis she had been training towards running in the Omagh half marathon which took place at the end last month.
As a result of her surgery Deborah was and is still very weak and couldn’t even attend the Omagh half marathon, never mind take part but over 100 members of ‘Bolt’ running club ran the race in her honour.
“I can’t stress how thankful I am to everyone at ‘Bolt’. It was so generous what they did. I told my consultant I wanted to go to the race and cheer everyone on and she was a bit reluctant but she said if I was to go I wasn’t aloud to clap or wave but I could cheer.”
Deborah was discharged from hospital the day before the race but despite her best efforts she was unable to make it to the race but in keeping with their remarkable selflessness and generosity members of ‘Bolt’ kept her up to date with real time updates via Facebook.
“It was great - although I was really weak and unable to attend the race I was able to stay tuned in via Facebook. I was in bed with my iPad and my wee 10 year-old son, Shea, was there with me and we were able to see what was happening,” she remembered smiling.”
If 100 members of ‘Bolt’ completing the race for Deborah wasn’t enough the group went two steps further and hosted a fundraising night for her in the Delacroix where she was presented with a special gift.
“I didn’t know Nicola Mullen before I started going to ‘Bolt’ but she ran the Omagh half marathon for me and last Saturday night she gave me the medal she received for finishing the race. What Nicola Mullen did was one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me,” said Deborah emotionally.
“I’d also like to thank all of the sponsors of the event and I want to say thank you to Philip Devlin at the Delacroix who helped to make last Saturday night’s fundraiser a night to remember. I was delighted with the number of people who attended and I would like to thank them for showing their support. All of the money we raised will be distributed to a number of local charities with the Pink Ladies being one of them,” she said.
It’s been over two months since Deborah had her operation and surgery and whilst she looks fantastic she concedes there is a long way to go. Be that as it may the support she got from her friends at ‘Bolt’ has now materialised into inspiration.
“I know it’ll take me a while but I am determined to be back running with ‘Bolt’ again in the future. I am getting stronger and hopefully my work with the physiotherapist will help me get back to where I was before. It’s been a long and very tough road but my friends at ‘Bolt’ definitely made it easier for me - I will never ever forget what they did for me,” she said happily.
‘Bolt’ running club meet every Monday and Wednesday evening at 6.45pm near the B&Q car park on the Buncrana Road; all ages and abilities are welcome.