A brave Limavady woman diagnosed with lung cancer says it is a “shame and a disgrace” money can’t be found to build a radiotherapy unit at Altnagelvin Hospital.
Mum-of-six, Bernie Loughery was diagnosed in the New Year and subsequently endured four gruelling weeks of radiotherapy treatment at the Belfast Cancer Unit, travelling a total of 3,000 miles for, roughly, just one hour’s treatment.
The gentle spoken 65-year-old said, while it is “too late” for her to have a centre in the North West, she wanted to speak out “for the others who come after me, the people who will be diagnosed with cancer”.
The great-grandmother told the ‘Journal’ she was “gutted” to learn plans for a unit at Altnagelvin were shelved by outgoing health minister, Michael McGimspey ,just days before the NI Assembly dissolved.
“I thought, not for me, but for others like me. One day in the Cancer Centre, 60 new patients came in. I met a woman from Strabane who had to take a bus to get there. I was lucky. I always had my family to drive me there, whether they took off holidays or days from their work. That meant the world to me.”
Bernie - who also has an aneurism and suffers epilepsy - said during those “exhausting” four weeks, sometimes she had to leave her home at 6.45am to get to Belfast for a 9am appointment that would last a mere four to five minutes at most.
“It took its toll, those four weeks. The night before I wouldn’t sleep for worrying and then I’d be up early to get showered and ready. Then, when I came home, I was exhausted. The treatment leaves you that way and then you’re sitting in a car all that time. My body felt broken.”
Referring to patients travelling from Donegal, Strabane and Derry to the Belfast centre, she said: “Michael McGimpsey should travel up and down to Belfast for a month or six weeks, every day, for just a few minutes treatment, to see what people are suffering. I wonder how he would feel at the end of it. It’s a shame and disgrace the money can’t be found. When I see all this money the politicians waste on things it makes me angry. We only have one life. This is it. We need this centre in Altnagelvin.”
Bernie - who is “taking it one day at a time” - believes she is “one of the lucky ones”. She has a devoted husband, Dessie Snr., and a “fantastic” family who drove her to Belfast every day. Each appointment at the Cancer Centre ran smoothly with no delays during the month’s treatment and she was attended to by “fantastic staff”, from admission employees to the nurses and doctors.
“The Cancer Centre is the best run place you ever seen and the staff are amazing there. I can’t say enough about them,” she said, “but I feel for the people who aren’t like me - people who have to get buses and trains to get to the Centre. I always had my family around me. I was very lucky.”
Bernie urged campaigners to continue lobbying for the unit in Altnagelvin with a simple plea.
“For me, it’s too late and I’m angry at that. I think of my children and grandchildren and great grandchildren and think, I won’t be here to finish my job. Nobody knows when they will need this centre. We need it and we should get it, but we need to fight for it.”