After helping to bring about the transformation of cancer services and awareness across the north west, the co-chairs of Derry’s Pink Ladies have announced they are now ready to hand over the reigns.
Geraldine McGurk and Karen Mullan have been the faces of the Pink Ladies for several years and said they have every confidence their successors, Jacquie Loughrey and James Nash, will continue the groundbreaking work the organisation has undertaken to date.
James and Jacquie said it was an honour and a privilege to be asked to carry on the sterling work of Karen, Geraldine and the rest of the Pink Ladies and Pink Panther members.
Geraldine has been a member of the Pink Ladies for the past eight years, joining three years after her own cancer battle. While reluctant at first after a friend asked her to join, she said she was “smitten” once she attended her first meeting and found “the craic was 90.”
Geraldine, who along with Karen, will remain on the Pink Ladies Committee, said her tenure as co-chairperson had been an amazing journey.
“I did things in my life-time that I never thought I would do,” she said. “I was on the Politics Show, I spoke at the Guildhall and spoke everywhere, the radio, things I never dreamed of and we were instrumental in getting the Radiotherapy Unit in Altnagelvin. Nobody says no to the Pink Ladies, we’re like a toothache. We just keep on and on.”
Geraldine said the hard-won Radiotherapy Unit was the big highlight of her past experiences with the Pink Ladies. “We tramped the streets for it. We had a big rally down in the Guildhall with a big stage and I was speaking at that with a couple of the other girls as well. It was nerve wracking doing speeches but I always got through it. I’ve been involved with the choir from the very start and we just love it.”
Karen Mullan was earlier this year appointed a Sinn Fein Foyle MLA and said she has every confidence on those taking over the reigns.
“The Pink Ladies was one of the best things I have ever been part of,” she said. “The people are just amazing, Everyone is so supportive, all looking out for each other and we are just like a big happy family.
“We have achieved a lot and that is down to the hard work of all our members. We started off as a support group and very quickly became very pro-active. The members worked really, really hard over the years along with ourselves who were volunteers and together we grew the organisation into what it is. I am delighted to hand over the reigns to James and Jacquie. It is really great to have them to take the organisation into that next phase. It’s very exciting.”
Geraldine added: “I’m delighted for James and Jacquie because I know they will do a brilliant job. They’re committed; they’re enthusiastic and it’s time now for us to hand over the mantle to these two and I have absolutely no doubt they are going to be fantastic, and I’m so happy for them.”
Jacquie Loughrey said it was a “magnificent honour” to take on the role as co-chair.
While paying tribute to the massive contribution of the outgoing ladies, Jacquie said: “I’m up for the challenge and I just fee like this group is a family to me. It’s a very personal journey I have taken with them.”
A cancer survivor, Jacquie said she had originally joined the Pink Ladies because her mum, Margaret McAnee, had been a Pink Lady and was involved in the choir.
“Mammy would have been a soprano singer and she would have got great solace from the choir. And then I started doing some fundraising for the Pink Ladies when I was in full-time work. That’s how I got involved.
“Unfortunately mammy passed away two years ago, and I got diagnosed a year after mammy died.
“So my support has been the Pink Ladies and I would probably not have got through everything I got through, but for them.”
Jacquie said the camaraderie and friendship between the members was brilliant, adding that the charity also supported families, children, offered financial advice and a carer’s network. She said one of the big issues she wanted to progress in her new role was raising awareness of breast cancer prevention.
“There’s been an awful lot done around awareness and research. There’s not enough done nationally about the prevention of breast cancer. For women there’s still far too many, nearly 55,000 every year in the UK, diagnosed with breast cancer and a lot of them are under 50. So the message we are taking out there into the community is that there are steps you can take to reduce your risk.”
She added: “The other thing about the Pink Ladies is people look at us and see a thriving group. They see we are not down beat over cancer and we are able to enjoy ourselves; promote our health and our well being. There is life after a cancer diagnosis. We would try to show people that. We’re hoping to encourage people to come and join the organisation. There are so many different events they could come and participate in.”
James Nash, said it was “an absolute honour” to be asked to be co-chair. Mr Nash, who has a rare blood disorder, has been involved with the Pink Panthers for the past five years. The Pink Panthers was set up by Karen Mullan, Michelle and Margaret Cunningham and evolved out of a health group and gardening group in Ballymagroarty, as a men’s support group for the Pink Ladies.
“The whole thing with the Pink Panthers was a learning process for me. I’ve since lost my wife to cancer two years ago and the support I received from support workers from the Pink Ladies, Michelle and Maureen and MacMillan, was absolutely fantastic. A member of Pink Panthers was on the committee, Jim Bradley, and he recently passed away. To replace somebody like Jim is an absolute honour. I don’t know whether I can fill his boots. I’m there I have a role to play and I hope I can do it in a right and proper way.”
Maureen Collins and Michelle McLaren paid tribute to the incoming and outgoing chairpersons. Maureen said: “We appreciate the amazing support and encouragement we have received from Geraldine and Karen over the years. We know we have a great working relationship with the incoming co-chairs because they are members so we are really excited. We appreciate and respect their passion, drive and commitment and I know they will continue to represent and continue the support that the Pink Ladies and Pink Panthers offer.”
For more information on the Pink Ladies/ Pink Panthers contact the group on 028 71414004 or alternatively check out their Facebook page.