In a room full of men who have experienced pain and heartache, everyone is laughing and smiling. The men all have one thing in common. Cancer.
In a small hall in Inch View in Hazelbank the men, some of whom are in the middle of cancer treatment, have gathered to celebrate something some of them have described as their “family, their life-line” and the very thing “that keeps us sane”. It’s the second anniversary of Derry male cancer support group, the Pink Panthers.
The thought of a cancer support group is not to everyone’s liking but there can be no doubt just how significant the Pink Panthers support group has been to cancer survivors like Danny Sheerin and Terry McBride.
“The Pink Panthers have given me my life back,” said Terry who was diagnosed with throat cancer two years ago, aged 49.
The Pink Panthers is a group set up to deal with serious issues. The group offers counselling services and complimentary therapies to all its members but there’s a lighter side too.
“If you’re coming here looking for sympathy you’re coming to the wrong place,” joked Paddy Nash.
Although he has never been diagnosed with cancer himself, Paddy attends the monthly Pink Panther meetings to show support to his brother John, who is also a member.
Paddy is as quick as lightning with a funny one-liner or a joke but he too appreciates just how important the group can be.
“A lot of what we do at our meetings is sit around and joke and have the craic,” said Paddy.
“We all enjoy laughing and carrying on but there’s a serious side to this group too - we’re here to offer anyone affected by caner help and support,” he smiled.
The Pink Panthers, with the help of well known community worker, Karen Mullan, held their first ever meeting in Inch View on the last Friday of June 2013 and that’s the way they have kept things. Two years on and the group still meet on the last Friday of every month in Inch View to talk about how they have been getting on.
“We benefit from each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” said 69 year-old Danny Sheerin.
Danny was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2013 and is currently receiving treatment.
“Prostate cancer ruined my life. It has wrecked me physically but I refuse to let it affect me mentally - that’s why I come to these Pink Panther meetings.”
Danny is also a keen runner and has completed every Waterside half marathon and Walled City Marathon. In fact, the organisers of the Walled City Marathon let Danny start the race two hours before everyone else recently just so that he could complete it.
“I have my good days and my bad days - there’s no doubt how much cancer has impacted upon by life but nothing is going to stop me from taking part and completing the Waterside half marathon in September.”
In a show of support for their fellow Pink Panther, the rest of the group plan to pull on their pink T-shirts and join Danny on the final few yards of the race and help him across the line.
“They might be crossing the finishing line but the medal is mine,” laughed Danny.
“I am only joking, I have got so much from joining the Pink Panthers. I didn’t know all of these men at the start but now I call them my friends. It’s a fantastic group and one I am very proud to be part of.”
One of the driving forces behind the Pink Panthers is facilitator, Margaret Cunningham.
Margaret is a former nurse and is all too familiar with cancer. Margaret lost her own father to cancer and has since dedicated much of her time trying to help others with the illness and to raise awareness.
“I can honestly say I enjoy every moment with the Pink Panthers - they are a great bunch of people and they always have me in stitches.
“Like Terry, Paddy and Danny have said, the Pink Panthers offers so much. We don’t insist on people coming here and telling us everything about them. If people want to come to a meeting and feel they are not ready to open up about their own experience then that’s absolutely fine. We have no rules here. We just want to offer men affected by a cancer a place to come and talk about things - it really is that simple,” said Margaret.
“Some of our members have told me in the past how they see the Pink Panthers as their family. Some have said joining the Pink Panthers helped them to stop drinking, get answers and helped some to cope with depression and anxiety caused by cancer. All you have to do is chat to any of the men and you will realise just how important the Pink Panthers is to Derry.”
If you would like further information on the Pink Panthers contact Margaret Cunningham on 07714651572.