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‘If anything, people need more support than ever’

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SERVICE NEEDED NOW MORE THAN EVER Trisha Greavy of Rock Rose House, Mayo Cancer Support.

Rock Rose House has seen its cancer-support services change dramatically during this pandemic

Feature
Ger Flanagan

ROCK Rose House in Castlebar is a sanctuary for people living with the burden of a cancer diagnosis. When you walk through the doors, it is respite from the outside world, a place of warmth and comfort, where people go for emotional or physical support or for their fears of the word ‘cancer’ to be lessened.
It’s a service close to the hearts of so many people across the county, and one that’s worth its weight in gold. However, over the past year it’s experienced significant change in its operations due to the challenge that presents itself to every doorstep in the world – the pandemic.
January marked the third time since March that Rock Rose House, on St Patrick’s Avenue in Castlebar, closed its doors due to public-health regulations.
With so much happening elsewhere in the medical world, it’s easy to forget that cancer isn’t going away just because Covid-19 seems more important right now. And that patients are continuing to struggle without all those essential services that make their difficult situation more bearable.
“Demand hasn’t dropped at all,” Trisha Greavy, Rock Rose House general manager, told The Mayo News. “If anything, people need more support than ever. People are still getting diagnosed with cancer, people are still going through treatment during these times – and it is even more difficult right now, when people are asked to isolate and cocoon and allowed no visitors to their home.
“The cases you are dealing with are so sad, ones where people might be going to treatment but they can’t drive because they’re so sick, yet nobody can come in to help them either because of their situation that their immune systems are so low, they’re asked to isolate.
“So now more than ever our services are needed for people who feel isolated and the impact of Covid on top of their cancer diagnosis.”

‘Far from normal’
Trisha and the staff at Rock Rose House are now working from home, with their days taken up with phone services, be it counselling or just being a soundboard for their users who might be going through a tough day.
Even when guidelines did allow their drop-in centre in Castlebar, as well as their other outreach services in Achill and Ballina, to be open, it was far from normal service. Only one service user was allowed in their state-of-the-art facility at one time, staff numbers were limited and the intensive sanitising that needed to be done in between each person was a burden.
“One thing we found extremely hard was if someone came into our centre when we were open and got upset, you couldn’t even give them a hug to comfort them. We found that extremely hard,” Trish added.
“For people who are bereaved from a cancer diagnosis or for people with one, the simple thing of giving a hug can mean so much … You felt coldhearted and a bit useless, but that’s just the way it was. But even when you’re at home now and the phone rings, you wonder what is our purpose when we can’t do our normal level of services.
“When you talk to someone on the phone that is upset or maybe just wants an listening ear, you do feel some sort of help, but compared to your normal services it’s much different.”

Testing times
While adapting has been difficult, Trisha has been extremely impressed with the community spirit on show throughout the pandemic, praising neighbours and An Gardaí Síochana for the support they have shown to the vulnerable.
Financially, it has been a turbulent few months, particularly given that Rock Rose House sees 90 percent of their funding come through the general public.
In between lockdowns, charity events like the Mayo Cancer Support Greenway Cycle, organised by John Tiernan, and the Mary Sheridan Tonra Memorial Cycle, were able to proceed and provide invaluable funds. But gone are the days of the ‘old reliables’.
“It’s testing times,” she acknowledged. “I don’t think fundraising will ever go back to what it was in terms of church-gate collections or flag days, because at the minute they are just not safe to do so, and we would never put staff or volunteers at risk.
“They were our old reliables, but now we have to place more emphasis on online fundraising, something we haven’t really embraced that much in the past. So we have to reinvent the wheel in that sense … it is worrying going forward because that is what 2021 is looking like now.”

Hope on the horizon
Looking ahead to the new year, Trisha remains optimistic about Rock Rose, and the world, getting back on their feet. “I’m optimistic about this vaccine,” she admitted. “Please God it will have a good impact.
“At the start of January I thought I might crack up with this lockdown, but we’re getting through it and we’re taking one day at a time.
“We’re missing work a lot, because our centre was like a social outlet for everyone as well, with all the different classes, support groups, fundraisers and people coming in and out.
“We are hoping to open up again, but at the same time we’re very, very strict on adhering to whatever guidelines are in place, so if that means we have to continue to operate remotely, or one at a time in the drop-in service, then we will do that, because it’s all about the health and safety of our staff, clients and volunteers.”

ILH 40084-21-02 Hastings Benefit MPU v4