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Friends, rocks and roses


HERE TO HELP Some of the faces of Mayo Cancer Support, Rock Rose House, from left: Eugene Connolly, Treasurer, Mayo Cancer Support, Seamus Moran, Mayo Cancer Support and Trisha Greavy, General Manager, Mayo Cancer Support.  Pic: Michael McLaughlin

Ger Flanagan

AT first glance 32 St Patrick’s Avenue, Castlebar looks nothing out of the ordinary in a neat line of houses directly across from the entrance to Mayo University Hospital. But it’s only when you step inside Rock Rose House that you begin to see what it truly has to offer.
Greeted with a comforting fragrance of incense and a warm, relaxing atmosphere, Rock Rose House is the permanent residency of Mayo Cancer Support. This organisation offers a range of emotional and physical supports to people diagnosed with cancer, as well as to their friends and family.
The doors of Rock Rose House first opened to the public as a drop-in service back in 2003. Driving it was a group of volunteers who recognised the need for a service, through their personal experiences and through working with those diagnosed with cancer. Its name is derived from the Rockrose flower, synonymous for its ability to flourish in conditions where no other flora can.
Chairman of Mayo Cancer Support, Seamus Moran, first got involved with the organisation in 2003 after losing his late wife, Marian, to cancer. He says their door is open to everyone.
“It’s really about helping people cope with the stress associated with the diagnoses,” he told The Mayo News. “Generally people would go through their treatment first because that’s the first critical thing that comes to mind, to get through that and get better. And after that Rock Rose House is there as a place they can come to talk and to get help to cope with it through our services.
“It may not necessarily be the person [diagnosed] who comes in. It may be a family member seeking professional guidance to deal with a diagnosis in the house.
“People can just walk through the door without an appointment and without money in their pocket. They can come in, sit down and talk to a professional – and, believe it or not, simply sitting down with someone outside the immediate family can be a huge positive for them.”

Rock Rose House offers a range of services to its users, including professional counselling, reflexology, massage, stress management, life coaching, therapies (including art therapy, tai chi and yoga) and telephone support – or simply a place sit and have a cup of tea.
The employees of Rock Rose House believe strongly that a cancer diagnosis is not solely confined to the patient; it can be a family diagnoses too. With this in mind, they also offer the Climb programme (Children’s Lives Include Moments of Bravery), which is aimed at helping young children who have a parent, or significant other adult, diagnosed with cancer.
However, even with all of this to offer, general manager Trisha Greavy admits that patients can still be apprehensive about ringing their door bell.
“We have had people who came to our door and turned away,” she said. “One woman in particular came three times and turned again, couldn’t face it.
“Then you have other people who come to the door and it may be the first time that their diagnosis has hit them and it can be quite upsetting, the reality of it. So that first step in the door can be quite nerve wracking.
“It’s important for people to remember that there is life after cancer and there are ways and help for you, because it’s not just a case of having your treatment and getting over it, it’s a life changing experience for the person and family.”

The cost to run Rock Rose House is approximately €200,000 annually, with 90 percent of those funds coming from their own fundraising initiatives.
Fundraisers like the Castlebar Mini-Marathon, walks, cycles, coffee mornings and the old-reliable bucket-rattling generate substantial funds, but in such a competitive market, new initiatives are key to surviving.
“We’re not competing for business or customers,” Moran added. “We want to be able to fundraise what our costs are every year, and if we do that we consider it a successful year.
“The new board (which contains former Mayo manager John Maughan, Mayo News columnist Maggie Gibbons and Noelene Cashin Cafolla recognises that we have to do something different, and that’s why we are launching Friends for Rock Rose House.
“We are hoping people will sign up to it and give us a once-off donation or a small donation on a more frequent basis through a standing order.”
Rock Rose House is a tightly run ship and all money is spent with the utmost of transparency within Mayo.
The annual costs include five employees and the upkeep of the house, which they own. Their state-funding is in single figures percentage, one of the main reasons they’ve accounted a small deficit for the last three years.
“We’re not happy with the level of funding from the HSE,” treasurer Eugene Connolly said. “It’s approximately 5 percent, if even, and for the work we do we feel that we should have a much higher percentage.
“The last few years have been challenging for reasons like the economic downturn and the scandals in relation to some charity organisations.
“If we were in the position that we didn’t have any more money and were forced to wind down, there would be public outcry and then the HSE would be forced to step in and provide the services.
“We all have family members affected by cancer, and to think there probably wasn’t services like this in the past…. It’s fantastic that there is one available now.”

Ger’s experience
But for now Rock Rose House looks to be going from strength to strength, with more and more people discovering their services and availing of them
As well as Castlebar, they offer an outreach centre in Ballina on Tuesdays, and plans are in place to establish an outreach centre in Achill.
But without the generosity of the public, they wouldn’t be in existence and able to facilitate people like Westport native Ger McNally, who in 2012 was diagnosed with an aggressive leiomyosarcoma cancer.
A keen musician and father of four, Ger just recently held a concert in Westport Town Hall launching his new album, ‘Hiatus’ – with the kind help of Harry Hughes of Portwest and Letter Shop Services Ltd – and he has donated all proceeds to Rock Rose House.
“When I was diagnosed it was very tough on my family,” he said. “It was around two or three years ago that I heard about the service and although I wasn’t too interested at first, I soon did the counseling and it was absolutely excellent.
“It was great for keeping my head together, putting things into perspective and getting things out of my system, I found it invaluable and would urge people to visit it.
“That’s why I recently decided to hold a concert, to keep myself out of trouble I suppose, and I had absolutely hesitation in donating all proceeds to Rock Rose House.”  

For more information or to donate, visit or find their Facebook page, Mayo Cancer Support, Rock Rose House.