Giving back


SURROUNDED BY LOVE Carmel Mulchrone with her son-in-law Damien and his three girls Muireann, Clodagh and Aoibheann. Pic: Conor McKeown

Michael Gallagher

Carmel Mulchrone didn’t expect it, but in May 2021 she was hit by the body-blow of a cancer diagnosis. A battle for life ensued and now, in brighter days, the Westport woman is determined to raise much-needed funds for cancer research. She’s being aided in her quest by her son-in-law Damien Finnegan who is busily preparing to run the Dublin Marathon, their big fundraiser, later this year.

They don’t really use the front door in the Mulchrone household in Sandyhill just outside Westport. That entrance is reserved for more officious occasions and the vast majority of callers shoot around the gable, knock on the window and lift the latch. It was the same last Thursday evening when the happy home danced to the music of grandchildren, grandparents, laughter, conversation, story-telling and a much-loved son-in-law.
“Since the moment he came through the door we’ve loved him,” Carmel explained as she introduced her son-in-law. “Now, he’s training for his first marathon and he’s doing it for a great cause, so we’re very proud of him,” she added.
Damien is indeed preparing for the upcoming Dublin Marathon. He’s running the highways and byways of Mayo on an almost daily basis and proud to be doing so. Each step of the 26.2-mile run will raise money for a cause very close to the family’s heart – cancer research.
Since a fateful night May 2021 when Carmel discovered a lump in her breast the Mulchrones and their extended family have been immersed in a battle with the disease, and now they want to give something back.

Carmel is a talker. She spreads positivity wherever she goes, but an encounter with a young man on a hospital corridor in Galway little more than a year ago shook her to the core. The Westport woman was in the midst of her treatment and waiting to go in for her radiotherapy session when she struck up a conversation that will stay with her forever.
“He seemed to be in bad form, so I asked him how he was. He told me the chemotherapy hadn’t worked and the radiotherapy didn’t seem to be doing anything either, so he was in real trouble. Then he told me he didn’t want to die. He had three young kids at home and he couldn’t die. It nearly broke my heart. I promised there and then if I could ever do anything to help cancer research I would. Now Damien is running the marathon and we’re so proud of him,” Carmel explained as three of her grandchildren Aoibheann, Muireann and Clodagh, played around her feet and her husband Peter looked on with great delight.
“I was in bed one night and discovered a lump the size of a small egg in my breast. I hadn’t noticed anything before but mine is a very aggressive form of cancer and came up very quickly. When I got to my doctor, Mary Coyle, she got me to Galway the very next day and I was seen by the surgeon and had the scans and the biopsy done.
“They looked at the scans and said ‘Yes, you have cancer’ just like that. It was a huge shock to the system. I wondered whether I was dreaming. When we came out we got on the phone to our kids, Elaine in Oranmore, Dee in Castlebar and the two lads, Damian and Brian in England. Those were tough calls to make. I told them I’d be fine, that I’d be alright, but I hadn’t a clue really.
“I saw the oncologist the following day, and he put a plan in place. The initial treatment was four sessions of chemo followed by surgery, chemo again and radiotherapy. I asked him would I live, and he said I had every chance if I could get to the end of the plan, so we were so determined to do it no matter what.”

Toxic reaction
However, things didn’t go according to plan. Peter dropped Carmel to the door of the Galway Clinic for her first chemo session and went off for a long, nervous walk. When he came back to collect her, she was shook and things were about to get worse.
“I was so unwell Peter had to almost continuously pull the car into the side of the road on the way home. We eventually made it back and I went to bed but things got even worse and I had to be taken by ambulance to Castlebar. They figured out I was having a toxic reaction to the chemo and that was a huge setback for us. As I recovered, the professor rang from Galway and said we’d have to stop the treatment and put a new plan in place.
“Six weeks later I had surgery and a few weeks later started different chemo and later again radiotherapy. We got through it and learned a lot.
“When I had a bad reaction to the first chemo we thought we were in real bother but there’s always Plan B or Plan C and whatever is needed. They’re amazing people, they do everything humanly possible to save your life. Every person we came across from the consultants and doctors and nurses to the caterers and kitchen staff, everyone in the entire place – they were truly brilliant, and we cannot thank them enough,” Carmel added before her husband took up the story.
“I’d leave her in the hospital at half eight in the morning. It was in the middle of Covid, so I couldn’t even go inside the door. I’d head off walking for four or five hours. I got to know every inch of ground around that part of Galway over those months, in every type of weather.”
However, the woman he met in the dancehall in Pontoon 45 years previously, was in for a shock.
“After the first session of chemo I lost my hair. When you look in the mirror and you have no hair it defines you psychologically and emotionally. You know then you’re in a fight, in a battle. There’s no denying it. It does have a big impact,” Carmel explained, saying she’s available to speak with anyone battling cancer at the moment.
“Talking to people who had come through it was brilliant for me, and now I’m so happy to chat with people who are fighting their fight. I got so much support – so many cards and text messages and good wishes. They meant so much. My family, friends, in-laws, everyone was so good to me. I will never be able to repay their kindness.”

Helping others
One way the Mulchrones are responding to the kindness is through the big fundraising drive around Damien’s upcoming Dublin Marathon. The Castlebar man, who works as a quality technician in Abbvie, is pumping out the miles and hoping to raise as much as possible for research into the disease which impacts almost every family.
“Training is going well,” he said. “The girls play football with Mitchels and they had a game in Knockmore recently, so I ran home to Castlebar from the match. Another day, we were coming over here to Westport to visit, so Dee drove the girls over and I ran from Castlebar. It’s such a good cause.
“Carmel has been brilliant to us, all the family and so many other people over the years. She’s not telling this story for notice or attention – she’s telling her story to help other people and that’s why we’re trying to raise funds too.”
Anyone who would like to contribute to the fundraiser can do so on sponsorship cards available in Castlebar and Westport or the GoFundMe page ‘Dublin City Marathon for Irish Cancer Society’.

2009 peter-carmel-damien 1000
BRIGHTER DAYS AHEAD Carmel Mulchrone with her husband, Peter, and son-in-law, Damien, at her home Sandyhill Westport. Pic Conor McKeown