My name is Jimmy Conway, and I was diagnosed with an incurable prostate cancer in November 2015, which rapidly spread to the bone soon after.
After a course of chemotherapy and radiation, my cancer was contained and is still under control now.
Being diagnosed and receiving treatment for cancer can be the most lonely time of your life, and even though people all around the world are dealing with similar circumstances, you can feel very isolated!
After my conventional treatments had finished, I decided to research the holistic path of cancer treatment leading me to not only completely change my dietary habits but also to discover alternative therapies such as acupuncture, reflexology and reiki to name a few.
It was during an acupuncture appointment that The Circle of Friends support group was mentioned to me by my therapist, Elaine,; who is a volunteer in the centre.
Initially I was very sceptical about visiting the centre and it took me quite some time to pluck up the courage to actually attend something that would have been totally out of my comfort zone.
On my initial visit I was greeted by Sharon at reception, who met me like she was meeting an old friend; her empathy towards me, putting me instantly at ease. Sharon was one of the nicest people I’ve met in a long time. Her kindness is something I still talk about to this day.
The Circle of Friends offer fantastic complimentary services for myself, my family and friends from physiotherapy, weekly coffee mornings through to the Knit and Natter group and the Men’s group. The Men’s group in particular has been hugely beneficial to me for both cancer and non-cancer related topics.
As devastating as my cancer diagnosis has been, it has also, through the Circle of Friends support group introduced me to some of the most beautiful people I have ever encountered in my life, many whom I now regard as some of my closest friends.
The support group is open to everyone, regardless of which county you’re from, as I can confirm, being a proud Limerick man. They may ‘rise’ you for not being from ‘The Premier County ‘ but They will welcome you like a long lost friend.
I wanted to write to you to give praise and recognition to a wonderful organisation, The Circle of Friends Cancer Support Group in Tipperary Town.
I never believed I would be writing a letter related to the subject of cancer support. To me cancer was a disease that ‘other’ people got. On Friday 19th April, 2013 my life changed permanently and dramatically. At 36 with a 1 year old baby girl and 3 year old little boy, I was diagnosed with Stage 2B cervical cancer. A large tumour was visible upon examination and myself and my husband walked out of Cork University Hospital that day with the news that no one ever wants to hear. The usual assault of dreadful but necessary treatment took place on my body, concurrent chemotherapy and radiotherapy over several months. Thankfully by late 2013 it was apparent that my tumour was reducing and we were winning the battle against cancer.
Believe it or not while the treatment was taking place, the daily journey and back to Cork University Hospital actually gave me comfort and the routine of it all provided security. For me it was like going to work and it was following the end of treatment when I really needed support. I remember feeling so alone, and lost in the winter months.
I wasn’t physically able to go back to work or mind the children so was at home a lot, something I was not used to. I had no friends or family who had gone through Cancer (luckily). I also didn’t want to always burden those close to me with my fears and worry, as I felt everyone at home had been through enough. Many cancer survivors speak about feeling so grateful to be alive after cancer treatment. Although I felt gratitude, another part of me was scared and lonely and it was too early to breathe a sigh of relief. I also felt ‘different’ from everyone else my own age who were either at work or were full time mothers, neither of which I could be due to my physical state.
It was at this point that I saw a post on Facebook about a new cancer support group, Circle of Friends, which was setting up in Tipperary Town. Tipperary is only 30 minutes from my home in Kilfinane, whereas other support groups in Limerick and Cork were an hour away and just that bit too far. I contacted Jennifer Jones Hickey, the founder of Circle of Friends, and she invited me to the launch night. On the night I sat in the car, and when I eventually went through the door I knew I was in the right place. The Centre was alive, filled to the brim with people dressed in their finest, looking great and full of life. The setting was lovely, two rooms in the old station house, warm and comfortable and filled with light and laughter. I met Jennifer in person, a beautiful girl living with cancer and similar in age to myself and connected with her immediately. I remember coming away that night with a sense of positivity, hope, anticipation and acceptance.
Since that point almost two years ago, I am now a regular service user. My cancer journey did not end, as unfortunately I am suffering from chronic/permanent radiation damage from the treatment which affects less than 3% of people. I can honestly say that all of this has all been made bearable through assistance and support that I have gotten from many people, including my wonderful circle of friends in Tipperary. I believe that for someone who is going through illness, to feel like you belong and fit in somewhere outside of the hospital environment is very important.
The Centre provides a number of activities that are fun filled and get people out of the house targeted at both men and women of all ages. Having been a busy, professional and a mother to two small children, I was used to always being on the go. For me, to put on my make-up, a smile and get out of the house, gave me an objective for the day. I began to attend the ‘knit and natter’ group every Wednesday and have met a wonderful group of women of all ages, touched by Cancer in some way. Very seldom do we speak of illness, but if anyone wants to talk there are many willing listeners. Every Friday there is a coffee morning, which is always good fun and attended by men and women from all walks of life. I have been availing of free of charge treatments including reiki, mindfulness, counselling, art therapy and these have helped my body and mind so much. I have participated in a beautiful moonlight walk in Aherlow House, a 5km walk and other fundraising events. This year I even got the chance to hit the catwalk and modelled alongside Celia Holman Lee’s models for Circle of Friends at the Pride of Tipperary Festival!
The Centre has gone from strength to strength since Jennifer set it up in 2013. Since its inception it has grown quickly in user numbers, centre facilities and in the variety of free of charge services provided to all persons affected by the illness. It is fully volunteer led, and supported by many voluntary therapists and counsellors. Some of the other services provided include exercise classes, women’s wellness group, men’s support group, acupuncture, massage, bra prosthesis and manual lymph drainage. In addition, it now offers outreach services to the small rural towns and villages in Counties Tipperary, Limerick and North Cork. Having secured a greenfield site from Tipperary Cashel Municipal District Council, it is Circle of Friend’s intention to create a purpose-built cancer support centre by 2018. Plans are now on view of the new Centre and fundraising is now actively taking place.
I have a wonderful family, an amazing husband and two beautiful children and now know what it feels like to be truly grateful for my life. Although it is a very different one that I had before this journey began, I believe that some parts of it are better than they ever were. I have realised my own strength and resilience, the love I feel for my family and have learned the importance of empathy in our lives. I feel that much of this is down to the friendship and support that I have gotten from Circle of Friends.
This letter appeared in the Limerick Leader on the 9/10/2015.
Sadly Sarah passed away on the 3/11/2017.
Kathleen Mitchell’s Testimonial.
“No matter what I have been through, a visit to Circle of Friends Cancer Support Centre always helps to chat over a cup of tea or coffee, in a home from home environment –safe, warm and so relaxing.
There is nothing like it – a beautiful place to be. I walk away with hope in my heart, knowing I will never walk alone!
Circle of Friends –always there for me- thank you !
Reach out – they are there for you”