independent

Sunday 22 October 2017

Cancer group campaigners call it a day

Group says campaign was brought as far as it could go

Paul Deering

It was one of the most prominent campaign groups in Sligo but after ten they've decided to call it a day.

Marches, protests and lobbying of politicians were all part of the Save Our Cancer Services group which grew out of total frustration at what they saw was the downgrading of Sligo University Hospital, in particular its breast cancer services.

The campaign group was always central to the elections over the past decade in Sligo/Leitrim with debates on the services a regular occurrence in the media while the doorstepping of politicians also a regular feature.

In a short statement issued online, the group said it had closed its bank account and donated what was left to North West Hospice and SHOUT.

"We brought the campaign as far as we could and feel after 10 years it has run its course.

"Thank you so much to everyone who came out in their thousands over the years to support this campaign," the group said, adding its thanks also to the local media for the "constant support and extensive coverage."

"We are now officially disbanded," concluded the statement.

One of the prominent members of the group was Caitriona McGoldrick from Coolaney who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007.

She was one of the last patients to undergo surgery in Sligo University Hospital before the services went under a radical transformation with the creation of eight centres of excellence but which didn't include Sligo.

It meant she had to go to Galway for follow-up radiotherapy, which lasted for six weeks.

Five mornings a week she got the 'cancer bus' to Galway before returning home each evening.

"I couldn't stay over. My daughter Ava was only four so I had to come back each evening. My husband Tommy was on the road for a living so we didn't have a choice.

"I often went down that road in tears," she said. And, it was the issue of the bus which the campaign group tackled initially.

"It was a mini-bus and just wasn't comfortable for many of the patients, some of whom were post surgery and we were all cramped. We just kicked up over it and we were listened to," she says.

A new bus was provided, a new 29 seater making it a more comfortable journey. But, not all of the campaign group's hopes were met. Breast cancer surgery was never returned to Sligo despite a long and intensive fight.

A mobile mammography service has been underway at the hospital, calling twice a year but is only for women five years post surgery.

"But, at least we have got some women off the road to Galway," says Caitriona.

She says they took their campaign as far up the political ladder they could, even to the Director General of Health in Brussels, all to no avail.

"We had the perfect set-up in Sligo and we had full multi-disciplinary team for nine years here under Consultant Tim O'Hanrahan but it was all dismantled," she says.

She added: "The service was perfect here and all we needed was another surgeon. We had the numbers here."

As for the many politicians she encountered on the way, she says promises were just two-a-penny.

"We had promises of a ninth centre of excellence being created for Sligo by Susan O'Keeffe to a commitment that the services would return in 100 days of gaining power by Deputy John Perry.

"We did meet some very good and genuine people who happen to be politicians but overall we found trust was the biggest issue," says Caitriona.

Ten years ago she and Valerie Finan were on the bus to Galway and now they are enjoying a clean bill of health.

"We had out surgery in Sligo and we travelled to Galway for radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

"We got a group together then and it was full on for a couple of years. Jim O'Sullivan did the press releases for us and my sister Denise kenna was treasurer while Jim's wife, Deirdre was secretary. We also had Lilly McMorrow and Ann McGowan at the start too. It was a tight knit group and we gelled really well.

"In one way it was good too in that it kept my mind off what was happening to me."

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