Wednesday 19 December 2018

Rugby star Shane in awe of mum's strength

TOWERS OF STRENGTH: Leinster player Shane Jennings and his mother Joan Young, who
twice had to go through the agony of having cancer of the mouth. Photo: Gerry Mooney
TOWERS OF STRENGTH: Leinster player Shane Jennings and his mother Joan Young, who twice had to go through the agony of having cancer of the mouth. Photo: Gerry Mooney


Leinster flanker Shane Jennings is used to being called big and strong on the pitch with his innate ability to take punishing blows.

However, he dismisses this athletic prowess and instead has credited his mother for her toughness and inner strength to date when battling her two life-threatening encounter's with cancer.

"As a rugby player you always hear you're tough and strong but it's strange just how tough and strong my mum is and everybody that goes through the experience of cancer," he said.

His mother, Joan Young, has been stricken with mouth cancer twice in the past six years, finding a small lump in her mouth firstly in 2006, and then just before she reached her milestone of five years all clear in 2010, it hit again.

The Rathfarnham sporting legend, who is the youngest of three sons, has revealed how his mother's plight had an enormous effect on him.

"The first time it happened in 2006, I was in England playing rugby and I got that awful phone call. I was very upset and I decided to come home as I wanted to be around my mum and family. We all came together and supported each other as much as possible like any family would. It had a massive effect on me emotionally and was very tough," said the rugby player, who is engaged to Cliona Godwin.

Shane believes it was his mother's unshakable emotional strength to take on the illness with a refreshing directness that got the rest of them through it as a family.

"It's not just the surgery that takes enormous strength but dealing with it, constantly worrying about it in your mind space the whole time," he said.

"I didn't think anything of finding a lump initially. But being from my nursing background [I knew that] when something doesn't start getting better you have it seen to," said his mother Joan, who originally hails from Longford.

"The dental hospital took a biopsy straight away and rang me straight after telling me to come back in as it was cancer of the mouth," said Joan who underwent the surgery in October 2006.

After monthly and then annual check-ups left her thinking she was safe, the cancer struck again in April 2010.

"They told me to get on with my life, that if I got to five years I would be okay. But I didn't quite make the five years, I got to the fourth year when I discovered two spots again on the inside of my cheek," recalled the mother of three.

"It was desperate and devastating to think you're in the clear and find something again, as mouth surgery is horrific."

Both Joan and her son Shane admit that she was in total denial of what had happened and it was only with the help of Arc Cancer that she came through the other end.

"I was desperate and totally refused to confront what had happened me. Arc is a haven, I couldn't have coped without its support. Once I had the problem the second time it was my first port of call," she said.

"I would come in and say nothing and just burst out crying, it's so peaceful, like a little bit of heaven. I don't know how anybody could cope with the emotional side to getting cancer on their own post surgery without Arc," she added.

Shane has admitted that it was hard for him to offer his mother the type of support she needed. "It is very hard for someone to offer support if they don't know what someone is going through. People in Arc have gone through it with people in a similar position."

He said that prior to getting cancer his mother had been a very upbeat person. "But then once she got cancer, you could see it in her whole wellbeing and her mannerisms, which is understandable.

"It is one of the issues everyone goes through with cancer, but in a couple of months with the appropriate mental and physical healing, her whole outlook on life changed. Arc have had a massive impact on her getting better" he added.

A Midsummer's Tea Party will be held on June 23 to raise funds for Arc Cancer Support Centre. Visit

Sunday Independent

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