Balrothery's Got talent!
Balrothery cancer survivor, Louise Lamari, talks to Ken Phelan about beating cancer and joining the Sea of Change choir on Ireland's Got Talent
Despite recent health challenges, a Balrothery mum has risen to the heights of talent show 'Ireland's Got Talent' by performing with her 45-strong female choir 'The Sea of Change Choir', and has, through the friendship and support of her fellow singers found a renewed sense of purpose in life.
Cancer survivor Louise Lamari, who has lived in Balbriggan the past 11 years, first joined the choir after taking part in a record-breaking 'skinny dip' on Magheramore Beach in Co Wicklow last year, held in aid of those affected by the illness.
A number of women who had taken part in the event came up with the idea of forming a choir, with a view to empowering and supporting women who had gone through, or were currently going through cancer treatment.
Having selected the lucky few, The Sea of Change Choir was formed, the name symbolizing women 'entering the water as strangers', then 'emerging as friends' afterwards.
Several painstaking rehearsals later, and the choir were ready to compete on a national talent show, and to impress the nation with their angelic tones.
Louise (51), a special needs assistant in Bracken Educate Together NS in Balbriggan, recently gave a stellar performance with The Sea of Change Choir on Ireland's Got Talent, achieving a 'Golden Buzzer' from Denise Van Outen and a standing ovation both from the judges and the audience.
The choir will now go through to the semi-final of the popular talent show, though, as Louise says, judge Louis Walsh is quietly confident they will win the competition.
Speaking of the choir's incredible performance on Ireland's Got Talent with their rendition of 'This is Me', and her own personal struggle with cancer, Louise says:
'I felt very confident on the stage with all the other girls there, but it was nerve-wrecking, exciting, elating all in one.
'We actually didn't realise that the Golden Buzzer had been pressed initially, we were just kind of enjoying the experience and then everything went yellow and things started falling from the sky, so it was a bit surreal.
'The audience were super excited, so we kind of fed off their energy, and that was just electric. The judges were so positive as well, and I think they were surprised by the performance. The sound was amazing and the lighting was fantastic.
'We looked really good, and had lovely black shimmering dresses on, so it was lovely just to get dressed up and do that.
'We were really surprised at the reaction. We love what we do, so we enjoyed it, and obviously that transferred to the audience. The judges were all amazed and we got a standing ovation within five minutes of starting to sing. Denise was the one who pressed the Golden Buzzer, and afterwards she took off her shoes and ran up and gave us hugs and everything.'
Having received the 'Golden Buzzer' on the show, rehearsals for the semi-final will now be stepped up to 'two to three times a week', Louise says. Preparations for the choir will involve meeting choreographers, having dress fittings, filming on the beach where the 'skinny dip' was held, and more 'behind the scenes' work.
Louise says she has 'no idea' what the choir's chances will be in the show's semi-final, but that she'd 'like to be confident' that they will get a good reaction on the night, adding of course that she'd love to get through to the final.
Some members of the choir, she says, are currently going through chemotherapy, so that being part of such a big show 'really does the heart good.'
Louise says the choir, 'just a big group of sisters' is elated with their success, and have always come together to support each other in times of need. She points out that if anyone is having a tough week, the other women will send 'lovely messages', make phone calls or meet for coffee. They are all there, she says, to support one another, and this undoubtedly is where their strength lies.
According to Louise, the Sunday rehearsals, held in Lucan Co Dublin, are the highlight of her week, and she says that after singing with the choir, the women come out feeling 'very positive' , which she says is 'a lovely feeling', which 'sets you up for the week to come.'
For now, the focus is on winning top prize in the Ireland's Got Talent competition, which would enable the choir to make a donation towards children's cancer charity Aoibheann's Pink Tie.
However, Louise jokingly points out that just a small amount of money would be held for a celebratory night out for the girls, should they be successful.
Louise, of course, has had her own battle with cancer, and here speaks candidly about her own struggle through difficult and dark times:
'I was diagnosed with cancer towards the end of 2011, and had chemotherapy for a year. It was Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. I had gone for an x-ray that I used to get every year for treatment for arthritis.
'I used to have to have a chest x-ray done every year to make sure I wasn't getting tuberculosis, and in the midst of a routine x-ray, they found a large tumour, so it was diagnosed quite randomly.
'It came as a big shock, because you always think it could only happen to someone else. I had driven into the Mater to get the x-ray, and I was on my way home when I got a phone call to turn around and come back.
'Initially you think 'oh, they mixed up the x-ray', but then they made an appointment for me to go and see a consultant. I had a biopsy done, but really didn't understand what was going on until I was told. They don't just say 'you have cancer', they're not words that they use. It's like 'we found a mass', or 'a shadow', so I didn't know initially what was wrong.
'I was in treatment for about a year, so in total it was eight or nine rounds of chemotherapy, and it was quite gruesome. I lost all my hair in that time, and then it took me about another year to get well afterwards to go back to work, but the focus was always to beat it.
'I'm over it now, but about a year and a half after that they found malignant melanoma on my left breast, so I had that removed about eighteen months after the chemotherapy, which was shocking as well. But from that date then, I've been doing well, and I'm back in work full-time.
'It was the support of my friends and family that got me through, and especially my mam, who was a great support.'
Regardless of the outcome of Ireland's Got Talent, Louise says she will 'definitely' stay singing with The Sea of Change Choir, who she says have been a source of encouragement, support and friendship.
Her experience in the choir has been 'the best thing that ever happened', she says.
For those going through cancer, Louise offers some heartfelt advice:
'I came across a woman called Deirdre Fetherstone??, who had a web site called 'Kicking the Sh*te out of Cancer'. I just stumbled across it when I was in convalescence.
'Deirdre is the organiser of the 'Strip and Dip' skinny dip in Wicklow, and writes daily pieces about her own experiences with cancer. So that was a great comfort to me.
'I would say, find like-minded people who can support and understand what you're going through, because it is isolating. We have a Facebook page now called 'Sea of Change Choir', and people can go there if they want someone to talk to.
'I know in Balbriggan, I got great support.
'We have Balbriggan Cancer Support Group, and they were great help to me during my treatment for the year. You can go in and just talk to them and they have a trained counsellor and various things going on throughout the week. They were a great support to me.
'I have to say too, the Mater Hospital was fantastic, and the oncology nurses. They're going through a hard time at the moment, but they were fantastic.
'There is help out there, you just have to be brave enough and go and find it.'