Friday 15 November 2019

Pink Lady the driving force for breast cancer research

Breast cancer affects the lives of thousands of Irish families but one woman is thrilled she can play a small role in helping medical science find ways to battle the disease through golf

Growing movement: Play in Pink day at Castle Golf Club
Growing movement: Play in Pink day at Castle Golf Club

MIRIAM Hand could well be described as Irish golf's "Pink Lady" given the wonderful work she does for the National Breast Cancer Research Institute through its "Play in Pink" campaign.

Now retired from her role as a PR and Sales Manager for Lancome - staunch supporters of the ILGU for more than 30 years until the company moved back to the UK - she's present at dozens of Play in Pink days all over the country as one of many tireless workers for the Galway-based charity.

Thanks to their efforts, Play in Pink has raised well over €800,000 since 2012 and hopes to break the magical €1 million barrier soon.

Miriam could not be more grateful to the myriad Lady Captains and vice-captains, not to mention the many men who now dive straight into their club's Play in Pink Day, where everyone is encouraged to wear pink.

Her dream is to see every Irish club organise a fun but competitive day out to help raise funds for vital research as Professor Michael Kerin of the National Breast Cancer Research Institute explained.

"The past decade has witnessed amazing change in the management of breast cancer; our understanding of different cancer subtypes, the genes that cause breast cancer, the factors responsible for response to chemotherapy and improvements in breast reconstruction," said Professor Kerin, who is attached to the Lambe Institute for Translational Research at NUI Galway.

"Golf clubs and the golf community have long been loyal supporters of breast cancer research, benefiting patients and families suffering from the rigours of a cancer diagnosis and treatment.

"The fun of a fourball, the excitement of a good shot and the horror of a duff shot or triple bogey helps to build the resilience and experience necessary for life."

Miriam had a long relationship with the ILGU through Lancome's sponsorship of women's golf and when the company left Ireland after her retirement and ended its support for the game here, she soon found she was busier than ever.

"When the charity started, a friend of mine asked me to speak to the people who had started it," Miriam explained. "Anna O'Coinne was the first chairperson at a time when Galway had no services for breast cancer.

"So I helped them get started with a few ideas and used my contacts to get people interested. When I was at Lancome, I could gift them the prizes. And then later, I was able to get the prizes at cost of goods.

"It all started from there. Then when I retired, they asked me to help do a little more. I saw clubs in the US organise 'Play For Pink' days and I thought well, I can't rob the name, so we went with Play In Pink, and it really took off."

Play in Pink is now a trademark owned by the charity and having had just 90 Play in Pink days in its first year, there are now well over 130 with the National Finals taking place at Dromoland Castle this year.

The family of the late Jackie McAleese organised the Jackie McAleese Memorial Trophy at Howth Golf Club this year and that event will now be used to support Play in Pink, which is now a golfing phenomenon, every year.

"This year so far we have had over 130 events and we haven't finished yet. The ILGU's Golf4Girls4 Life programme organised an autumn festival last year and dedicate that to Play in Pink", added Miriam.

"So we had juniors from all over the country coming to four locations and they are doing that again this year.

"In an ideal world, every Irish club would participate. I have written to 350 Irish clubs and you are glad of the take-up. But I am hoping next year to get to 200 clubs, so we will see how we go.

"Thanks to Sinead Heraty in the ILGU, I go to the Lady Vice-Captains' workshop every year and speak to them and everyone does their best to help.

"There are a lot of demands on the Lady Captains to organise a charity day, and we are grateful to all who can help us in some way.

"Breast cancer is not the horror it once was and is now very treatable, and they are able to monitor treatments for women."

All donations are welcome and the bigger clubs have been particularly generous due to the numbers they can attract for an open charity day. But whether the funds raised amount to €50,000 or €50, Miriam is thankful to all.

Every penny counts.

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