‘When I arrived at Charis I was overcome with grief and emotion but my counsellor was excellent and I unravelled so much misplaced anger and guilt’
When a Dungannon family was plunged into a nightmare following their mum’s terminal cancer diagnosis, local charity Charis Cancer Care provided invaluable support. Laura Begley tells Stephanie Bell how it continues to help them.
Left feeling lost and bereft after the death of their mum to cancer last July, four Tyrone sisters say they only got through thanks to the support of local charity Charis Cancer Care.
The girls have made an emotional YouTube video to highlight the impact of the charity at what was undoubtedly the most difficult time in their lives.
As Charis embarks on a major fundraising drive to double the size of its centre so it can help even more cancer patients and their families, Laura Begley poignantly describes the powerful impact it had on the life of her, her parents and her three sisters.
The family, who live in Ardbeg in Dungannon, were plunged into a living nightmare when their mum Paddi was diagnosed in 2014 with terminal lung cancer at the age of 59. Paddi had never smoked and didn’t drink, making her diagnosis even more of a shock to her and her family.
Over the next three years before she passed away on July 21 last year, she faced a brave battle as her life became an endless round of hospital visits, surgery and treatments which included chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
She fought with a positive attitude to the very end and her immeasurable loss is still very much felt by her family.
Charis gave both Paddi and her husband Donagh vital respite, offering them a place outside of hospital and home to spend quality time together.
The charity provided massage and reflexology treatments for the couple and counselling for Paddi which her daughter says really helped her come to terms with the trauma of her illness.
And it was after Paddi passed away that Charis stepped in to support her girls.
Laura (43), a social worker and mum to Shain (13), says she and her sisters have no idea how they would have got through without the treatments and counselling provided by Charis.
“Charis almost walks with you during a difficult and unwanted time in your life,” she says.
“It goes without saying that death and grief is part of everyone’s journey in life and we all try to be brave when we hear about sudden deaths, world tragedies or the deaths of young people, but the loss of a mother brings a different void — she’s simply irreplaceable.
“During mum’s illness and passing, as is the case for many other cancer and grief survivors, life felt like a continuous battle, trying to present a brave face with a pain in your heart.
“While friends and extended family are dedicated in their concern and provided loving offers of support, for me, it took Charis to realise I needed a little extra support. “
At the end stage of Paddi’s life and within days of her passing, it transpired that all four of her daughters — Laura and her sisters Connie (31), Marsha (39) and Claire (35) — had contacted Charis.
Indeed, Laura felt so overwhelmed by grief that she says she had to force herself to even go to the charity. She says: “On arrival to Charis, I remember being overcome with grief and emotion. My first instinct was to run away.
“However, remaining at Charis was the best the decision I ever made. I don’t recall exactly how it happened, it must have been down to the skills of Imelda, Charis Cancer Care Centre’s director, that we were each signed up to treatments that very day.
“I am so glad we were. My counsellor was excellent; a true professional.
“I unravelled so many veins of thought and misplaced anger and guilt.
“Without the support of Charis, I really think my sisters and I would have overcomplicated the grieving process.
“I know from working in the area of mental health the absence of soothing and therapy after a trauma can be even more damaging than the trauma itself and Charis provided that for us.”
The girls received massages and reflexology which helped them to deal with the worst of their trauma at losing their mum.
Counselling also had a huge impact on them.
Laura says: “The first number of weeks without a mother is the most challenging. In the absence of having my mum put the kettle on and tell me everything was going to be okay with one of her smiles, Charis Cancer Care was the place that provided me with those feelings of comfort.
“I also get a sense of comfort from a visit to Charis. My sisters and I all find the location peaceful and we can picture mum and dad spending many happy times here.”
Paddi suffered dramatic weight loss in the weeks leading up to her diagnosis in October 2014.
Doctors tested her for different cancers but because her lungs were so healthy, lung cancer was the last of several they investigated.
Laura says: “I actually was with her when the doctor said she had beautiful big clean lungs and that made it so, so painful.
“Mum had a fairly healthy life. She was always a housewife and mother and had no stress and didn’t drink or smoke.
“I will never forget the day she was diagnosed, it was worse than her death.
“I was just devastated and she was so brave. I remember one day I couldn’t go to work and I went up to see her and she asked had I been at the swimming pool because my eyes were so red raw from crying. My grief started that day that mum was diagnosed.”
Throughout her journey Paddi and her husband Donagh (67), who is a community bus driver, both availed of therapy at Charis.
Charis provides services for everyone affected by cancer, whatever the diagnosis or prognosis.
There are over 200 different types of cancer and there is a huge variation in survival between different cancer types.
Encouragingly, cancer survival in the UK has doubled in the last 40 years.
Laura says: “Mum and dad were at such a content stage of their lives, ready to enjoy time with their children, their grandchildren and their home.
“Despite their open-mindedness and willingness to enjoy life, they were not naturally the type of people to explore alternative therapies or any form of self-help.
“When mum’s first treatment for cancer ended and the reality of the serious side-effects from treatment became more apparent, they both decided to go to Charis.
“They found the welcome soothing and of course the location idyllic. I recall them saying how they loved the journey from Dungannon to Lough Fea and having that precious time to themselves.
“As a family we were aware that time was limited and therefore wanted to be with mum as much as possible.
“Mum and dad availed of massage and reflexology, and mum also received some counselling. I remember mum showing me two excellent books her counsellor had shared with her.
“While she kept the content of her counselling private from us, I knew that mum had found a safe haven to reflect upon her diagnosis and prognosis.
“The massages and reflexology were also important for promoting self-care and providing warm, soothing calmness. “
Paddi was close to all her daughters who have struggled to rebuild their lives without her.
The entire family are well-known for their volunteering and charity fundraising in their local community.
Laura adds: “Mum was loyal and brave and a best friend to all of us.
“She took no nonsense and was very emotionally intelligent. She was a great advocate for the oppressed and her loss has left a big void not just in our lives but others who loved her.”
How Charis Cancer Care is there to help
Charis Cancer Care works in conjunction with clinical treatments for cancer.
Comfortable treatment rooms are designed for the delivery of complementary therapies by trained practitioners. Support ranges from counselling services and dietary advice, right through to offering treatments such as reflexology and massage, all of which are provided free of charge.
Fundraising plans to support the expansion of the centre are well under way.
According to Charis Cancer Care board trustee Jarlath Conway: “The new facility will provide two new treatment rooms for the delivery of complementary therapies by trained practitioners, one counselling room, one beauty therapy room, one rest room and additional office space.
“We are delighted with the vision for the new centre and the difference it will make for the people who will avail of the services there.
“Charis does not receive government funding and relies exclusively on support from the local community and businesses to raise funds. The annual running costs for the centre are currently in the region of £300,000.
“I can’t thank all our current donors enough. Their generosity makes a massive difference to people’s quality of life and wellbeing.” Imelda McGucken, director of Charis, explains the importance of person-centred care. “We are delighted to announce that Charis Cancer Care has retained its five-star rating as a Macmillan Quality Environment,” she said.
“The Macmillan Quality Environment Mark (MQEM) is a detailed quality framework used for assessing whether cancer care environments meet the standards required by people living with cancer. Centres are assessed on design and use of space; the user’s journey; service experience and the user’s voice.”
Over 6,000 people have accessed Charis’ services to date. Highly trained therapists and tutors work with the person as a whole, ensuring they benefit from advice and treatments which are free of charge to everyone at point of need.
Anyone wanting to volunteer at Charis Cancer Care or make a donation can contact director of fundraising Veronica Morris (above) tel 028 8676 9217 or email firstname.lastname@example.org . All donations go straight to the charity.
The charity is based at 163 Lough Fea Road, Ballybriest, Cookstown and for further information go to