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Father of five thanks cancer charity who cared for wife as it marks 50 years

Cancer Focus NI CEO Roisin Foster, Donald Harte and cancer survivor Debra Rice at its 50th birthday event
Cancer Focus NI CEO Roisin Foster, Donald Harte and cancer survivor Debra Rice at its 50th birthday event
Noreen Smith was an early fundraiser
Allan Preston

By Allan Preston

A father of five has thanked a local cancer charity for being "the light at the end of the tunnel" after the death of his wife.

Donald Harte was attending the 50th birthday celebration of Cancer Focus NI, held in Belfast City Hall.

"My wife Anna was diagnosed with cancer in 2005," he said.

"Four days later she found out she was pregnant - that was a bit of an experience."

Anna's cancer returned after initial treatment and she eventually passed away on February 25, 2010.

"My children were aged from three to 15 when their mother died," said Mr Harte.

"The hardest thing in the world is to sit a three and four-year-old down and tell them their mother's going to die very shortly."

The trade union official from Craigavon was put in touch with Rachel Smyth, family service manager for Cancer Focus NI, who arranged for a bereavement support group.

"You want to protect your children and shield them from the pain, but Rachel told me I had to involve them," he said.

"Children can often be more resilient than adults. We went to the support group for four years and it was fantastic.

"People think a bereavement group is only sad, but we got to laugh as well. It was very uplifting."

He continued: "Losing someone is horrible at the time, it doesn't get easier.

"But you learn to cope with it because people are there to help you and your children.

"I'll be grateful to Cancer Focus for the rest of my life; my children are in a better place now because of it."

Cancer Focus NI's chief executive Roisin Foster said she was delighted at the landmark anniversary.

"There's probably two things I'll remember the most. One man told me if it wasn't for our counsellor he wouldn't be alive today.

"Not because of cancer, but because he was in such a dark place.

"So the counsellor walked the road a little bit with him and helped him see out the other end."

She added: "Another was a terminal cancer patient, Brian, who helped with our equal-access campaign.

"Patients here couldn't access the same services available in other parts of the UK and for years I felt like I was banging my head against a brick wall.

"Brian told me: 'I won't get the treatment I need but I'm doing this for the people coming behind me'.

"You can get frustrated and have tricky times yourself, so when we see spirit like that it keeps you going."

Yesterday's event marked the start of a new campaign - Cheers to 50 Years - to raise £100,000 for breast cancer research at Queen's University. The project will look at treating women who develop breast cancer for a second time.

Dr Kenan Savage is a senior lecturer in molecular oncology. "The hope is we can develop a test for women at risk of a second breast cancer and personalise their treatment," he said.

Noreen Smith was at one of the charity's first ever funding meetings, held in Rathfriland in 1972.

"It was starting absolutely from scratch; a lot of local people turned up and many are still involved," she said.

"I feel very proud to be part of the group. We've also had a lot of fun doing the fundraising - it's not all hard work."

The Cancer Focus NI information and support Nurseline is on 0800 783 333. Information is also available at www.cancerfocusni.org

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