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Cancer patient Joanne Gillespie hails Tyrone centre's bid to raise £180k for expansion as an 'oasis'

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Joanne Gillespie

Joanne Gillespie

Trevor Wightman with his late wife Carol

Trevor Wightman with his late wife Carol

Imelda McGucken

Imelda McGucken

Joanne Gillespie

A woman diagnosed with cancer aged just 35 has backed plans to expand a Co Tyrone care facility.

Joanne Gillespie described Charis Cancer Centre in Cookstown as her "oasis" and is supporting fundraising efforts to double the size of the building.

Joanne was dumbstruck when, in November 2018, she was diagnosed with sarcoma, a rare form of cancer that affects less than two per cent of the population.

Working as a nurse for the Southern Trust, Joanne had heard of Charis Cancer Centre, on the shore of Lough Fea.

But she said she never truly understood how vital a service it provides until she walked through its doors as a patient herself.

The 50-minute journey from her home in Ballygawley was gruelling but worth it all during her year-long treatment, and Joanne still uses the centre as she continues her recovery.

She said: "At the time of my diagnosis I was working as a specialist nurse and was a runner, in fact I had just taken part in a race over the Wicklow Mountains four weeks beforehand, so being told I had cancer was a big shock.

"That was in November 2018 and over the next 12 months I had my treatment, which I have come through very well, but right from I was diagnosed Charis has been a really central, important part of my cancer journey.

"I can't explain how much everyone who works there means to me, because when cancer comes you are not a nurse, you are a patient, and I didn't cope very well when I was diagnosed.

"I found it very difficult to accept and for the first few weeks I was on a complete emotional roller-coaster. I felt angry, devastated and afraid, but Charis really helped me work through all those feelings and helped me cope."

Charis Cancer Care opened 10 years ago, supporting patients and their families and since then it has helped more than 8,300 people.

Joanne continued: "I am a mother of two teenagers, and like other people diagnosed with cancer, it is the whole family that is affected, but Charis has helped me, my husband - all of us. Charis is an oasis in the midst of a cancer storm and I am gladly doing what I can to help raise the money it needs for this expansion."

Trevor Wightman from Co Armagh lost his wife Carol (55) to metastatic cancer in 2017.

Charis supported the couple from Carol's diagnosis in 2015 and continues to offer support to Mr Wightman through his bereavement.

He said: "Losing a loved one can be a devastating blow, and the emotion which ensues may become overwhelming. The sense of grief can feel immense, especially in the early weeks or months after the death of a much loved partner, friend or family member.

"It can lead to a range of negative reactions including lethargy, self-neglect, inability to concentrate, and anger taken out on other people.

"All of this is a normal response to bereavement, and there is no timeframe for the grieving process. The team at Charis, led by centre director Imelda McGucken, provided me with much needed support when my wife passed away.

"Bereavement counselling helped me move towards a point where I was able to function normally again and focus on other things while remembering my wife without experiencing undue distress."

Charis Cancer Care needs £180,000 towards its expansion plans and is asking for public donations. To help, call the centre on 028 8676 9217.

Belfast Telegraph