Dermot Breen dedicates 1,000km walk to Greenisland teacher wife Jacqui who lost cancer battle
For Dermot Breen it was the ultimate tribute to the much-loved wife he tragically lost years too soon.
The heartbroken widower crossed the finish line yesterday following a marathon 1,000km walk in memory of his late wife Jacqui.
Jacqui, a dedicated teacher at Greenisland Primary School, passed away at the age of 54 earlier this year after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
It was here that Dermot started his challenge on June 12 and where he returned yesterday to cheering crowds of his wife's former pupils and colleagues and the embrace of family and friends.
His Ulster Way trek took in a clockwise tour of Northern Ireland and much of our coastline, with the 54-year-old civil servant raising more than £10,000 for Cancer Research UK along the way.
"I felt her every step of the way," said Dermot. "I would like to think she was looking after me weather-wise. She did alright by me most days."
The Belfast man said he was no natural walker but took inspiration from a book he and Jacqui both loved, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. In the book, the main character sets off unexpectedly one morning to walk a distance of 627 miles, around 1,000km, to visit an old work colleague who is terminally ill with cancer.
"It took me 28 days in total," said Dermot. "It was not consecutive as I had to go to work in-between, so just over two-and-a-half months.
"If I was feeling low or really overwhelmed, as some of it was quite challenging in places, then I felt Jacqui driving me on.
"It has been great to have company with people joining me on part of it. The nature of the route meant there was hills and mountains and you would be very isolated there, so that was when I would be alone.
"It has been amazing as I never expected to raise so much, though there are mixed emotions. She has been on my mind the whole way.
"This walk really for me was a way of trying to deal with this dreadful loss and what I'm going to do tomorrow I'm not entirely sure, but I will leave that until tomorrow."
Jacqui also leaves behind daughter Hannah (22) and son Matthew (24). Dermot says her loss is deeply felt in the family and at Greenisland Primary School, where she taught for 25 years.
"She was just a generous, caring companion and a beautiful person who loved life and loved children," he said. "She looked after the P1s here for many years.
"She was both quiet and bubbly. She enjoyed life. She spoke and everybody listened." Ovarian cancer has hit the headlines recently thanks in part to prominent ovarian cancer campaigner Una Crudden. Una passed away shortly before Jacqui did in December 2014.
"Jacqui didn't have a lot of time," said Dermot. "She was diagnosed in March 2014 and passed away in January 2015. She was well aware of Una's campaign and was very supportive of it.
"She really felt if cancer was going to be beaten there had to be better research. She did not really have any of the symptoms."
He added: "The loss is devastating. Our world has been turned upside down totally.
"We are just trying to do what Jacqui would have wanted us to do and make the best of things. That was what she told people to do.
"She said she wanted us to be happy in whatever we did.
"It's easier said than done but we're trying to get on with things.
"I'm just trying to do what I can and remember Jacqui."
Thanking everyone for their support so far, Dermot has asked anyone wanting to make a donation to visit his Just Giving fundraising page at: www.justgiving.com/1000K4J.