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So why is this woman wearing wellies with her wedding dress?

By Stephanie Bell

... because dozens of women will be teaming big boots with the expensive gowns from their big days to raise money on a Fermanagh charity walk in March.

It’s a rare combination and one which will make for a mesmerising sight when dozens of women team their wedding dresses with wellies for a unique charity walk. The bridal-themed event is being staged in the picturesque grounds of Castle Coole in Fermanagh in March to raise cash for Enniskillen-based charity, Cancer Connect Northern Ireland.

Not only is the novel ‘Wedding Dress and Wellies Walk’ a good excuse for married women to get a second chance to wear the gown of their dreams, but bridesmaids, flower girls and even grooms are invited to get dressed up and take part.

The event was the idea of local girl Ciara Elliott (30), who lost her mum, Rosemary McManus, to cancer last year, aged 57. Ciara, from Enniskillen, said that her mum got great strength and support from Cancer Connect during the three years she battled cancer of the duodenum (bowel).

Before her mum took sick, Ciara had planned to marry in Italy, but cancelled it and got married at home so her ill mum could attend. Now one of her fondest memories of her mum is from her wedding day, which is why Ciara decided on a bridal theme for her charity event.

She now hopes that people will sign up to join in on the fun and help raise as much money as possible for Cancer Connect.

Ciara, along with three other ladies who will be taking part in the walk, share their very different stories of how cancer has touched their lives.

‘Mum said she wasn’t going to let cancer beat her’

Ciara Elliott, a retail sales adviser, is married to Jonathan (33), a machine operative, and they have a son, Finn, aged one. She says:

Mum was just 54 when she was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2008. She had been very constipated and had pain in her back. They discovered a large grade-four tumour which they said was secondary cancer at an advanced stage and they couldn’t find the primary cancer.

At the start the outlook was not particularly good. However, the chemotherapy worked and her tumour shrank to only 2cm. This gave us all great hope and, although mum had lost her hair, she was positive and determined to not let the cancer beat her. I have two brothers and two sisters and we are a very close family and we were all devastated. My mum was never the bravest person. She was the type who would nearly have gone to A&E with a cut on her finger but she really surprised us all with how bravely she coped with her cancer.

She was amazingly strong. She said she wasn’t going to let it beat her. She was so upbeat about it and she made us all very proud. She seemed to be doing well but in January 2009 she got very sick and was back in hospital.

They found the primary cancer in her duodenum and the prognosis again wasn’t good and we were told she probably wouldn’t last the year.

However, her ‘rosy' outlook obviously carried her as she kept marching on. She loved shopping and keeping herself looking good, she got her hair done every week and kept herself busy visiting her mum, brothers and sisters. We believe this helped her through her three-year battle.

I was supposed to get married in Italy in June but decided to bring the wedding forward to March and have it at home. I’m so glad I did because mum enjoyed it so much. She was in her element being pampered and being the mother of the bride and my fondest memory of her now is how beautiful she looked.

Mum protected us by not talking about the cancer but I know she got great strength from Cancer Connect where she could discuss what she was going through as the other women in her group were going through the same thing. She died on March 27 last year and I miss her every single day. I just wanted to show some support for the charity who gave so much to my mum.

Cancer Connect aims to provide practical and emotional support within a safe and confidential environment to individuals and families who have been touched by cancer.

I’m sure everyone would love an excuse to wear their wedding dress again and I just hope people take this chance to do it and sign up for the walk.

‘I realised there was a lack of services and wanted to fill void’

Breda McGrenaghan, a mother of three from Tempo, Fermanagh, founded Cancer Connect NI in November 2009 after her own illness. She says:

I realised that there was a lack of services in the area and I wanted to try and fill some of the void. We are an open door centre located at 3 Forthill Road in Enniskillen, and we provide a range of services free of charge to all cancer clients, including complementary therapies, a bra fitting service and a range of headwear (from soft sleep caps to elaborate scarves and hats). We also have both female and male support groups which meet regularly at the centre. A listening ear service is available for anyone who wishes to talk to someone who is detached from their own family and who has an understanding of what clients might be experiencing.

The centre is run by a team of around eight volunteers and costs in the region of £100,000 annually to maintain. Since Cancer Connect opened its doors we have had a steady stream of patients, of all ages and with all types of cancer, benefiting from the services.

Before that, clients would have had to travel round trips of 150 miles to avail of things like complementary therapies. Now they can have either aromatherapy or reflexology by specially-trained therapists without the stress of travelling long distances.

The charity depends on people like Ciara who is prepared to organise fundraising events which in turn, allows sustainability of services. The Wedding Dress and Wellie Walk is a novel idea. I trust that this will be an enjoyable and successful event for Ciara, who has put so much effort into it, for all participants and indeed for the charity itself.

‘A pain in his shoulder, then dad was gone in three weeks’

Sara McNiece, (33) is a deputy retail manager from Enniskillen and mum to Kate (7) and Thomas (4). Sara (below) lost her dad Michael Johnston when he was only 44 to lung cancer 10 years ago. She says:

I think the Wedding Dress and Wellie Walk is a fantastic idea and such a good cause.

I’m aware of the work of Cancer Connect but it wasn’t there when my dad died so we as a family didn’t get the chance to benefit from it.

I’m sure if it had been available we would have welcomed the support.

My dad’s death was very unexpected and came just three weeks after his diagnosis.

He had gone into hospital the night before to start treatment and the hospital called us the following day to say he had passed away and I really couldn’t take it all in. It was such a shock.

My dad had been complaining about a pain in his shoulder. He was given an X-Ray and had blood tests which showed up a small tumour in his lung.

The tumour was only the size of a 50 pence piece but because of where it was they couldn’t operate.

He was due to start radiotherapy but he didn’t get the chance. It was a real shock and I think you just have to get on with things for the sake of the rest of your family.

It’s not easy and I can see why so many people will turn to charities like Cancer Connect to help get them through.

I was lucky because I had the support of a good family. I think cancer seems to touch even more families now.

I didn’t hesitate to support the walk for Cancer Connect as it is such a worthwhile cause.

It is six years since I got married and I never thought that I would ever get the chance to wear my wedding dress again, so it will be a wee bit of fun to wear it again.

I would urge other people to come along and give their support to this great event.

‘I’ve been given second chance’

Josie McDermott (53), a grandmother and childminder from Enniskillen has had bowel and liver cancer and found great strength from the support she found at Cancer Connect. She says:

I had been suffering constipation, tiredness and weight loss for a year before I was diagnosed with a tumour in the rectum three years ago.

At first I was treated for piles and then eventually sent for tests for cancer. I had chemo and radiotherapy and then surgery to remove the tumour and have a bowel bag put in.

I then went through more chemo but it nearly killed me and at one stage all my organs started to fail and I had to stop the treatment.

At a PET scan they found a small tumour in my liver and I had to have surgery to remove it and afterwards I refused chemo. A year later they found another tumour in my liver. I had more surgery and afterwards I took the chemo which I finished last August. I also had an operation to get the bowel bag reversed.

I’m back to work part-time and feeling great. They way I look at it is that I have been given a second chance. I knew about Cancer Connect when I was diagnosed. I go every Wednesday and it is like a home from home, the girls there are fantastic. If you are feeling a bit down or having an off day you know you can go there and have a cup of tea and be greeted by a friendly face.

Everyone there has had cancer at some time in their lives so you know they understand what you are feeling.

If I hear of people newly diagnosed I am happy to tell them what it was like for me. It has given me immense strength and new friends.

When I married 32 years ago I didn’t have the money for a wedding dress. I got married in a registry office in trousers and a blouse.

I do have wellies though and I still hope to support Ciara’s walk, it’s a super idea and the funds are put to fantastic use.

give it some wellie ... and sign up for charity walk

  • The Wedding Dresses and Wellies Walk is to be held in Castle Coole Estate in Fermanagh on March 18 at 1pm.
  • Brides, grooms, flower girls, groomsmen are all asked to get dressed up and join in the fun.
  • It costs £10 to enter, children go free and every penny will go to Cancer Connect.
  • The attire for the event is a used wedding dress, bridesmaid’s dresses, flower girl dresses or just white in general!
  • As for any men who would like to enter, again a suit is fine, if available. However bridal attire is not essential as the main emphasis of the day is on having fun.

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