Shelter from the Storm by Gary

The only way to make sense of change is to plunge into it flow with it . . .and join the dance. ~Alan Watts

If there is anything positive in having cancer, it is the many wonderful and inspiring people you meet along the way – our healthcare professionals and organisations like Macmillan Cancer Support, Marie Curie and Cancer Focus.
However, the seemingly endless cycle of hospital appointments, reviews and treatments can be physically and emotionally draining. Moreover, when treatment is finished, there can be the uneasy feeling of ‘well, what do I do now?’
I know, from personal experience, the devastation wrought by a cancer diagnosis, not only on the person affected, but the whole family. I have an incurable form of leukaemia and I’ve undergone surgery for transitional cell carcinoma. Just before Christmas, a CT scan revealed an ‘abnormality’ in my left lung. At the time of writing I’m waiting on another scan. My life seems to consist almost entirely of unpleasant (and necessary) examinations, scans, blood tests and poking with sharp, shiny metal objects.
But you have to discover your own way of coping with a cancer diagnosis. You find out so much about yourself and what you are capable of. Some people decide to share this, to help others going through a similar experience.
Hope House must be the best-kept secret in rest and recuperation for those of us living with cancer. I had been meaning to visit Hope House ever since I picked up the Charity’s leaflet in Marie Curie Day Therapy.
I travelled on the train from Belfast Central Station, reasonably certain I knew what to expect from the photographs and publicity material. I’m being honest when I write that nothing prepared me for the breathtaking beauty of the location. Dawn’s lovely sister Jackie met me at the apartment and made me very welcome, giving me a quick tour before leaving me the key and contact details. Within five minutes, I felt like I’d known her for ages!
My intention was to work on my writing but I spent most of the first day just sitting, staring out the window at the ever-changing sea. I woke early the next morning after a restful sleep; it was still dark and I sank into a comfortable chair, cup of tea in hand, watching the ferry glide ghostly up the lough, lights piercing the dawn mist. Later that morning, I walked along breathing in the fresh sea air and I felt the stress and fatigue of the last few months melt away. Oh, I also managed to get some writing done! I saw frolicking seals and watchful cormorants and enjoyed conversations with dog-walkers and others simply taking the air while enjoying the view.
The downside was, of course, I had to go home. Restored and refreshed, I reluctantly caught the train back to Belfast on Sunday afternoon. I’ll certainly be back.
The founders of Hope House Ireland are Roy and Dawn McConnell who have been married for over 30 years and have one daughter, Leah. In February 1990, at the age of 34, Roy was given the news that he had Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma and was given a 30 per cent chance of survival. After a year-and-a-half of chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant, Roy surprised his doctors when he made a full recovery. He remained in remission for 21 years.
In February 2012 the couple were devastated to learn that Roy’s cancer had returned. A journey through the treacherous landscape of chemotherapy began again. However, one year later, Roy received the all-clear and is currently well.
In 2015 Dawn was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a gruelling surgery followed by six months of chemo. Such an experience would overwhelm most couples but the McConnells are inspirational in their positivity and determination to channel their experiences into a way of helping others living with cancer.
The vision for Hope House originated when, during Roy’s treatment, the couple were offered the use of a seaside apartment, free of charge. They found the peace and tranquillity to be wonderfully restoring, a place of refuge during what Dawn describes as a dark storm in their lives. Thus inspired, Dawn envisaged a sanctuary which could provide free holiday accommodation for older adults.
The couple began the Hope House Charity in October 2013 and a vigorous fundraising campaign commenced. The objective was to rent somewhere by the sea; a place of rest and recuperation for people living with cancer. They chose a beautifully appointed apartment on Whitehead Promenade, complete with stunning sea views and walks.

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