Brenda Donohue from RTÉ’s CountryWide made contact. She’d been following my columns. She wanted to come down for a chat and to talk with whoever might be around. I let the family know with the proviso that I knew they were all busy and if they could drop in, I’d be delighted. Brenda was due at midday.

A few minutes before 12pm, the back door opened and suddenly the whole family was around the kitchen table. I was extremely touched by their commitment on an ordinary Thursday morning. To be honest, that’s the way the year has gone with them showing up often and unannounced to the kitchen table or to my bedside. I drew strength from that easy and natural love that was given so freely.

I went out to the front door to wait for Brenda. Our house is down to the right off the driveway. I saw Brenda whizzing past, heading to the farmyard. I started to laugh. By the time she had wheeled around and was pulling up, I was relaxed. Diagnosis, treatment and surgery had all been tough but now I was about to tell CountryWide listeners that I was back in the calf shed and loving it. So many people are diagnosed with cancer every day and many like me, out of the blue. It’s a shocking time. For the first month, I thought I might die. Google is blunt and horrible when it comes to assessing a cancer diagnosis. Still, I couldn’t stop myself having a look.

The chats

Brenda spoke to Philip and his wife Aileen first as they had to rush off. To hear my son describing my phone call to tell him the cancer was back was heart rending. During the time I could see the pain in their faces but I probably didn’t stop to imagine what it was like for them. I took Brenda to my bedroom and to the little room where all my gifts are collected together. I wanted her to get a sense of the love that surrounded me. I also wanted her to see and feel my bedroom where I was truly alone, trying to cope with the debilitating treatment. I wanted her to see the view where I watched the seasons come and go, the cow’s grass rotation in sync with my chemotherapy cycles, Colm and Elaine’s house going up block by block and all the while knowing that my grandson Peter was on the way.

Listening to Colm talking about his fear that I might not meet Peter was very emotional. Tim’s steadfast support and pragmatic approach of just getting on with it all came across clearly. Julie’s dedication to keeping the house running all spelled of a family unit operating individually, and in tandem, to achieve the goal of allowing me to get well. The voices of Ricky and baby Peter were extra special. Ricky told Brenda,“wherever Granny is going, I’m coming too.”

I told Brenda about my love of music; especially Bruce Springsteen, Leonard Cohen and The Waterboys. Yet, during my treatment, I could not listen to music. There was only one song that resonated with me and it was Strange Boat. I felt I was in a strange boat with a strange cargo on board. I played it often in the dead of night while everyone slept. I guess there will always be some stuff that you weather alone.

Julie noticed that music was absent from my life. She said the same thing happened when I was grieving for my mother.

Brenda spoke to Philip and his wife Aileen first as they had to rush off. To hear my son describing my phone call to tell him the cancer was back was heart rending

Calf noises

In the calf shed, Brenda wanted calf noises. The calves were curled up, sleeping and full. We coaxed a few out to a feeder with some milk, they volunteered a few sucking sounds. And so, feeding time was fabricated. I laughed later that day when it was actually feeding time and the calves were in full voice. There would have been no chat possible.

I think the essence of the programme has been a positive story of a loving family coping as best it could with a difficult situation, a true team effort. I hope that my experience has given hope to people at different stages of diagnosis, treatment and recovery. Get into that strange boat, carry the strange cargo and follow the star.

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