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Helpers provide ‘priceless’ support for cancer service users

Receiving a cancer diagnosis comes like a body blow for many people, leaving them and their loved ones in a state of shock.

But they must quickly turn to the practicalities of treatment which, on its own, can be a huge ordeal.

Gort Cancer Support, founded with the aim of supporting people affected by cancer, has since its inception in 2007 sought to ease the strain – and with a dedicated team of volunteers, has touched the lives of countless people across South Galway.

Marking National Volunteer Week which runs until Sunday, Cara Brady, Centre Manager of Hollyblue House, Gort Cancer Support’s state-of-the-art facility just off Church Street, says the work done by their volunteers is “priceless”.

Around 40 volunteers work to welcome, meet and greet clients, facilitate peer support groups and run various activities at Hollyblue House.

Among those are 20 volunteer drivers who provide transport to clients of Gort Cancer Support as they travel to and from hospital for chemotherapy, radiotherapy and a variety of other oncology appointments.

This service, says Cara, makes all the difference to those dealing with cancer, particularly as making the trek from Gort and its hinterlands into University Hospital Galway throws up several challenges – especially if alternative transport options are not available.

“One family got in touch with us because they went in for the first day of radiotherapy, for an appointment at 2.30pm. they arrived at UHG at 1.45pm and even though they had a disabled badge, they still couldn’t get parking. It was 3pm before they managed to get parked and in for their treatment,” she explains.

“With us doing the driving for them, that takes away all of that stress. We pick them up at their house, bring them into their oncology, radiotherapy or chemotherapy appointments, drop them off at the door and then they are picked up again afterwards.”

Long-time volunteer at centre and Director of Gort Cancer Support, Mary Nolan, says the volunteer drivers offer a critically important service.

“A lot of people, if they’re on their own, mightn’t even have a way to get into town from rural areas even if they were well enough to get a bus, and they shouldn’t be going on a bus when they’re going through treatment. Their immune system is compromised.

“The drivers are meeting people at their most vulnerable – they are having such an impact on a person’s life by bringing them in and out. Even if somebody is going for something like reflexology, which people find so helpful – if you’ve to drive into Galway to get that, park the car and then drive home again, any benefit you have got is wiped out by the stress,” says Mary.

Those who volunteer for the driving service are often people looking for a way to give back, says Mary.

“Sometimes, it’s people who have just retired and they want to fill their time by doing something good. We have one person who has just gone to a three-day week and she wanted to do something on the days that she’s off,” she says.

Generally, those who volunteer are asked to drive somebody once or twice a month, and with more volunteers, the service could be expanded while spreading the load across more people.

“Generally, what happens is a person contacts us and tell us they have an appointment, say for chemotherapy, and they need to be in [UHG] for whatever time.

“We will go through our list of drivers and see who hasn’t done a drive for a while and try spread it out that way,” she says.

Mary adds that they do their best to ensure that the driver selected is based nearby.

“The broader the panel we have, the easier it will be on everybody.

“The drives have gone back to pre-Covid numbers, with around 30 clients. We didn’t do 30 drives in total over the three years of Covid which was shocking, and it’s not as though all of those people had someone to drive them. They are dealing with the backlog now. There’s a new unit opened at UHG for prostate cancer patients, for radiotherapy, and they’ll be operating that seven days a week,” says Mary.

“With the way that demand is growing, it would be great to get an extra few drivers.”

To volunteer, people need a licence and will be garda-vetted, but the service doesn’t require any additional insurance cover, says Mary, as there’s no payment “and it’s just like giving a lift to a neighbour”.

Extra volunteers are always welcome, she continues, in any aspect of their work.

“We cover South Galway and North Clare and whereas we mightn’t be able to facilitate a drive for someone from Portumna, we don’t turn people away if they want to avail of any of the other services we have.

“We get no state funding for what we do here so we have to fundraise for everything,” says Mary.

For more information on Gort Cancer Support, visit

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

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