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22 April 2010 Edition

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Bronagh Wilson

Connor, Gerry and Bronagh

Connor, Gerry and Bronagh


I met Bronagh Wilson and her family last Saturday night. She is an ordinary young woman from west Belfast with two small children. But she is also one of the bravest people I have had the honour to meet during my life. Her story is one of great love and compassion.
Bronagh was diagnosed with a brain tumour last year. Although she was already presenting with symptoms beforehand, and had sought medical attention, the cancerous tumour was only detected in medical check-ups during Bronagh’s second pregnancy.
After her son Daniel was born, Bronagh was diagnosed and was then subject to surgery and post-operative treatment. Her medical condition is deemed as terminal.
The Bronagh Wilson Trust was set up in September 2009 with the objective of raising funds for private medical treatment when the NHS treatment ends. That treatment stopped a few weeks ago.
So the money raised during the funding campaign will be used to provide her with further private treatment.
On Saturday night the Trust held a packed gala dinner for the Bronagh Wilson Trust in the Hilton Hotel. Bronagh was there with her fiancée Conor, her mother Loretta, her father Gerry and her wide circle of family and friends and supporters.
It was at times an emotional event, particularly when she joined her father on the stage but it was also a moment of celebration of her courage and determination and of the astonishing and successful efforts of the Trust to raise money.
In the seven months since the Trust was established its small core of friends, supported by scores of others, and through the enormous generosity of the people of west Belfast and beyond have surpassed the £50k target that was set last October.
This blog was asked to speak at the event and I was pleased to agree. Recently, President McAleese had been in touch with me about a special dinner she was hosting next weekend in Áras an Uachtaráin. She asked me to nominate some west Belfast people to attend. I nominated Bronagh and her mummy Loretta.
But I only told Bronagh that in my remarks on Saturday night so it was a nice surprise for her and I’m sure President McAleese and her husband Martin will make them very welcome.

This blog knows how difficult it is to fundraise so I took the opportunity to commend all of those who have contributed in any way to what has been an astonishing fundraising effort by the Trust. It has been a truly remarkable achievement.
The dedication and commitment of everyone involved has been outstanding.
The work of the Bronagh Wilson Trust is yet another example of people power rising quickly to a very special challenge.
But Bronagh’s story has also helped raise public consciousness and understanding about cancer. And this is very important as so many individuals and families struggle each day to deal with the reality of this terrible illness.
In one newspaper account of her experience of cancer and of her treatments Bronagh talked about the physical impact of these and in one interview she remarked that her hair falling out had been the worst thing.
It reminded me of my close friend, Siobhan O’Hanlon.
Siobhan had breast cancer. It was very aggressive and she fought it every day.
As part of an effort to raise awareness around breast cancer we organised – no she organised – a conference in the old St. Thomas’s school on the Whiterock Road.
Siobhan spoke at it and she too talked about her experience of doctors and hospitals and chemo and radiotheraphy.
She held nothing back.
But Bronagh’s comment about hair sent me back to my copy of Siobhan’s remarks that day.
She told the conference: “I had no hair, no eyebrows, no eyelashes, one breast, my nails were all broken, I was tired. But I knew I had to get my act together. My hair had started growing but it was very slow. It was also terribly grey.
“Three terrible days in relation to your hair are 1. when your hair starts coming out, 2. when you put a wig on for the first time and 3. when you have to take it off again. That was an awful day.
“I remember going into the office and this guy was going across the top of the stairs.
“He said “Ah, Siobhan”.
“Don’t open your mouth,” I told him. “I have more hair than you”. And I did!”
That was Siobhan. Hugely courageous. And that is Bronagh too – courageous and indomitable and determined
Have a great night Bronagh on Friday evening in Áras an Uachtaráin.

Siobhan O’Hanlon (front left) pictured with Martin McGuinness, Nelson Mandela Gerry Kelly and Rita O’Hare 

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