When Carolyn Moore received a cancer diagnosis in July last year, she feared she might not see her 50th birthday.
But the prognosis giving her six months to live was quickly changed to 18 months to two years and, surrounded by prayer and with ongoing treatment and a positive mental attitude, Carolyn is now determined to, in her own words, ‘give something back.’
Earlier this month, she organised a coffee morning in support of Hope House, a respite facility for adults with cancer, their carers and adult friends, based in Islandmagee. The event was hosted by Carnmoney Parish Church on October 8 and to date has raised more than £2,600.
Although she now lives in Doagh, Carolyn grew up in Carnmoney Parish where she was a regular attender at church with her mum Shirley Earley and her late father Alec. She sang in the choir, helped in the creche and also had the chance to take part in a cross-community trip to America.
Mum to daughters Courtney, aged 20, and 15-year-old Kelsey, Carolyn recalled how she first learned she had cancer. “I had been running to the doctors, you know you own body and I knew something wasn’t right. Then I developed a numbness in my pelvic area and after five days went to the doctor and was referred to Antrim Hospital for an X-ray. That was July 28 last year. The next morning, they called me back for an MRI, which showed a mass, and I had a CT scan the same day.
“They sat me down and told me they had a lot of information to give me, and that I needed to call somebody to be with me. When someone tells you that you know rightly,” Carolyn recalled.
Supported by her daughter and a friend, she learned that she had a 4cm tumour on her right kidney and this had spread to the sacrum area of the lower spine. The pressure was causing the numbness she was experiencing. The diagnosis was stage four Renal Cell Carcinoma.
“I went home, told my family what was going on, had a cry and that was that,” said Carolyn. “The next day, I met with consultants in the City Hospital and began a five-day course of radiotherapy, focused on the sacrum. On September 24, I had my right kidney removed.”
Carolyn was started on immunotherapy drugs, but she struggled with the side effects of these and is now taking Cabo, a chemo target pill. She visits the City Hospital to have her blood tested and to see the consultant every two weeks and has CT scans every three months.
“Touch wood, I am great, I have been going every month since June for bloods, and they have been good for the last three or four months,” she said. “I get a bone injection every month to protect my bones as my immune system is low. I am tired, so if I need to go back to bed, I do. Each day is like Groundhog Day for me.”
Hope House, overlooking Brown’s Bay, was established by Dawn and Roy McConnell, who have both had to fight cancer themselves. “They realised there wasn’t really a place for adults to go to find peace for a weekend break,” said Carolyn. “They felt they needed to do something. Hope House is amazing. It offers respite to those who have cancer, those who are in remission and their families.”
The cottage in Islandmagee sleeps four people and the adjacent lodge offers accommodation for two people. Carolyn learned about it on social media and spent a weekend there with her mum and two friends.
“It was the end of July. We were there over my one-year cancer anniversary,” Carolyn said. “It was so special to be with the best people in such a fabulous place. There is a lovely tranquil sitting room with a massive window, looking out to sea.”
It was after this special experience, Carolyn decided to hold the coffee morning. “I just wanted to give something back to the people who have helped me,” she explained. “I have had lots of support through grants and donations. Hope House relies completely on charity and fundraising. Yet they cannot do enough for you and they really did look after us.”
The coffee morning was promoted on social media and through flyers. Local businesses kindly donated tombola prizes. Helped by members of the parish JOY Club (Just Older Youth), there were plenty of buns and scones for the many people who came along to enjoy. Many who couldn’t make it supported the fundraising effort through Carolyn’s JustGiving page.
“On the day I went for my first radiotherapy, the consultant told me I would have six months. I asked if I would see my 50th birthday,” Carolyn said. “A second consultant told me I would have 18 months to two years.
“I turned 50 in February and friends from England came over to surprise me. I cried and cried. It was very special.
“I didn’t know how long I would have left. I have always stayed positive. I know there are a lot of people praying for me and I do have faith, but who knows how long anybody has.”
Carolyn lost her dad in 1999. “My mum is my rock. She has been very strong for me, although I know she worries. This has brought us closer together, it puts a lot of things into perspective.”
Carolyn’s JustGiving Page for Hope House remains open for donations until the end of October, and can be viewed at this LINK.