Before taking Rosie Conneely up on the invitation to her home, I read what Jennifer had written previously about Rosie’s youngest daughter, Aideen. She had said:
“Aideen was an inpatient in Crumlin from March 2011 until January 2012 following 6 months of chemotherapy. On 24th March she underwent a bone marrow transplant and during the next 5 weeks she impressed everyone with her speedy recovery. Then disaster struck and Aideen developed Graft v Host disease, a complication whereby the new immune cells attack the recipient…”
It was strange. I found those scare words like ‘chemotherapy’ and ‘bone marrow transplant’ sailing over my head as I came to the next section and the fact that out of ten months’ hospitalisation this child had spent a lot of it in intensive care.
A lot of you who have gone through harsh medical treatments are probably shaking your heads at my naivety; but all I had to compare it to was a heavy operation that I had gone through years ago. I was in the Mater for two months, with not quite a week in intensive care; and it seemed like a waking nightmare. Not so much for me, I was out of it a lot of the time. But for those who cared about me…dreadful.
Suddenly what Rosie and her husband Gerry had gone through was coming into sharper focus.
Rosie is back by now and her anguish at the unexpected development—just when things seemed to be improving– of the Graft v Host disease is still raw and above the surface. “It shouldn’t have gotten to that, I told them.”
It’s odd watching the mix of emotions running through Rosie. Her face is a bit too expressive for her to even try to hide anger, but relief is there as well in odd flashes of memory or trying to recall what doesn’t seem important: “Was it St. Brigid’s Ward they put her in at first? I know that they had no beds in John’s Ward” or “I remember that Trapattoni was visiting the kids…” The minutiae of the agony that this woman and her husband went through are too much to include in a short article like this; and that’s probably as it should be.
What seems clear is that she finally had someone to listen to her: “We met with Professor Owen Smith and only for him Aideen wouldn’t be here. The nurses would tell me that he would even call at night to see how she was doing.”
Rosie on the Dip in the Nip…
Meanwhile, she had relented on her initial decision not to contact Hand in Hand, which is quite a common first reaction.
“I had been told about Hand in Hand in the hospital; but out of pride or whatever we thought that we could do everything ourselves. Then there was a small thing, a mix-up with pickups for the kids and that was it.” In the end, she was put in touch with Josie, a professional carer, and a lady that Rosie still raves about. “She really became a part of the kids’ lives. I’d come in exhausted and the dinner would be ready, the house would be cleaned up. I can’t tell you how good she was. Josie just went beyond what she could have done.”
Rosie now works at promoting Hand in Hand herself. “I’ve been really interested in what is happening with the Dip in the Nip event. You know that I’m running the mini-marathon shortly. I’ve been thinking of how these people push themselves. I can’t imagine going into the sea in the nip, but I wouldn’t rule it out either. I never thought that I would get over being terrified of speaking in public, but I’m getting there, because I think that the whole area of children’s cancer is one that has to be kept in the headlights!
“That’s why I have such admiration for everyone involved in the Dip in the Nip. I’ve been reading about how you have these absolutely amazing, committed people of all shapes and sizes and from all walks of life. Yet from what I hear, on the day everyone is laughing, talking and having a great old time. I really think that it’s wonderful. Honest to God, I think that it’s those kind of events that get people up and be willing to have a go at something a bit different.
“Like I said before, I would never have seen myself doing anything remotely as terrifying as speaking in public. And now? Well, I’d still be nervous, but nothing like I was.”
I’m left with two haunting memories of my brief chat with Rosie. One is when she explained that there came a time when she had to tell Darragh and Rachel that yes—there was a chance that their little sister would die. I can’t even imagine what that must have been like.
And as I look at this smiling, contented little child called Aideen, for a moment I’m thinking of Alice, that other little Looking-Glass Warrior. Then she woke up, and it had all been a dream.
There aren’t a lot of happy endings in this world, so I’ll take what I can get. But with a final look around the Conneely kitchen, I think one more time about how often these walls have looked down on faces of anguish; and how glad I am that these days they shelter a far happier home.
“…and then, fighting to stay asleep, wishing it could go on forever, sure that once the dream was over, it would never come back…
…she woke up.”
—– Neil Gaiman, The Sandman.
By Charley Brady – email@example.com
For me, it has been an honour and a real pleasure to work with Rosie and her family over the last 4 years, despite the circumstances. Today it is a delight to see Aideen looking so vibrant and well and ready to head off to Barbie-Land, thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. We at Hand in Hand wish them a happy holiday and all good things in the future.