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Community rallies to support mum in cancer battle



A Christmas treat for her small children was to take on greater life-changing consequences than one Galway mother could ever have imagined – after she collapsed and doctors discovered she was suffering from terminal cancer.

But Olive Shaughnessy is determined to fight with everything she has – and her friends and community are four-square behind her in her battle…as well as helping her to meet mounting medical expenses for treatment of her terminal condition.

By Thérèse Hannon

The 40 year old native of Portumna now lives in Killeenadeema, Loughrea, with her husband Tom and their four children – John (9), Kate (7), Luke (6), and Kevin (3).

But her life changed irrevocably on December 19 last, as the children broke up for Christmas holidays; Olive took them, as is their tradition, for a trip to the cinema – to see Paddington Bear.

After the screening, she dropped in to pick up some Christmas baubles. And as she puts it so succinctly: “As I bent down to pick up an item I began to see double – and that was it. I don’t remember anything else”.

Olive suffered a burst blood vessel and a broken neck that day. Doctors identified holes in her bones and gave her the dreaded diagnosis – Stage 4, metastatic cancer.

The diagnosis hasn’t stop Olive – a charismatic and jovial extrovert – from leading a full and positive life. Asked how she copes with the realities of terminal cancer she replies; “there’s nothing I feel alone with; I feel very supported”.

Her philosophy is to “keep fighting all the way”. She chooses to see the positive in every situation adding: “I see this as an opportunity to look at life in a different way, to see the positives – all the good there is in the world.”

Olive attributes her strength to the fact that she has ‘always had an incredible faith in God’, adding: “if you have faith at all, you won’t be doing so bad.”

Olive believes in being open and honest about her illness. There is transparency in their household, their children are aware of her condition.

“The word cancer isn’t taboo; discussing cancer with the children gives a greater insight into the process and a fuller understanding about why things are changing,” she says.

Though Olive is courageous in the face of adversity, illness has taken its toll. Her cancer has resulted in a broken neck, corrected by intramedullary nailing. Consequently she is unable to turn her head or pick up her children.

The cancer has spread to her lymph nodes, down her spine, into her neck and her lungs.

“There’s no such thing as me walking out saying – ‘I’m cancer free’. I know I will be receiving chemo every three weeks in UHG for the rest of her life, but I will keep fighting all the way,” she says.

Her husband, Tom, who was working four days a week in Dublin, has since left his job to be home with his terminally ill wife and their four children.

But that means Olive and Tom are now both out of work, and with escalating medical bills and four children under nine to support, the family are understandably under intense financial strain.

Hope arrived when her former biology teacher John Joe Conwell came to her side. Olive was a student of John Joe’s, graduating in the class of ’93. She describes him as being ‘like a dad’ to her in the past few months.

John Joe is the assistant chairman of Portumna Cycling Club and organizer of the ‘Olive Aughty Challenge’, which will take place on Saturday, August 9; registration for the event will take place in The Engine Room, Portumna at 8am.

The Cycle is open to all ages and all fitness levels. There are three strands to the cycle 15k, 50k and 100k. For the 15k cycle, tickets are priced at €10 (single) and €20 (family ticket). The 50k and 100k cycle tickets are priced at €20 and €25 respectively.  Businesses are also encouraged to enter teams, with rates of €100 for a team of four.

The 100k Cycle is mapped out to be a most scenic route, covering three lakes – Lough Cutra, Lough Graney and Lough Derg. And Mark Rohan, a member of the Irish Paracycling Squad will attend and lead out the cycle.

And this is not the first time the people of Portumna have shown their caring nature; the 10k Portumna Forest Park Trail Run, held back in April 6, saw proceeds going to help support the Shaughnessy family.

John Joe – a prolific writer and historian – has also been working to help Olive in collating her journals for a book they are writing together.

Through all of this, Olive is still receiving chemotherapy for her illness in UHG. Asked whether she would be in form to attend the event she responded with fervour “wild horses wouldn’t keep me away!”

Love of family and love of community is central to Olive’s story. Olive declares “the power of people is unbelievable, I can’t express it enough” she has been left overwhelmed by the kindness of the village.

Two local farmers Dermot Brehony and Michael D’Arcy, kindly donated four hoppers of turf to the family. There was a joint community effort in footing the turf and getting it home to the family.

Olive started documenting her story after her attack in December. She writes a blog, which she describes as being very “therapeutic”.

Her book has become very important to her “that book means so much to me… I love getting up and getting time to think”.

Olive is a morning person she wakes early and “types away until I hear the ‘pitter patter’ of feet down the stairs”.

Then, she puts the laptop away, and enjoys precious time with her children.

■ For more information on the charity cycle race ‘Olive Aughty Challenge’ contact  To check out Olive’s blog, visit

Connacht Tribune

West has lower cancer survival rates than rest



Significant state investment is required to address ‘shocking’ inequalities that leave cancer patients in the West at greater risk of succumbing to the disease.

A meeting of Regional Health Forum West heard that survival rates for breast, lung and colorectal cancers than the national average, and with the most deprived quintile of the population, the West’s residents faced poorer outcomes from a cancer diagnosis.

For breast cancer patients, the five-year survival rate was 80% in the West versus 85% nationally; for lung cancer patients it was 16.7% in the west against a 19.5% national survival rate; and in the West’s colorectal cancer patients, there was a 62.6% survival rate where the national average was 63.1%.

These startling statistics were provided in answer to a question from Ballinasloe-based Cllr Evelyn Parsons (Ind) who said it was yet another reminder that cancer treatment infrastructure in the West was in dire need of improvement.

“The situation is pretty stark. In the Western Regional Health Forum area, we have the highest incidence of deprivation and the highest health inequalities because of that – we have the highest incidences of cancer nationally because of that,” said Cllr Parsons, who is also a general practitioner.

In details provided by CEO of Saolta Health Care Group, which operates Galway’s hospitals, it was stated that a number of factors were impacting on patient outcomes.

Get the full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now, or you can download the digital edition from You can also download our Connacht Tribune App from Apple’s App Store or get the Android Version from Google Play.

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Connacht Tribune

Marathon Man plans to call a halt – but not before he hits 160 races



Loughrea’s Marathon Man Jarlath Fitzgerald.

On the eve of completing his 150th marathon, an odyssey that has taken him across 53 countries, Loughrea’s Marathon Man has announced that he is planning to hang up his running shoes.

But not before Jarlath Fitzgerald completes another ten races, making it 160 marathons on the occasion of his 60th birthday.

“I want to draw the line in 2026. I turn 57 in October and when I reach 60 it’s the finishing line. The longer races are taking it out of me. I did 20 miles there two weeks ago and didn’t feel good. It’s getting harder,” he reveals.

“I’ve arthritis in both hips and there’s wear and tear in the knees.”

We speak as he is about to head out for a run before his shift in Supervalu Loughrea. Despite his physical complaints, he still clocks up 30 miles every second week and generally runs four days a week.

Jarlath receives injections to his left hip to keep the pain at bay while running on the road.

To give his joints a break, during the winter he runs cross country and often does a five-mile trek around Kylebrack Wood.

He is planning on running his 150th marathon in Cork on June 4, where a group of 20 made up of work colleagues, friends and running mates from Loughrea Athletics Club will join him.

Some are doing the 10k, others are doing the half marathon, but all will be there on the finishing line to cheer him on in the phenomenal achievement.

Get the full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now, or you can download the digital edition from You can also download our Connacht Tribune App from Apple’s App Store or get the Android Version from Google Play.

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Galway ‘masterplan’ needed to tackle housing and transport crises



From the Galway City Tribune – An impassioned plea for a ‘masterplan’ that would guide Galway City into the future has been made in the Dáil. Galway West TD Catherine Connolly stated this week that there needed to be an all-inclusive approach with “vision and leadership” in order to build a sustainable city.

Deputy Connolly spoke at length at the crisis surrounding traffic and housing in Galway city and said that not all of the blame could be laid at the door of the local authority.

She said that her preference would be the provision of light rail as the main form of public transport, but that this would have to be driven by the government.

“I sat on the local council for 17 years and despaired at all of the solutions going down one road, metaphorically and literally. In 2005 we put Park & Ride into the development plan, but that has not been rolled out. A 2016 transport strategy was outdated at the time and still has not been updated.

“Due to the housing crisis in the city, a task force was set up in 2019. Not a single report or analysis has been published on the cause of the crisis,” added Deputy Connolly.

She then referred to a report from the Land Development Agency (LDA) that identified lands suitable for the provision of housing. But she said that two-thirds of these had significant problems and a large portion was in Merlin Park University Hospital which, she said, would never have housing built on it.

In response, Minister Simon Harris spoke of the continuing job investment in the city and also in higher education, which is his portfolio.

But turning his attention to traffic congestion, he accepted that there were “real issues” when it came to transport, mobility and accessibility around Galway.

“We share the view that we need a Park & Ride facility and I understand there are also Bus Connects plans.

“I also suggest that the City Council reflect on her comments. I am proud to be in a Government that is providing unparalleled levels of investment to local authorities and unparalleled opportunities for local authorities to draw down,” he said.

Then Minister Harris referred to the controversial Galway City Outer Ring Road which he said was “struck down by An Bord Pleanála”, despite a lot of energy having been put into that project.

However, Deputy Connolly picked up on this and pointed out that An Bord Pleanála did not say ‘No’ to the ring road.

“The High Court said ‘No’ to the ring road because An Bord Pleanála acknowledged it failed utterly to consider climate change and our climate change obligations.

“That tells us something about An Bord Pleanála and the management that submitted such a plan.”

In the end, Minister Harris agreed that there needed to be a masterplan for Galway City.

“I suggest it is for the local authority to come up with a vision and then work with the Government to try to fund and implement that.”

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