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A Message from Helen Forristal, Director of Nursing Services

The year 2020 with the Marie Keating Foundation has been one like no other I could ever have imagined and Friday March 6th is a day embedded deep in my mind, never to be forgotten.

That day we were learning that “the virus” was in Ireland and we were to social distance and I asked myself what does that mean. We all know so well now what that means. We were in a room with a group of ladies, our Peer to Peer volunteer women with positive BRCA alterations  and were about to  embark on a meeting to plan the year ahead and we were already feeling awkward, the meet and greet almost felt empty, surely we are not expected to continue in this way!


That was the last day we at the Marie Keating Foundation had such a gathering. Strange as though it may seem, social distancing is very much a part of our lives now and accepted. In a world where we are used to embrace those who need it, in a room where we felt safe and, in an environment, where you could feel and experience emotion…I thought to myself, we are doomed.

But in a flash over that weekend, I thought we need to do something to ensure those we help remain supported during this time of huge uncertainty. It was clear we needed to adapt and transform our services online and from that moment the learning began. On March 25th we held our first online meeting for women with Metastatic Breast Cancer, they were delighted to see each other and that was a relief, my skills were far from perfect with many challenges but we stuck with it and it works! Since March our membership of Positive Living has increased by 68%. We are meeting twice a month and we have over this time learned to deal with the anxiety, isolation, loneliness and the shared grief of the loss of two fond members, all online. We celebrated coming together for Christmas cheer this week, helping these ladies to live their best lives and they are.

Our Survive and Thrive six-week programme, which equips participants with the tools they need to adjust to life after treatment ends, faced a similar challenge. Two weeks into our six week programme in March there was a strong realisation that this face to face meeting needed to come to an abrupt halt, we were after all, bringing together in one room a group of vulnerable cancer survivors. But the unease this left us with as facilitators motivated us further to learn and develop this programme online and we have successfully revived this programme from what seemed like an impossible task.

We have completed two online six week programmes this year, and I am so proud of our team of nurses and advocates coming together embracing the challenge it presented and supporting over 40 cancer survivors to live their best lives after cancer. Lorna, one of our Survive and Thrive participants said “the evening of my first online meeting of the programme, I felt very nervous and unsure. I need not have worried. The Marie Keating Foundation have put together an incredibly well thought out programme. Its success lies in its practicality. Far from it being a forum for self-pity and negativity, the excellent facilitators (thank you so much Marie and Yvonne!) enable cancer survivors to move forward and indeed thrive. By acknowledging past experiences and difficulties in an incredibly kind and supportive environment, such experiences can be used as stepping stones to access a future that each one of us feel so lucky to have.”

Our community work, schools programme and wellness workshops have all successfully moved online and I have to give credit to our team of nurses who have adapted and work so hard to ensure this happened. I am also so very grateful to everyone who supported us in 2020 and donated, to allow us to continue this vital supports at a time when people needed us more than ever.

We have added new services such as our six-week cancer and COVID wellness webinar series, adapted existing services and supported more patients, survivors and families, then we have in any other year. 2020 looked like such a bleak year back in March and it has been filled with so much grief, anxiety and uncertainty. But looking back over what we have achieved, together as an MKF family and a community of people who care, I am immensely proud of the work we have done. It’s important we all take a moment this Christmas to pause and reflect but also to appreciate what we have all been through. I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas and safe and happy New Year, where we can all look forward to the signs of a brighter year to come.

Helen Forristal

Director of Nursing Services