Helping to make a difference, one patient at a time

In this week’s edition of The Third Degree Paul catches up with Grainne Duffy and Sinead Boyce-Haslam from Cancer Care West (CCW) ahead of their charity skydive in July and to hear all about the work they do.

Grainne: I live in Ballybofey with my partner Michael. We have two girls, Hannah, 13, and Grace, 8. I’ve always had an interest in Alternative/Complimentary Therapies and knew when I left school that I would pursue a career working on the body. My training began in Cavan in 2006 where I trained in Swedish Massage and Beauty Therapy, then I did a Degree in Business in ATU Letterkenny.

I trained with the Irish School of Reflexology in traditional Foot Reflexology, I’ve also completed specialised training in Oncology Reflexology with Dr Peter Mc Kereth. In the Holistic world it’s lifelong learning, I hope to begin my studies again in October with Traditional Chinese Acupuncture in the Irish College of Chinese Medicine in Dublin.


I also run my own busy clinic in Ballybofey “Harmony Lane Holistic Therapies”. I offer treatments such as massage, reflexology, as well as treatments to support infertility, woman’s health, stress and recovery to both men and women. I’m an ITEC Accredited Tutor. I have spent five years teaching Massage and Reflexology in a Holistic School in east Donegal – I’ve trained many a fantastic therapist during my time teaching, and gained many friends.

Sinead: I’m from the lovely village of Glen near Carrigart, mostly known for the famous Olde Glen Bar and restaurant. I’ve lived there all my life, apart from some periods studying or working in England and America. I’m married to Kevin ‘Cookie’ Gallagher, who’s well known in GAA circles, we have two beautiful kids, Davin (8) and Bonnie (6), and my stepson Lorcan, 26. In Uni in Luton I studied Bsc Sport and Fitness studies for three years. At that stage I thought I wanted to be a P.E. teacher but when I finished I was more interested in the wellbeing of others, so after returning to Ireland I became a Nutritionist. I opened a weight loss clinic in Donegal in 2008, sold the franchise in 2013 and changed careers. I worked in a bank and completed the QFA exams, which I found to be quite boring: advising people on investments was not for me, I’m more about ‘you can’t take it with you, enjoy and spend’. Needless to say my sales record in the bank wasn’t the best! After four years I got back into health & wellbeing, studying Neuromuscular Therapy and going back to work for myself again. Studying Manual Lymphatic Drainage Therapy led me to work in CCW with post-cancer patients Lymphoedema. I also work in Donegal Physiotherapy & Performance Centre three days a week – a mix of weight loss, injury prevention and lymphatic drainage.

What kinds of services does Cancer Care West offer? Is it for the patients themselves, or for families/friends as well?

We offer support to Oncology patients and their carers: Counselling, Reflexology, Support Group, Lymphedema Clinics (and Lymphatic drainage), Combined Pilates & Relaxation Class. We also have Rita, our Volunteer Oncology Nurse, who liaises with patients on a regular basis. All the services that we provide are free.

Do you find it personally a difficult job, or an optimistic one?

Grainne: It can vary on a case-by-case basis. It’s an empathetic role. I can hold space for a client on their journey if it’s about recovery or a client who’s on a palliative care pathway. At the end of each day I clock out knowing I have given the best of myself to each client. We are also a very strong team, our personalities, skills, and work ethics complement each other well. We all bring a piece to the table, I feel this is paramount to the environment that we work in and the services we provide to the people of Donegal.

Sinead: I absolutely love my job and yes at times it can be difficult, especially when working with palliative patients.
I find this aspect tough but thankfully the majority of the patients I work with are post-treatment and well on the road to recovery. Their regular visits to the centre for MLD help them manage their condition so the future for these patients is most definitely an optimistic one.


Is it part of a national network?

Grainne: Our ‘parent’ organisation is based in Galway, in Inis Aoibinnn, a 32-bed residential centre available to Donegal and Northwest cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy treatment at NUIG. CCW also has an affiliated support centre close by, and our centre in Letterkenny is very similar in terms of the services it provides. I think the major distinctions faced by Northwest patients are travel and some specific interventions which are only offered in other hospitals such as NUIG. These are outside the scope of CCW to solve but it is an issue we hear time and time again.

So you’re both doing a skydive in July to raise funds. Was that one of those things you signed up for, and then realised afterwards what you’d done?

Grainne: Well…A few weeks after Sinead joined us, she mentioned doing a skydive to raise funds, just in passing, over a cup of tea. I said yes, thinking she would forget all about it in a few weeks, but she didn’t! I personally like to set myself a few challenges, a sky dive was on the bucket list, so I will be ticking this challenge off the list!

Sinead: I always wanted to do a skydive when I was younger, in fact when I lived in Chicago, myself and a friend of mine had booked one but it got cancelled, so it was always in the back of my mind but the opportunity never arose. We got talking one day at CCW, I mentioned I’d love to do something to raise some funds and it went from there, we got Grainne on board and here we are.

How are the nerves right now?
Grainne: The nerves are fine at the moment, anyone who knows me will know that an old saying of mine is “I’ll worry about it when the time comes.” I can imagine I will worry as my legs are dangling over the side of the helicopter. We might toss a coin to see who goes first on the day!

Sinead: The nerves are fine until it’s mentioned. I’m not very good with heights and not as daring as I was years ago. I’m really not sure how I’ll be on the day but the cause is going to get me through it…I hope!! It’s with Skydive Ireland Coleraine, I’m sure they will have calming techniques to help get our feet back on the ground or out of the plane for that matter!

Do you have a fundraising target with the jump?
Grainne: Definitely a good Americano before the jump. I plan on taking the girls and Michael with me. I would love for them to see me land (hopefully on my feet). Sinead and I will probably get a wee sip of something afterwards I would imagine, if the legs are not too shaky!!

Sinead: Could be a brandy beforehand and champagne after…

Quick fire:

The book or the film?
Grainne: Film-The Green Mile. Book-Becoming, by Michelle Obama
Sinead: The film

The perfect night?
Grainne: A good fire, wee glass of wine, takeaway and a good film. Yes, I’m getting old.
Sinead: Dinner and drinks out with the hubby, or a good night out with friends I haven’t seen in a while: dinner, drinks and a good old boogie, we don’t do it often enough!

What motivates you?
Grainne: My children and Michael. I try to be the best version of myself for them!
My role as a therapist is a role that when you work on an such an intimate level with people, you like to think that you give something back to each client in some way!
Sinead: Helping others is what motivates me the most. The idea that I might provide a solution to someone’s problem moves me to do a good job.
To understand and empathise with people is crucial, it gives me a sense of confidence and belief that I can be of some help. Knowing that my hard work and perseverance will help me achieve greater professional success and by following the correct path it encourages me to push more both personally and professionally.

What do you look for most in a friend?
Grainne: Support, a listening ear, honesty
Sinead: Someone you trust and share a deep understanding with, someone that ‘gets you’, that loves to encourage you and is non-judgemental, someone dependable and of course humorous…I don’t look for much do I?

What angers you?
Grainne: People taking up two parking spaces, dropping litter and poor manners.
Sinead: When you order an ice cream cone and they pull you a crooked one. Messy, very messy.

How do you relax now?
Grainne: A Spa Hotel for the weekend, Yoga!
Sinead: I like going to the gym to strength classes 3 times a week, it’s when I completely switch off for that 1 hour. Some people go to a spa for a massage, but as a massage therapist I can’t switch off as I’m figuring out in my head what their next move will be!

You have €10,000 – what’s the one thing you’d most like to spend it on right now?
Grainne: I would have to make the 10k stretch: a week in Florida, a visit to Nasa space station, 3 or 4 nights in Vegas, Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon. If there was any change left over, I’d finish with a Caribbean cruise.
Sinead: I have a brother in Melbourne, Australia for the past 14 years.
I’d love to visit, I’ve never been there but maybe one day!

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