Vital addition to cancer care services in Letterkenny

by Louise Doyle

A BRIGHT, welcoming and accessible cancer support service has opened its doors in Letterkenny.


The Donegal Cancer Support Service, which comes under the umbrella of Cancer Care West, opened earlier this month. Based on the Pearse Road area of the town, the ‘home from home’ facility is on the second floor of Unit Station House, above a dental surgery.

The service is an inclusive one for people diagnosed with cancer, going through treatment or overcoming the disease, as well as for family members of those affected, who, so often, can be overlooked.

The Donegal News was given a tour of the new service and an opportunity to meet some of its highly trained, experienced and friendly staff.

The local team are Dr Charlene Haughey, senior clinical psychologist, and Alison McCollum and Noleen Rodgers-Kelly, who are both oncology nurses.

The service provides information and advice, psycho-oncology and counselling services and psycho-oncology nursing support.

Much thought has gone in to the construction and design of the facility, which has two rooms for treatment/therapy, a library full of helpful literature from the Irish Cancer Society, and a kitchen for a ‘cuppa’ and even some cookery classes. An electric fire and soft chairs give a homely ambience, while adding to that feeling of a ‘home from home’ are the many canvass paintings by Donegal artist, Owen Clarke, whose stunning portraits are soon to adorn the walls.

With a background in clinical psychology, Dr Haughey said she is exited to be involved in developing a local service for local people.


“I developed an interest in working with people with chronic issues, such as MS or cancer,” said Dr Haughey.

“What we find is 30 to 40 per cent of people who have cancer probably develop depression or anxiety for obvious reasons. In my role, I provide physo-oncology services in Letterkenny Hospital, which entails meeting patients or clients in the hospital for a number of different reasons, for example, maybe someone is distressed about surgery.

“The second part of my role is community based, providing psychological counselling interventions for families.”

Having developed a reflexology service while working at Letterkenny University Hospital, Ms McCollum, discovered it was a catalyst for people to open up and talk.

“My role and the role of Noreen is to listen to people, assess if they need help and to give advice on financial and practical support,” she said.

There are exciting plans in the pipeline to introduce a range of therapies, as Dr Haughey explained.

“Other things will come down the line, but we must emphasis, they will be down the line, including reflexology and manual lymphatic drainage. We will also be looking at mindfulness and group sessions. People identify with each other and can share a lot from individual experiences.”

It’s also hoped a nutritionist will come on board for cookery sessions, as well as liaising with professionals who also work with people affected by cancer, such as public health nurses.

A service for children is also envisaged.

Donegal Cancer Support Service is open Monday to Thursday from 9am to 5pm and on Friday from 9am to 4pm.

“We’re very accessible. People can just drop in to have a look at the centre and we encourage them to do that.

“People can self-refer by telephoning us or just dropping in. We want to take down the barriers for people. GPs can refer people to us as can the hospital and community services, such as the Women’s Centre,” said Dr Haughey.

Ms McCollum believes the conversation around cancer and how it impacts upon not only those directly affected, but their nearest and dearest, is improving.

“Patients are told a lot more nowadays and things have improved. Medical advancements, treatments and lifestyle campaigns have all helped. Cancer is not the death sentence it was years ago.

“People underestimate a smile, a cup of coffee and a warm environment. You start at the basics and step up.”

While an official launch of the centre is in the pipeline, the women have encouraged people to drop in any time.

“No-one should have to go through cancer alone,” they said.

Elsewhere, the Chief Executive Officer of Cancer Care West, Richard Flaherty, said: “We are delighted to offer this service in Donegal. The service in Donegal is a fantastic one, and there are many exciting plans in the pipeline to take it forward.”

The service is seeking volunteers and fundraisers. Anyone interested in learning more should telephone (074) 9601901 or e-mail

For fundraising, contact Grainne McGettigan, by telephoning 087 2649 103 or e-mail


Dr Charlene Haughey and Alison McCollum.

Dr Charlene Haughey and Alison McCollum.

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