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Dublin: 10 °C Wednesday 20 March, 2019
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'It allows the family to just be a family': Campaign to raise funds for cancer charity night nurses

Last year the Irish Cancer Society’s night nursing service provided 7,345 nights of care to 1,818 patients around the country.

Sylvia Coyle's daughter Alison with her mother's night nurse Geraldine de Búrca at the Boots Ireland Night Walks launch today.
Sylvia Coyle's daughter Alison with her mother's night nurse Geraldine de Búrca at the Boots Ireland Night Walks launch today.
Image: Jason Clarke

WHEN SYLVIA COYLE was told her cancer was terminal, it was her wish to spend her final moments at home surrounded by her family.

She had been diagnosed with bowel cancer in October 2012 and had undergone a number of serious surgical procedures, having most of her bowel and most of her liver removed. She also underwent radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

However the cancer spread to her lymph nodes and her treatment options were limited because she also suffered from a rare blood disorder.

“I think Mum was the sort of person people always described as stoic, she would have wanted to ignore the fact that she had cancer and that it was so serious to protect us and keep everything going as normal,” Sylvia’s daughter Alison Hardy told TheJournal.ie.

“When we look back at photos now, you can see it in her face over the years but she was shielding the fact that she was suffering.”

The Christmas before she died, we brought her to Milan and we knew it’d be the last trip we’d get with her. She wouldn’t normally bring it up but she said at one stage ‘Will you all be okay without me?’

Hardy said her mother spent the last three weeks of her life in her own home, where her family tried their best to make her comfortable.

“For the last two weeks she was very breathless and that was hard to listen to. We had an idea of how it would go because my sister is a nurse and she was used to seeing it but it’s different when it’s your own mother.”

Over the last three nights, a Geraldine de Búrca, one of the Irish Cancer Society’s night nurses visited the Coyle family to offer them support.

She has worked as a night nurse for the last 14 years, a job she said is the most rewarding she has ever done.

“We come in and help with symptom control for the final few days, like pain management. It allows the family to just be a family.

“In Sylvia’s case, her daughter who was a nurse could stop worrying about what to be doing and just be her daughter. And at night it means the family can get a bit of sleep as well.”

Boots Sylvia Coyle's daughter Alison with her mother's night nurse Geraldine de Búrca at the Boots Ireland Night Walks launch today. Source: Jason Clarke

Alison and Geraldine were reunited today for the launch of the Boots Ireland Night Walks to raise money for the Irish Cancer Society’s night nurse service. Members of the public are being encouraged to  take part in the Dublin and Cork 5km walks on 17 August.

There are 183 night nurses working across the country with families and de Búrca said the Irish Cancer Society is the only association that provides this free service to families, which is funded through public donations.

Last year, the society’s night nursing service provided 7,345 nights of care to 1,818 patients around the country.

“The majority of people want to die at home, but it can be very hard. It’s all about offering comfort – to the family and to the person who is in the bed,” she explained.

“Sometimes at night the patients are awake and they might just like to talk to you. They can confide in us about their concerns for their families, they need to talk and we’re virtual strangers so that makes it easier for them. They are feeling vulnerable but they also want to protect their children. So for those few days you’re a counsellor, a nurse, a friend.”

Anyone who wants to register for the Dublin night walk can do so here, or for the Cork walk, here.

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