A retired businesswoman from Congleton, who was diagnosed with cancer for the third time this summer, has married her partner of 23 years.
Helen O’Neill (62) was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006 at the age of 48. She was a freelance PR professional at the time, having worked with Marketing Manchester, Liverpool Capital of Culture, the North West Development Agency, Wirral tourism, The Open Golf at Hoylake and overseen the launch of Blackpool Pleasure Beach’s The Big One rollercoaster.
Helen and Ian were married on 23 August at the Alexandra Court Hotel, Congleton. “Ian has lived every step of my cancer journey over the last 14 years,” said Helen. “We decided to make the event a simultaneous wedding and living funeral with friends flying in from various places in Europe. Despite my news, we wanted it to be a happy, life affirming, upbeat affair and for me to have an opportunity to say goodbye to friends who I very rarely see in person.
“At a low ebb, on Sunday 1 August, I sent out an email from my sickbed, for an urgent wedding reception. Within an hour, the Alexandra Court Hotel had sent menus, room availability, and as a team, we’ve organised the whole event in 23 days. Various friends brought music, sorted the photography, designed invites, and organised bunting and flowers.”
Following her recent diagnosis, Helen is backing The Christie’s new £26m cancer centre in Macclesfield. She recalls how during her first cancer, she travelled daily to The Christie in Manchester for radiotherapy.
Helen said: “I travelled to The Christie for 15 radiotherapy sessions in the summer of 2007, so I know how gruelling and tiring it is going to Withington every weekday for three consecutive weeks of treatment. Although the service at The Christie was excellent, the drive was horrific and there were problems with parking. A half hour appointment could take most of the day and it is emotionally very tough. My partner, Ian Pailin, drove me to most of my appointments, including all the radiotherapy appointments, and it was tough on him too.
“Being able to have this at The Christie at Macclesfield in the future will make a huge difference for patients throughout Cheshire and the High Peak area. We will have access to Christie know how and expertise on our doorstep."
Helen had to stop working during her first cancer while she had a mastectomy and chemotherapy at Macclesfield District General Hospital followed by radiotherapy at The Christie and she decided not to go back to work after recovering.
Following this, Helen attended regular screenings, but in 2011 she developed a sarcoma which was removed in an operation at Wythenshawe Hospital. “I was thankful to be under the care of the internationally renowned sarcoma team at The Christie as I had such a rare form of sarcoma - spindle cell sarcoma,” said Helen. “Their expertise was very reassuring.”
Then, despite being cancer free for nearly 10 years, in the summer of 2021, Helen received the devastating news that she had secondary breast cancer. She was told that although the cancer was treatable, it was not curable. She is starting on a weekly course of chemotherapy next week.
Helen, who enjoys swimming, Zumba, the theatre, music and arts said: “It’s so different this time being terminally ill. I was shocked and scared but Ian and I are getting on with it as best we can. As a society, we just don’t deal well with death or mortality. Some friends have been fantastic, but some have disappeared after years of friendship. It shows that some people can cope with reality and some can’t.
“Having been diagnosed with cancer for the third time, I am relieved that The Christie at Macclesfield will be so close to home. Being able to have all your cancer treatment in one place where there is continuity and that you are familiar with will be really important to me. I’m excited about the new cancer centre as it looks so amazing and I am sure that patients using it will get the very highest standards of Christie care and treatment once it opens.
“My Christie oncologist, Dr Lisa Barraclough, has been outstanding, providing 12 years of support and medical expertise at my regular check-ups. She is very approachable, and we’ve become as close and friendly as is professionally possible in an oncologist/patient relationship. We have a good laugh at most appointments, as a healthy sense of humour is vital when you’re going through so much trauma. I’m now under an equally brilliant Christie oncologist, specialising in the very latest breast cancer chemotherapy, Dr Vanessa Clay.”
The Christie at Macclesfield, due to open in December 2021, will transform cancer care in Cheshire, North Staffordshire and the High Peak area of Derbyshire, providing care closer to home for more than 1,500 existing patients a year.
This ambitious project brings together essential cancer services into one purpose built centre delivering local access to radiotherapy, chemotherapy, holistic support and information services, outpatient care, palliative care and a wider range of clinical trials than at present. It will accommodate around 46,000 patient visits every year. It will offer specialist examination rooms, a CT simulator where treatments are planned, plus counselling and complementary therapy rooms.
The Christie charity needs to raise £23m for the new centre. To support the new centre, see The Christie at Macclesfield campaign page or call our team on 0161 446 3988.
The Christie charity supports the work of The Christie NHS Foundation Trust providing enhanced services over and above what the NHS funds. This includes money for care and treatment, research, education and extra patient services. Gifts from the public make a huge difference to the care and treatment that The Christie is able to provide to patients and their families.
The Christie NHS Foundation Trust was the first specialist trust to be rated as ‘Outstanding’ twice (in 2016 and 2018) by the health regulator the Care Quality Commission (CQC). It referred to The Christie as ‘a leader in cancer care’ and ‘a pioneer in developing innovative solutions to cancer care.’ The CQC praised the Trust’s staff which it said ‘go the extra mile to meet the needs of patients and their families’ and that they were ‘exceptionally kind and caring.’ In 2017, the CQC rated The Christie as the best specialist trust in the country, and one of the top three trusts overall in England.