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Even before the internet turned our attention spans to mush, we dumb humans often lost sight of the fact that, behind many a great movement, song, movie, charity, book, idea or invention, it’s often just one lone soul that lit the spark.

Thanks to the shouting match that is social media today, we also now forget that there are real people out there beyond our screens, people who made a real difference in the world – who were inspired, and who became inspiring.

One such person is Caroline Dwyer Hickey.

It was back on March 25th, 2013 that cancer cruelly took Caroline from her family, at the age of just 35. What she couldn’t have known then is the amount of magic that has since been created in her name.

What would Caroline make of over 3,000 people holding a ribbon that stretched across The Cliff Walk and right on down to the South Beach on May 11th, 2014? Or the 1,410 nautically-themed and extremely silly hats at Greystones harbour on September 11th, 2016? And who can forget 5,208 teddy bears all having a picnic along Greystones’ seafront on Sunday, May 17th 2015…?

There’s more than a small chance that Caroline would have been over the moon at such sweet humongous-scale silliness. This was a woman who never lost her childlike wonder, something that was plainly apparent to all her primary school students at St Brigid’s in Glasnevin.

What’s important to realise though is that Caroline would have grown up blissfully unaware of the kind of legacy that she would leave behind, oblivious to the good work that would be carried on in her name. She was just too busy living a good life, from trekking off to the town’s Patrick’s Day Parade with her trusty recorder, and trusty younger brother, Denis [left, 1988], to holding the 2012 Olympic Torch in London [top, right], from swimming with dolphins in Florida or teaching schoolchildren in Uganda to following her passion for acting in the likes of Dancing At Lughnasa and Three Sisters, heading to yet another beloved art museum with dad, Dermod, or just messing around at home, with stepmom, Helen.

And let’s not forget one of Caroline’s happiest daysgetting married to Ronán Hickey.

It’s only now, almost five years after that tragic passing, and with World Cancer Day arriving February 4th – the day that would have been Caroline’s 40th birthday – that the family finally feel okay about revealing the real person behind the foundation they created in her memory.

For years, Dermod, Helen, Denis and, in particular, Ronán wanted to have just the one image of Caroline [left] released to the public. Today, they have decided to let the Guide reveal the many other stages in Caroline’s life.

That The Caroline Foundation has raised over €600,000 for cancer research is remarkable. And they’ll be hoping to raise a whole new chunk of change with this year’s Give Us A Song weekend at the beginning of February. Having launched with a song-song or two at Pearse Station earlier this month, once again, the Caroline gang want to teach the whole country to sing, in perfect harmony – or thereabouts – just for the sheer joy of it. And the chance to raise some money for the Cancer Clinical Research Trust (CCRT), so we might one glorious day kick cancer’s sorry ass. Details here.

To help spread the word, and to mark Caroline’s 40th birthday, Dermod and Helen Dwyer spoke recently to The Irish Independent about both their sadness over her loss and their treasured memories. Both believe that science will one day conquer cancer.

“Caroline participated in every clinical trial she could,” says Dermod, “which, in our view, probably extended her life by a good five years. And it wasn’t just adding days to her life, this was quality time. Caroline lived a full, purposeful life right up to the end, packing more into those 35 years than many others experience in a far longer lifetime.”

When she was just 11, Caroline, along with young brother, Denis, lived through the passing of their mother, Fidelma, from lung cancer, aged just 38. It was an experience that made Caroline incredibly pro-active about her health, eating a balanced diet, playing tennis, and going for medical check-ups every six months.

It was in June 2004, as Caroline and her then boyfriend, Ronán, were getting ready for a summer trip to the US that she discovered a small lump on her breast. A biopsy showed that it was malignant, and within a week, Caroline was under the knife.

Under the guidance of her oncologist, Professor Crown, Caroline took part in a clinical trial, for Laptainib, which proved to be a resounding success. In 2007, having been declared cancer-free, Caroline married Ronán, describing the occasion as the happiest moment of her life.

Sadly, the cancer returned, aggressively, and this time the new drug deemed to have the best chance of success, T-DMI, was only available at the Karmanos Institute in Detroit. And so it was that, every three weeks, Caroline would get a substitute teacher in for her beloved class so she could hop on an 18-hour flight to Detroit via Chicago, get the treatment on Friday and Saturday, and then fly home Sunday for that first lesson on Monday morning.

Day after day, says Dermod, Caroline was “a strong, quiet person with a wonderfully quirky sense of humour. Throughout all the ups and downs, the good news and bad, the stops and starts, Caroline never once complained or asked, “Why me?”, and she never spoke about death. She always had hope.”

Setting up The Caroline Foundation with friends and some patients of the Cancer Clinical Research Trust, it was important to everyone involved that this was not a standalone charity, but one affiliated with and supporting the work of the CCRT. Being accountable to the latter’s auditors, The Caroline Foundation does not pay salaries or expenses for any of its committee members or volunteers, all the money raised going to pay the salaries of the researchers in their scientific studies. “To have sown the seeds from research to clinical trial is part of Caroline’s legacy,” Dermod explained in the recent interview, “and we anticipate that we will be entering patients on to the Caroline 1 Trial in the first quarter of this year.”

Giving themselves the target of raising €1m for the CCRT within the next two years, the foundation not only have Give Us A Song planned for 2018 but also marathons in June and an October lunch with Miriam O’Callaghan, whose sister passed from cancer at the age of 33.

“Caroline always held on to the hope that cancer research gives,” says Dermod. “As professor Crown puts it, every piece of research is like a little pebble being added to a bank of pebbles built up against a wall. You never know which is the one that will eventually tip over that wall and make the breakthrough…” 

Find out more about The Caroline Foundation here, and about February’s Give Us A Song fundraiser right here.

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