t was back in 1990, having just successfully battled cancer, that Veronica O’Leary turned to her hubby, Brendan, with an idea.
Namely, setting up a support group for people like herself who had come out of the other side of a cancer diagnosis somewhat slightly dazed.
And so it was that Ireland’s very first cancer support group was born. And now, 31 years later, Veronica and Brendan’s son, Conor, is steering the good ship Purple House.
“We’ve come a long, long way since then,” smiles the O’Leary’s boy. “Not only here at Purple House but right across the country. There’s a real understanding now that your recovery doesn’t stop the day you walk out of a hospital. There’s a lot of rebuilding to be done from that point…”
Quick to point out that Purple House wouldn’t be anywhere today without the “many, many wonderful volunteers” involved, Conor also heaps thanks and praise this afternoon on the “wide team of counsellors, therapists, physiotherapists, family support workers…”. His voice trails off, aware that there are a great many people to thank, and worried he may not think of them all right now.
We’re at No.2 Duncairn Terrace, the beautiful 4-storey former abbey retreat that Purple House made their home in March last year, and if the lockdowns have made their HQ that little bit quieter these days (barring the odd celebrity hook-up), Conor and co are actually busier than ever. Born out of necessity, Purple House have moved much of their counselling online, and now they’re a shoulder to lean on for people all over the country. And beyond.
“It’s been remarkable how well connecting with people online has worked for us,” says Conor. “We had always been a little wary of going down that route, to be honest, but we realised immediately that it can reach people where they are most comfortable – in their homes – and it’s all as easy as pressing a button. Or, to be more precise, clicking a mouse.”
Not that the lockdown hasn’t done some damage too – all of Purple House’s traditional fundraising events have been on hold for over a year now. Which means that they’re more reliant than ever on the kindness of strangers. And friends.
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