The Slattery Family

John Slattery and his children Lewis and Sarah had their world turned upside down in December 2019 when John’s wife Yvonne lost her battle to cancer. The beautiful, talented and caring mum was no longer a physical presence in their lives and the hole left in their hearts was gigantic.  In the 15 months since, they have gone on to deal with their loss both individually and as a family and they have been helped in this by many caring and supportive relatives and friends, colleagues and organisations. John is extremely grateful for this support but singles out one organisation for the highest praise for how they have been there for the family and that organisation is Cancer Care West.

Throughout Yvonne’s illness Dr Mairead Brennan and Dr Damien Connolly, Clinical Psychologists at Cancer Care West, have been stalwarts in their support bubble. Working mainly with the children Mairead created a space for them in which they felt safe and gave them the language in which they could voice their fears, anger and distress. Following on from Yvonne’s death Mairead continued to provide this support structure and the children benefited hugely from her interventions. Then COVID came along and the in-person sessions were suspended. At this time John remembers that “unlike many people who found this a difficult time in their lives the first lockdown was actually an unlikely blessing for me, Lewis and Sarah. It gave us an opportunity to close down a bit from the outside world and just to be together – the three of us – holding on and healing.” John took a massive step back from his professional life and between them they sowed the seeds of a new life, still sad but stronger and more resilient. John believes that the foundation for this time of recovery was laid by Mairead and Damien and their input gave them the emotional vocabulary they needed to interact, talk and work through their feelings.

More recently John was delighted when Mairead contacted him to ask if Sarah would like to join a new remote therapy group called CUBS which stands for Children United in Bereavement Support, that she and her colleague, Clinical Psychologist Dr Cathy O’ Sullivan, were setting up for children bereaved by cancer.  The group consists of 5-6 children and is run online in a series of 1 hourly sessions over 8 weeks. The aim of the program is to help foster recovery from their grief while building an emotional stability which will help them move forward. While it is early in the program John can see that it that it is helping Sarah and she is happy to attend the sessions. “Sarah is a brave little soul and this program gives her the relaxed space in which she can process her grief in the company of other children. It would be better for the children to be able to do this in person but to have something like this at all during this time is a massive help and I am very grateful to Mairead for giving Sarah this opportunity”.

From the beginning when Yvonne was diagnosed the family have being coming to Cancer Care West to avail of their services. John likes the fact that the organisation is just there for them with no agenda. “We have always been open with the children and others about Yvonne’s diagnosis but it was still hard to open up completely about the true impact of what we were going through. Mairead understood and gave us the place and time to process so much. It was a difficult time for us as a couple but with her support we found the strength to get through what was in the end a short and extremely painful time.”

As John watches his little girl adjust her looks in the visor mirror as they head off on a journey, he sees her mum shine out in her every movement and expression. He is very proud of her and Lewis. “They are great kids and I know that, while the loss of Yvonne is immense, we are a tight knit unit and we will learn to live with our grief and make a good life for ourselves. This is in some measure due to the help we have received from Mairead and Cancer Care West.”

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