So we’ve made it to Newcastle West in Limerick. That’s 5 out of 14 done now. I’m still spinning the legs – although in too heavy a gear according to the cycling coach with us!
We had a relatively late start at 11am this morning, there were a huge number of students cycling from Tralee to join us in Killarney, and come with us back to Tralee for the first half of our day. The spin was nice and steady, a couple of “shlanty bits” as John calls them (hills in my book) but nothing too bad, and we were in Tralee around 1pm.
The reception we got in Tralee was simply massive. I think it’s Jim’s home town, but probably more influentially, it’s where Donal Walsh lived.
I didn’t know Donal’s story when we started out this morning – I only knew that he was a teenager from Tralee who had died of cancer and clearly had a big influence on a lot of people. Chatting to a local man coming into Tralee, I learned more about why Donal was such a huge influence around his local town, around Ireland, and even around the world.
Donal was fighting cancer from the age of 12 until he died at 16. He had learned to walk again in 6 weeks at the age of 12 when he lost his leg below the knee. He came back to become the fitness coach of the football team he had previously played with. Later, he had half a lung removed, and took up cycling to improve his lung capacity following that operation. He kept fighting for his life, and wrote about his anger at teenage suicide while he was battling to get as much out of living life as humanly possible.
A few months left, he said. There it was; I was given a timeline on the rest of my life. No choice, no say, no matter. It was given to me as easy as dinner.
I couldn’t believe it, that all I had was 16 years here, and soon I began to pay attention to every detail that was going on in this town.
I realised that I was fighting for my life for the third time in four years and this time I have no hope. Yet still I hear of young people committing suicide and I’m sorry but it makes me feel nothing but anger.
I feel angry that these people choose to take their lives, to ruin their families and to leave behind a mess that no one can clean up.
Yet I am here with no choice, trying as best I can to prepare my family and friends for what’s about to come and leave as little a mess as possible.
I know that most of these people could be going through financial despair and have other problems in life, but I am at the depths of despair and, believe me, there is a long way to go before you get to where I am.
For these people, no matter how bad life gets, there are no reasons bad enough to make them do this; if they slept on it or looked for help they could find a solution, and they need to think of the consequences of what they are about to do.
So please, as a 16-year-old who has no say in his death sentence, who has no choice in the pain he is about to cause and who would take any chance at even a few more months on this planet, appreciate what you have, know that there are always other options and help is always there.
Donal wanted to do so much:
Doxorubicin, cisplatin and methotrexate were my chemotherapies. They were my best friends and my worst enemies. They would save my life and nearly kill me but I was doing it. I wanted to live, to play for Munster, to travel the world, to raise children and die when I’m 100, not 12.
Donal died at the age of 16, and every single person in Tralee, attended his funeral.
After Tralee, the long slow climbs toward Newcastle West didn’t feel quite so hard.