An unbreakable bond

an unbreakable bond
30 August 2008; Deidre O’Riordan, London, in action against Catriona Byrne, Wicklow. TG4 All-Ireland Ladies Junior Football Championship Semi-Final, London v Wicklow, St. Peregrine’s, Blakestown Rd, Dublin. Picture credit: Damien Eagers / SPORTSFILE

London ladies 2008 All Ireland winners rally together to help stricken former teammate Dee O’Riordan

London’s 2008 All Ireland winning ladies Gaelic football team have come together to raise funds to help one of their former teammates, Deidre ‘Dee’ O’Riordan.

After surviving brain surgery on a Grade 3 tumour in 2015, Dee was subsequently diagnosed with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (M.E.) – a long-term illness with a wide range of symptoms, the most common of which is extreme tiredness.

There is no cure for M.E. and Dee has been living with the disease for the last few years, unable to return to her career as a science teacher.

Day-to-day life is a struggle, both for Dee and her husband Michael, but the Wicklow native, who also won an All Ireland Club with Parnells, hopes that her story will serve to raise greater awareness of M.E. and help others to understand it better.

It prompted her All Ireland winning London teammates to do something to try and help.

An unbreakable bond
30 August 2008; The London team celebrate victory. TG4 All-Ireland Ladies Junior Football Championship Semi-Final, London v Wicklow, St. Peregrine’s, Blakestown Rd, Dublin. Picture credit: Damien Eagers / SPORTSFILE

Claire Towey-Burke, who is now Connacht Ladies Games Development Officer, reached out to their former teammates to rally round and raise £400 for Dee and her husband Michael so they might be able to “do something nice”.

Deirdre’s former clubs also offered their support.

Claire, who has set up a GoFundMe page, posted: “I’m sure like me, some of you may not have seen Dee in years, but we do all have some very unique memories together, and in 2008 we were all a team, who lived and breathed each other.

“It would be nice to let Dee know even though we are not always around, doesn’t mean we are not thinking about her during this very tough time in her life.” So far, they’re raised more than £1,000.

Skilful

A wonderfully skilful footballer, Dee, who comes from Kilbride, scored the opening goal – an unstoppable overhead kick to the top corner of the net – in London’s junior championship final win over Derry at Croke Park in 2008.

It set the Exiles on the way to a 5-5 to 1-11 victory and gave London ladies a first All Ireland title since 1993.

Dee was also part of the Parnells team which won an All Ireland Club intermediate title in 2012, alongside Republic of Ireland and Liverpool soccer star Niamh Fahey.

Parnells defeated Tipperary’s Cahir by 2-14 to 1-2 in the final to become the first overseas ladies club team to win an All Ireland title.

Dee also played camogie with Fr Murphy’s and had previously won a National Football League medal with Wicklow in 2005.

In 2015, Dee’s life changed when she suffered a seizure and was rushed to hospital by ambulance.

She remained in hospital for three days while doctors carried out tests, before being transferred to a specialist hospital to which Dee’s scans had been sent.

It was here that Dee and Michael were given the devastating news that it was a brain tumour.

Dee was 29 and her world had just been turned upside down.

They hardly had time to digest the diagnosis before decisions needed to be made on whether to operate, to remove the tumour, or to wait and see if it was benign.

Six weeks later Dee underwent the eight-hour operation, which was a success and featured in a video by the BBC.

But the biopsy revealed the tumour had grown considerably in the six weeks since diagnosis to the size of a plum, and was now considered a Grade 3 tumour.

An unbreakable bond
Dee and Michael on their wedding day

It vindicated their decision not to “wait and see”, and to push ahead with surgery.

It “seemed like a bullet had been dodged” wrote Michael in a piece entitled Dee’s Journey Through My Eyes, which featured on the ME Association website last month as part of M.E. Awareness Week (11-17 May)

As if the surgery wasn’t enough, to be sure the tumour hadn’t spread Dee would need to undergo a course of radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

Together with Dee’s mum, they spent every day for the next six weeks making the half-hour taxi ride to and from hospital for radiotherapy.

The treatment “drained all energy from Dee and left its lasting mark”. Her weight became “dangerously low”, as well as her energy levels.

Fatigue

Following the six weeks of radiotherapy treatment, Dee then had to take chemotherapy tablets every month for a year.

But Dee’s energy levels, and the sickness caused by the treatment, became so extreme that her doctors cancelled her final dose, for fear her body would not be able to take it. Eighteen months had passed since Dee’s original diagnosis.

But just as she and Michael began to look forward to “normal life again”, it was clear that there was still something wrong.

Her energy levels remained low. There seemed to be no explanation as to why Dee wasn’t getting better.

After a further year of “constant hospital visits and tests” Dee was referred to a fatigue specialist and diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), or as it’s also known, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (M.E.).

An unbreakable bond

“I had always retained hope that Dee would recover to be at least half the person she once was but after the diagnosis of M.E., I now accepted that Dee will never return to who she was and will be left with this disability for life,” said Michael, who is Dee’s carer.

“After suffering a brain tumour, I thought that Dee had been through the worst, that nothing could be as bad as the 18 months it took to complete treatment.

“In reality, I’ve found that coping with M.E. has been a much bigger challenge.

“M.E. is an invisible disease. Most of the time if someone were to look at Dee, they would not realise there was anything wrong.

“It’s not obvious that every day is a battle to complete the simplest of tasks, from getting dressed in the morning to making dinner in the evening.”

Symptoms

Symptoms can be wide-ranging. Dee’s senses have become over sensitised with noise, in particular, an issue.

Crowded places, or even small groups where there are multiple sources of noise, add to the draining of energy and leave Dee physically exhausted.

The only visible aspect of Dee’s M.E. is when her legs “give up” when she is walking. It can lead to her dragging her feet across the floor as she struggles “to put one foot in front of the other”.

She attempted to return to work as a secondary school science teacher after finishing chemotherapy – doing two half days a week – but after a couple of months fatigue forced her to give up her job permanently.

An incredibly sporty and social person, Dee has been unable to play sport for the past five years, and rarely socialises. The latter not because she doesn’t want to, Michael points out, but because “doesn’t have the energy or ability to manage it”.

An unbreakable bond
Dee (back row, seventh from left) celebrating All Ireland Club success with Parnells in 2012 vs Cahir of Tipperary. Picture credit: Pat Murphy / SPORTSFILE

Despite everything they’ve been through, Michael says they are also “lucky”. Dee survived the brain tumour when many do not, while her M.E. has not left her bedbound, unlike some sufferers.

“Knowing that Dee is still alive and that I can bring a smile to her face is enough to keep me going,” he says.

“The brain tumour has brought the two of us closer together, more so than I thought any couple could be.”

Throughout it all, Dee has “remained positive” Michael adds.

“She has remained the kind and caring person she has always been, continuing to think of others and put their feelings above her own, even when at her lowest points.

“It is incredible how strong she has been. I don’t think I would have coped with what Dee has experienced.

“She is proof that no matter how difficult life can get, there is always a way through and is my inspiration to keep on going and to support her on this journey.”

*To donate click HERE.

*You can find out more M.E. by clicking HERE.


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