Plans for a topless swim by Donegal women as part of a cancer fundraiser have caught the imagination with more than 200 brave souls already signed up.

The swim, which will take place at a secret location in Inishowen, will take place in August.

When Greencastle woman Mary McLaughlin contacted her friend Katrina Doherty about organising a female only topless swim to raise money for breast cancer services, a light bulb went off in her head.

“It was just the right time for me,” said Moville mum Katrina.

Having survived breast cancer herself after being diagnosed four years ago, Katrina had previously signed up for a full ‘Strip and Dip’ in County Wicklow but had backed out at the last minute.

“I wasn’t in the right place for doing it but when Mary rang me and suggested us doing a ‘half strip and dip’ it just clicked and everything fell into place,” explained Katrina.

The ‘Half Strip and Dip’ will see local women bravely strip off, from the waist up only, and take a quick dip at a beach in an extremely secret location within Inishowen later this month, all in a bid to raise money for breast cancer services in the county.

Mary said she felt the ‘Half Strip and Dip’ might make women feel more comfortable going topless rather than a full strip.

Donegal Hospice nurse Mary explained that she got inspiration for the fundraiser through her friend Sharon, who also works in the Donegal Hospice and was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“We were all so shocked when Sharon was diagnosed – she didn’t have any of the usual symptoms and is a young mum of four,” said Mary.

“She has had her treatment and a double mastectomy and is back at work. In Hospice we are surrounded by sickness and death but there is life after cancer and it can be very hard to settle back in.”

With that in mind, Mary and Katrina have targeted three different groups to back with their fundraising.

The Breast Cancer Centre in Letterkenny, Cancer Care West – which provides support to cancer survivors and the Breast Cancer Ireland Schools Outreach Programme.

“Cancer Care West is so important – five, ten or twenty years after having cancer you can call into them and they will be there to talk. You might just want to talk or have some reflexology – but they are there,” said Mary.

“My friend Sharon said it was nearly as hard getting on with life after finishing her treatment as it was going through the treatment.”


‘Go and live your life’

Katrina explained the after care with cancer patients is vital.

“In 2015 when I was diagnosed there was no Cancer Care West. When I was diagnosed in September 2015 I immediately had a team around me telling me what to do and what would happen, but after it’s just like ‘go on live your life’. They just have to get on with the next patient.

“Letterkenny are very good at looking after the physical side of your health and I receive check ups and mammograms every six months, but there is a lack of support. You would never think it would be hard to go back to normal or go back to how things were before cancer but you can’t,” she said.

“You are totally different after having cancer – you don’t stress about the trivial things and the simple things can feel overwhelming at times. Life will never be the same again.”

Scoil Mhuire teacher Katrina said she returned to work just eight months after her diagnosis.

“I received my diagnosis in September 2015 and went back to work the following May just a couple of days at the end of the term but I went back full-time in September 2016 and that was really really tough,” explained Katrina.

“I didn’t have chemo, I had a lumpectomy and radiation in St. Luke’s in Dublin but I’m still on medication that essentially blocks my hormones. I have a lot of side effects – some people don’t but I do – it’s essentially like the menopause. It can be challenging.

“After going back to work full-time I changed and did job share for two years but I intend to go back full-time in September so we’ll see how it goes.”

Back to school

However teacher Katrina has a great relationship with her colleagues and the students in the Buncrana secondary school.

“When I went back the principal asked me if I wanted to tell the students or talk to them and I was so happy to that. The students all know I had cancer and I would talk to them openly about it. I’m always there too if they need to talk, or if a family member is going through something similar,” she said.

And it was Katrina’s positive experience at school that encouraged the ladies to donate some of the hard earned fundraising money to a the Breast Cancer Ireland Schools Outreach Programme.

“I had never heard of this, but after I went back, one of the other teachers Denise Dowds, asked me about bringing these people in. We did the talk with all the girls in TY, 5th and 6th year. The co-ordinator was great. She had been diagnosed herself four years ago and was able to tell the girls what to look out for and taught them how to check themselves and be breast aware.

“There was also a practical demonstration with a dummy so that was great – Rachel the co-ordinator was able to show them the difference between a lump and a dimple. It is a great programme so we knew we wanted to support them in whatever way we could.”

Mary says Moville Community College and Carn Community School also now plan to run similar programmes for the young ladies in their schools.

“We think education is key, teaching young women and encouraging them to be breast aware is so important,” she added.

“Even to raise awareness that programmes like this exist for young people is great. We just want to raise as much money as possible doing this.”

 Up to 200 women signed up already

Both Mary and Katrina have been overwhelmed with the amount of support they have received for the ‘Half Strip and Dip’ but with it not taking place until August there is plenty of time for other women to join them.

“We have almost 200 fundraising cards out already so we’re hoping that maybe we’ll have a few more. This is literally for everyone, well as long as you are over 18,” said Mary.

“My mum is 70 and she is doing it and she can’t understand why more older women aren’t taking part- I am so proud of her – she even said it to people at the bingo.

“This will literally be as quick or as long as a dip as you want it to be and I think everyone will be focussed on themselves to look around them so hopefully more women sign up. Cancer is everywhere, it touches everyone – we all have our reasons for doing it – I’m doing it for friend Sharon and Katrina is doing it because she had cancer.

But for Katrina she knows it will be an emotional affair.

“I just know I’ll start crying. I think when you go through something that you have no control over this will allow to take back control – it will be empowering. But for me it will definitely be emotional.”

With women coming from Carn, Buncrana, Ramelton, Moville, Greencastle, Letterkenny and further a field, friends Katrina and Mary hope the ‘Strip and Dip’ can act as a support group for people with cancer or survivors.

“There used to be a support group in Inishowen but that’s gone now. Maybe when we are all together we can use this as opportunity to meet people and start our own form of a support group.”

Fundraising cards are currently with the women who are taking part in the ‘Half Strip and Dip’ and each line costs €10. Separate fundraising cards and buckets are available locally in shops in Moville and in the 17 Healthwise stores across the county.

For further information or to take part you can contact Katrina on 087-207-7939 or Mary on 086 -393-1043.