Global Hero of Hope, Majella O’Donnell, has called on more teams to participate in this year’s Relay for Life after questioning the fall-off in support for last year’s event.

Pointing to the gaps that existed at the ATU campus in Letterkenny in 2022, she told the launch of this year’s Relay: “I felt very sorry. It was almost like, should we just give up and walk away?”.

Recalling the very first Relay for Life in 2012 when the turnout had been “fantastic”, Ms O’Donnell said she wasn’t going to dress up the situation as there had been a significant fall-off in participation last year.

“I find it hard to understand where that support has gone. I don’t know if they thought that was it, just raise money for that year because it’s not. It’s ongoing and we need to do our bit every single year.”

Urging people to rally around and “get on that pitch” on June 3rd and 4th, the Global Hero of Hope called on more teams from around the county to organise up for this year’s event.

“Not only does it bring in more money but it’s absolutely empowering and uplifting when you go to the campus and see so many stands,” said Ms O’Donnell, herself a cancer survivor.

Reflecting on her own diagnosis in 2013, she said she could see the difference fund-raising for research had done since then. “It’s now 2023 and everything has been good for me so far. What was provided ten years ago is almost archaic now in terms of treatment for cancer. It’s changing all the time and survival and treatment rates are improving all the time but we have to keep on top of it.”

She called on business concerns and clubs and other bodies to organise teams and to spread the word.

Her comments came against the stark backdrop introduced by Relay for Life chairperson, Robert O’Connor, at Tuesday night’s launch when he revealed that sixteen people a week in Donegal heard the words: ”You’ve got cancer.”

But that grim pronouncement was countered by the positives and the advances made in cancer research as outlined by a number of speakers.

Research was one source of funding from the money raised by Relay for Life – 101,000 euro last year – but other cancer related initiatives also benefited significantly from it.

These included the Volunteer Driver service, counselling sessions (163 such sessions were provided to 31 patients from Donegal), financial support programme to parents of children undergoing treatment, and the night nursing initiative where 55 cancer patients in the county received 211 nights of care, among other such services.

“You’re never alone on your cancer journey,”, the chairperson insisted, pointing also to the importance of education and awareness including the schools challenge initiative 1 for 1 at 1 which involves, as promoter Tracey McBride revealed, families donating €1 euro and students undergoing a 1k walk or fun run or dance routine at the lunchtime hour in the school grounds.

The launch featured a number of other speakers but it wasn’t just their words that echoed around the conference centre in the Mount Errigal Hotel.

Here, too, were the members of the Survivors Choir under the tuition of Donal Kavanagh – he came through eye cancer surgery and a prostate cancer diagnosis, the latter caught in 2021 when he was undergoing blood tests which he has every six months – who officially inducted Majella O’Donnell into the choir.

And quoting the line from the Eagles classic, ‘Hotel California’, he told her: “You can check out any time but you can never leave!”

The choir performed to their usual high standards but were afforded the supreme talent of singer, musician and song-writer, Amy Meehan, who brought her voice and verve to the proceedings.

The performance of ‘Lean on Me’ and ‘You’ve Got a Friend’ brought proceedings to a classy close but not before Paul McLoone previewed the fund-raising show he has organised for the Abbey Centre in Ballyshannon on May 13th and Robert O’Connor praised the five Donegal men currently participating in the world’s longest running multi-sports event, Coast to Coast New Zealand, in aid of Relay for Life Donegal.