12th June 2017

Orla Purcell

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Orla’s fiancé, Richy, was 32 when he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer whilst traveling through New Zealand in 2011. He died just six months later. Read Orla’s story and how she, along with some friends, cycled 400 miles in just 4-days.

“Richy and I met in the summer of 2007. He was an extremely upbeat and funny person who made me laugh from the night I met him. He was incredibly sporty and loved spending time outdoors whether it was hill walking, skiing, playing football or cycling. He also had quite an adventurous spirit so when I suggested leaving our jobs to spend a year or two travelling, he jumped at the chance.

It was whilst we were travelling when Richy was diagnosed. We had just spent three months in Asia and were on our way to New Zealand. He was suffering with quite bad back pain but we just put it down to carrying a heavy rucksack. We arrived in Christchurch and he went for physio but after a couple of months, it wasn’t getting any better so he was sent for an MRI with a suspected slipped disc.

The MRI revealed tumours across his spine. It wasn’t a slipped disc. It was lung cancer, stage 4 lung cancer.

We were completely stunned. He was a fit 31-year-old and we were having the time of our lives travelling across the world. We were going to get married. How could he have lung cancer? He had no other symptoms – no cough, no weight loss, no breathing difficulties. It was devastating.

We decided to stay in Christchurch so Richy could start treatment immediately. Our families were incredible. Richy’s mum, brother, two of his best friends as well as my dad and sister all travelled out to New Zealand at different times over the next 2-3 months so there was always someone with us.

We came back home at the end of February. Life became a whirlwind of appointments, admissions and drug changes. I became Richy’s nurse and pharmacist. I was his secretary sorting out his appointments, his dietitian cooking meals he would eat. I was desperately looking for alternative treatment options, possible treatments abroad as well as just being his girlfriend too. During all this time, we were still trying plan our wedding which was due to happen in November.

We didn’t make it to November. Richy passed away at the beginning of July.

As you would expect, the first few years following Richy’s death were extremely difficult. The life we planned was gone. That’s not something you get over.

I was so lucky to have had the support of my incredible family and friends. They pulled me through some very sad times. I have also remained close with Richy’s family and friends. We shared this terrible loss. I lost my future husband. They lost their son, their brother, their friend.

I’m now living back in Ireland but I regularly travel back to Scotland with my boyfriend, Andrew, to see his family, our friends in Glasgow and, of course, Richy’s family and friends in the highlands.
It’s a long way to… Ballygunner!

This July will be the 6th anniversary of Richy’s death and it felt like a good opportunity to mark the occasion. I didn’t want to do a ‘standard’ race; I wanted to do something personal to us and so came up with the 400-mile route from Richy’s hometown in the Scottish Highlands to mine, Ballygunner in Southern Ireland.

Orla took on 400 miles in just 4 days in memory of her partner, Richy

Like Richy, I have always been quite sporty and I like having a challenge to face and something to work towards. I know Richy would have loved to have done something like this.

The money we raise will be split between Waterford Hospice, a not for profit organisation which provides palliative care and support for people living in the south east of Ireland and Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation.

I wish we had known more about Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation during Richy’s illness as I think they could have offered us a huge deal of support. Since Richy’s death, I’ve learnt a lot more about what they do including their research into early detection. I would love there to be a way that lung cancer could be identified earlier.

I don’t know how this could be made possible but if there was a type of screening for it or a way that people could spot the symptoms before it progressed, that would be a big step in the right direction. If Richy’s cancer had been caught at an earlier stage, he could have had a very different outcome. He could still be here.”