Support in all its Forms

Do you know someone who’s had cancer? Or maybe you’ve suffered with it yourself? By 2020, 1 in 2 of us will experience the illness in our lifetime. So as you can imagine, support, in all its forms, is absolutely vital.

Veronica O’Leary is founder of Purple House, Ireland’s first community-based cancer support centre. She set it up 28 years ago, when it became evident to her that there was a gap in support services available for people living with cancer and their families, beyond just the physical. “There was a whole range of support services we identified, in areas like mental health and childcare”, she says. “Emotional support is so important.”

So what does it mean to be community-based? “It means we’re accessible every day”, Veronica explains. “We’re on the ground. People can come into the drop-in centre anytime without an appointment. They could’ve just heard their diagnosis and be in tears, or maybe they’ve been told they’re about to start treatment and don’t know what to expect”. Although Purple House is based in Bray, it serves all of Leinster. “We provide an Outreach Clinic in The Lexicon in Dún Laoghaire each month, and regularly give presentations to schools and clubs,” says Veronica. It doesn’t place a financial burden on anyone either; although donations are welcome, if you don’t have it, there’s no need to worry.

Finding Ways to Deal with a Diagnosis

None of us know how we’re going to feel about being sick until it happens, and even then, we don’t always know what we need. When you walk into Purple House, you’ll be met with someone who’ll identify which of their wide range of therapies and services are going to work for you. “We’ve got everything from one-to-one counselling and support programmes, to play and sensory therapies, camps and workshops,” says Veronica.

Women counselling session

Oftentimes we forget that it’s not just the person with the cancer diagnosis who needs support. This is something Veronica and her team were very aware of when building out their services. “We see family members of patients too”, she says. “They need as much help figuring out how to deal with what’s happening.” These services aren’t just for adults either. “Children have needs too that we try to accommodate. We have a play therapist who does behavioural therapy for kids experiencing depression, anger or anxiety issues.”

Surviving Through it all

Recent years have also seen a drastic change in how we experience and think about cancer. “When I was growing up”, says Veronica, “it wasn’t something people talked about. You wouldn’t expect those suffering with it to survive. But survivorship is so high now. Some people are living with cancers for many years. Mental health support services are just as crucial for survivors as for patients. Anyone who has survived cancer knows that being faced with your own mortality is something that has a lasting effect. Having someone to chat to or even somewhere to learn relaxation techniques can make all the difference. Veronica says: “There’s evidence to say those who seek out support for whatever they’re dealing with, have an improved quality of life.” Veronica’s goal with Purple House is to make support for those seeking it readily and easily accessible. “People can be very distressed when they come in, but they always leave in better form. This is so rewarding and enriching for us. We just want to do everything we can to help.” To find out more, visit