There are many assets to Irish Country Living – farming, family, health, and connection with our readers.

All these elements came alive on radio last Saturday morning when Brenda Donohue from RTÉ’s Countrywide visited our columnist Katherine O’Leary on her family farm in Carrigrohane, Co Cork.

When the researchers were sitting in RTÉ’s headquarters planning the slot, I’m sure they thought – it’s calving season – perfect timing to visit the O’Learys’ dairy farm.

But the season is so much more poignant than they could have anticipated. On the day of Brenda’s visit, 15 February, it was a year to the day since Katherine’s cancer journey began.

It was in the calving sheds when she first noticed something was awry. She thought she had hurt her arm on the feeders but when she showed her injury to her husband Tim, he immediately caught on that things were far more sinister, a lump was present.

True to her word

With that, the journey began. Scans, the long wait for results, treatment plans, chemo, hair loss, her retirement from teaching, and the emotion of it all. It’s a journey that Katherine bravely took in a public forum, every week on the pages of this paper.

I remember talking to her at the time and she said, “I’ve written about my life in Irish Country Living for over 20 years, and I need to be honest with our readers about this too.” The truth is, that is much easier said than done.

For many, when the going gets tough, they retreat into their safe space, they shut out the world. I speak from experience, this is my way of coping with challenges in life. But Katherine stayed true to herself and our readers.

I should mention that Katherine and I go way back. Her farm is just a few miles from my childhood home in Ballincollig. I’ve known her, or certainly of her, since my Leaving Cert when my friend Yvonne babysat her children.

I’ve met all the O’Leary children over the years, sat with them at weddings, worked with them at the Ploughing and chatted to them at conferences.

The Countrywide show also gave them a voice. I got goosebumps hearing Philip describe standing in the middle of a field crying when he heard of his mother’s diagnosis; the hope in Colm’s voice that his mother would not only meet his unborn son but that she would know him; Julie’s commitment to give up her job to support her mother at home; and Diarmuid’s dedication to help through the little things in life – tea and toast with lots of butter. It truly conveys the importance of the farming family.

For me though, the tears fell when Katherine showed Brenda a box in her bedroom. Inside were hundreds of letters and mass cards, from Irish Country Living readers.

Some had been through cancer themselves, others had family members affected while more just wanted to reach out. Many had never met Katherine, but all took the time to sit down and write their well wishes.

“You have no idea what a lift that gave me,” she says.

I’ll be honest, it’s busy publishing a paper every week. Like everything in life, you get caught up in the day-to-day task, to get the job done. But when I heard about that box, it touched a chord.

It proved once again, that there is real heart in this paper, a connection with our readers in a way that sometimes isn’t even tangible.

Katherine is now thankfully, back to good health and I want to thank her for so bravely documenting her cancer journey on these pages, but I also want to sincerely thank you our reader for being such a support. CL