Mother of boy who beat cancer welcomes fundraising swimmer at end of 'epic' 150-mile Shannon swim

A mother whose baby son successfully fought off a rising tide of cancer has praised the "epic" efforts of an American man, who raised thousands for a children's cancer charity by swimming 150 miles of the River Shannon, Friday, writes David Raleigh.

Dean Hall, 57, from Oregon, who survived two bouts of cancer himself, completed his 32-day lone swim at Arthur's Quay, Limerick, having began his quest on June 5, on the northern shore of Lough Allen.

Hall raised €3,000 for the Childhood Cancer Foundation, but hopes to reach his target of €17,000.

Maria Jean Gary, her son TJ and Dean Hall> Pictures: Liam Burke

Upon reaching dry land at the end of his long journey, which saw him swim up to three marathon distances everyday, Hall joked: “I feel fantastic…Can I do it again.”

Maria Jean Geary, a volunteer with Childhood Cancer Foundation, whose son beat a cancer diagnosis shortly before his first birthday, was there to welcome Hall to shore.

“What Dean has done means a huge amount. It's very personal to me because my son was diagnosed with neuroblastoma when he was five months old,” Ms Geary said.

“Words can't describe how I feel. I can't say enough about it; it's emotional.”

Accompanied by her son TJ, now aged nine, she fought back tears of joy: “The work CFF do for the kids is brilliant, and for someone to do such an epic thing as to swim the Shannon, and to do it in aid of the charity is just phenomenal.”

“It raises awareness of children with cancer; they have different needs than adults with cancer and it's not something that is often thought about when we talk about cancer strategies."

TJ was five months old when he was diagnosed. He went through surgery and chemotherapy. He doesn't remember it, but we certainly do.”

TJ’s cancer journey, like Hall’s own personal health battles, was “an ordeal”, his mother added.

“It was a journey, and an ordeal for us too being first time parents. It wasn't a normal path.”

Ms Geary praised her GP for referring her son to Limerick Regional Hospital for X-rays that revealed “something doctors didn't like”.

“TJ was a noisy breather and we thought it was bronchitis. Our GP was on the ball, and sent him for an X-ray. We were referred to Crumlin Children’s Hospital and the doctors did more tests and biopsies and they found the tumour.”

Catching the tumour early was key to helping little TJ beating the disease.

“Within about five days of seeing the GP, TJ was having chemotherapy. We were very lucky because they caught it so early."

“A lot of these kind of tumours aren't found until later on when kids are older, but luckily for TJ his tumour was blocking his airway, so it meant they were able to find it.”

After undergoing “several rounds of chemo” to shrink the tumour, it was eventually surgically removed shortly before TJ's first birthday.

“Every time he had to have a cat scan he had to have anaesthetic because he was a baby and he couldn't stay still. There was a lot of hospital trips and it was quiet a fraught time,” Ms Geary said.

“We are grand now. We count our blessings.”

“Looking back, it was a surreal time. We are very lucky. I'm a volunteer with the Childhood Cancer Foundation now, so I can give back to other families who need help.”

Ms Geary and her husband Leo went on to have a second child, Charlie, aged six.

As for Hall, his next move is to “find another river” and continue spreading a message of hope for other cancer patients and fundraising for cancer services.

"Maybe next time we'll go to New Zealand," he laughed.

To make a donation online click here or text GOLD to 50300. Texts cost €4 and the Childhood Cancer Foundation will receive a minimum €3.25

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