THE WORD ‘inspirational’ is often overused, but in the case of Cooneen runner Denise Kavanagh, there is no more appropriate description.
This weekend Denise will take to the St Michael’s College running track, lapping it 105-and-a-half times, the equivalent of a marathon. An impressive ambition in itself, the feat is all the more inspirational given Denise is currently recovering from cancer and has lost the use of one of her arms.
An already experienced runner, with Sunday’s event being her tenth marathon, it was just ten months ago Denise received the devastating news she had an aggressive melanoma in her arm.
The news came as a bolt from the blue for Denise, who had few signs something was up aside from changes to a seemingly small mole on her arm.
“The day before I was running 18 miles, training for the Dublin Marathon, and I had no symptoms at all,” she told the Herald.
By nine o’clock the next morning, Denise’s life had been turned on its head.
Explaining how initially she felt like she was “on autopilot” when she was given the news, and was thinking “is this me this that’s going through this”, the next months involved surgery and regular trips to Derry for treatment, with the journey made all the more difficult by the Covid lockdowns.
Denise, who was supported through that journey by local cancer group SWELL, said it was “a rollercoaster” that was only worsened by the fact she couldn’t run.
“It just drove me batty,” she said.
After having “a chunk” taken out of her arm, with the small mole actually growing 29cm inside her arm, Denise is still suffering nerve pain and undergoing physio, with limited use of the arm now.
That has done little to slow down the woman who describes herself as “full of beans.”
“I see myself that I have two good legs,” she said. “I haven’t got my speed back, it will eventually come back, but I can still run and I can still talk and still motivate people to say, come on, you have to keep going.”
Denise, who has had to give up a job she adores at Holy Trinity Primary School where she has been a special needs assistant for 20 years, added, “It’s about getting up and getting out. I’m not lying in a hospital bed.
“I want to get people to think about what could land on their doorstep, and I want to give money back to those looking after us.”
Denise is using her marathon to raise money for SWELL, and links to a Go Fund Me donation site can be found on the SWELL Facebook page.
She is also asking people to come along and cheer her on at St Michael’s on Sunday (July 3rd), or even join her for a run, explaining she will be doing the marathon over eight hours in 5k-bursts.
SWELL’S Genevieve Irvine said it was a privilege to have met Denise, who now volunteers at with the support organisation.
“She just came in full of enthusiasm,” she said. “She’s an amazing woman, full of life.
“She’s a caring person who wants to give back.”
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