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Battling the Storm

A Cancer Patient’s Diary

Author(s): Martin Tierney

ISBN13: 9781847302359

ISBN10: 1847302351

Publisher: Veritas

Extent: 104 pages

Binding: Paperback

Size: 19 x 12.6 x 1 cm

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  • Battling the Storm: A Cancer Patients Diary is a collection of articles penned by Martin Tierney over months of illness which provides a compelling human witness to the beauty of life, the mystery of death and the tangible presence of a God of love who hovers insistently and graciously in the midst of suffering and helplessness.

    These articles show us a man of deep faith confronting impending darkness with courage and honesty. The authors compassion for others is ever present, as is his honesty and his self-deprecation. His stories are personal and at times painful, but never self-indulgent. This collection will speak eloquently and sensitively to those who are dealing personally with cancer or to family members who are caring for sick relatives.

  • Martin Tierney

    Martin Tierney was a priest of the Archdiocese of Dublin, having served in parishes as both curate and parish priest. He was Assistant Director of the Catholic Press and Information Office, Director of the Catholic Communications Institute and a Consultor to the Pontifical Commission for Social Communications. Martin was also a co-founder of The Light of Christ Community – a Catholic Charismatic Community. A regular columnist with the Sunday Independent, the articles in this book were first published in the Irish Catholic newspaper. His previous publications include The Media – And How To Use It (Veritas, 1988), (Veritas, 2001) and New Wine, Old Wineskins: The Catholic Church and Change in Ireland Today (Veritas, 2008).

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    Even though the treatment of cancer has advanced and survival rates are much higher than they were, the disease still holds terror for us and anyone with cancer is forced to face up to the possibility of early death. Having faith and belief in a divine scheme of things may make this easier and that would certainly seem to be the case with Tierney. He is a Dublin diocesan priest and has worked as pastor in several parishes. He was also concerned with the communications of the Catholic Church in various capacities and is a regular newspaper columnist. Being a priest gave him the faith and courage to face up to cancer while his role as journalist prompted him to record the experience in these articles for the weekly Irish Catholic and gave him the skills to do so.

    - Books Ireland, September 2010

    This collection of articles, first published in the Irish Catholic newspaper, is a record of the thoughts, feelings and experiences of Martin Tierney during the five months following diagnosis of his terminal cancer. A priest of the Archdiocese of Dublin, Father Tierney was also a writer who once worked in the Catholic Communications office.

    His absorbing book is written in short weekly chapters starting with the fearsome moment of diagnosis and describing the associated feelings of numbness and disbelief. As we accompany Father Tierney through his several treatments we begin to recognise that this significant journey is underpinned with complete faith and trust in the loving kindness of God. Despite the precise loneliness of being stripped of cherished possessions and personal independence, he discovers within himself a positive acceptance of the way things are. Poetry gives him a way to express his deeper concerns and hopes, and his undimmed anticipation of new life in God permeates every page. Paradoxically, it is comforting to have his honest observations about the difficulty of locating the everpresent God when the going gets tougher.

    In his struggle to make sense of the new direction he must take, he expresses deep gratitude for the kindness of the medical profession and the many people who visited and wrote to him.

    Rather than a self-absorbed account of illness, this is a book of spiritual reflections in which Father Tierney draws on the wisdom, compassion and courage of a wide range of well known people. He writes also of unsung heroes, ordinary folk who have eased what he describes as the loneliness of mystery: circumstances in which little in life makes sense any more. His book will be helpful to anyone on this demanding journey and will give insight to those who have care of them.

    - Kate Barrance, Reality Magazine, September 2010


    It was like standing on the edge of the Cliffs of Moher in a force 5 wind and being told, At the count of ten you will be pushed over. There would be no debate, discussions or negotiations , the verdict was final!

    Briefly I looked down into the abyss of jagged rocks, grey foaming breakers, and the places where my friend Johnathan, of the Doolin Sea Rescue Unit, recovered bodies, some of whom had sadly decided that the world would be a better place without them. The cacophony of sound from the wheeling razorbills, common gulls and Atlantic puffins restrained the menace of the place. Of course, it didnt happen like that. But when the consultant came into the room in a Limerick hospital and said, I have bad news for you, I could only respond, How bad? Tell me.

    Well, she said, you have serious bowel cancer, and you also have cancer of the liver and the lungs.

    Whew! My intellect and my emotions were on parallel lines. They didnt want to meet and so I felt nothing, or very little. Like a six-year-old schoolchild about to be punished, I asked feebly, How long do you think I have to live?

    Obviously I cant be definite but I would say about a year, she replied. The Cliffs of Moher metaphor seemed very apt.


    By that time, my sister Hilda had arrived unexpectedly and that was a great support. Ever since childhood I have known that cancer changes lives , not only the life of the person carrying it but also the lives of friends and family members who love and care for that person.

    I thought of death notices in the newspapers, which often read: Died after a long illness borne with patience and dignity. Would that be me? This is happening to me. I lie in bed grappling with the mystery of disbelief, as the world outside lies quiet around me.

    The cows chew the cud, the hares and rabbits gambol in the fields as they always do at night, and the dogs still bark in the distance. I have cancer.

    I believe this is true and at the same time I cannot believe it. This knowledge awakens me in the night; it catches in my throat and leaks out of my eyes and sets my heart pounding.

    I think of how many people have heard this word cancer pounding like an endless drumbeat inside their heads, relentless, unforgiving.

    I have had my first massive dose of chemotherapy , I am on the journey at last! In a funny, peculiar way, I feel it is similar to the times my father and I went on the Lough Derg pilgrimage. We set out hungry, we anticipated hardship, but in the distance there was a bright hope.


    This journey I am now on will hopefully continue until the middle of January. Over those weeks, with the help of God, I would like to share with you spiritual reflections. I do not want to engage in a narcissistic exercise. The world needs fewer celebrities, not more! My proposal is not autobiographical. However, I need to set the scene in a way that is personal.


    I would be bankrupt without faith in a loving God. Reviewing my own life and knowing how much of it I made a mess of, the reassurance that healing comes from knowing that, with God, the past is past is consoling.

    Jessica Powers begins her poem, Repairer of Fences, with what I think is a reflection of myself:
    I am alone in the dark, and I am thinking
    what darkness would be mine if I could see
    the ruin I wrought in every place I wandered
    and if I could not be
    aware of One who follows after me.

    In the poem she gives us an image of a patient God quietly undoing the damage we perpetrated during our lifetime.

    Leave the past , it is no longer ours to change. God is in the darkness. When darkness filled the whole earth, he was there , waiting expectantly for the light of the Easter mystery to flood the world.

    Those who suffer can be assured God is in the darkness with you , despite the fact that you may not be able to see or hear him.


    Cancer is a lonely place. I look down at my body. My arms are gnarled and old. Syringe marks, like tattoos, speak of my recent medical history. I reminisce on those halcyon summer days in the 1950s, when morning after morning I ploughed up and down the fifty metre pool at Blackrock Baths. I was a member of the Young Leinster Swimming Club. I loved the water.

    I won a medal in the Leinster swimming championships, only to have it thrown out a classroom window by an irate Jesuit who decided I wasnt paying attention in class! I am sure he was right. I never saw it again! His self-indulgent, juvenile action hasnt lessened my respect for the Jesuits.

    This body that I am now looking at has served me well. It has travelled the world. It has suffered its bruises and its surgery. It is now old and ravaged with cancer. I am one of the 29,000 people in Ireland who each year will be told the bad news that a previously healthy body is now under attack with potentially fatal results.

    John Maguire wrote recently in a daily newspaper of his experience of being told that he had cancer, claiming, fear went through me like a cold steel scythe. My attitude was something like: If Im going to die, Im going to die. It is bound to happen sometime. I didnt feel terribly afraid of death itself, though the prospect of a long and painful dying process was frightening. I felt quite accepting, even resigned, all intermingled with the fear of not knowing.

    Then things began to change. It is people who change things. The loving kindness of family and friends, who are not acting out a charade of concern, but whom you know really care, changes how you feel. When someone close to you has cancer it is hard to know what to do. You might be unsure when to visit or what to talk about. I know couples, where one party to the relationship couldnt breach that private space that would have allowed them to share in the apprehension and the pain of the other.

    Sadly, by not speaking to your friend or loved one, it can make them feel even more isolated and lonely. It is similar to huddling unaccompanied on Skellig Michael in a storm. The turbulence of the sea below is frightening. On a scale of one to ten, cancer is a ten in apprehension and fear. My sister Hilda, my brother John, nieces and nephews and friends of almost fifty years corralled me with a love and concern that was healing. Information,
    flyers, booklets and advice began to fly in my direction.

    It was in hospital that I appreciated the ministry of the wonderful Jesuit chaplain , was that God sending me an angel of light to compensate for his brother-Jesuit of all those years ago?

    The gift of compassionate listening is sacramental. You may not think you are doing much by just listening. In fact it is one of the best ways to help.

    It was my friend Mary who maintained the umbilical cord between Dublin, Lahinch and Liscannor. And that was very important to me. The promise of prayer can be clich?®d. But to the sufferer (at least to me) it is a real tangible triangle, binding my pain and me to God and to the person who is praying for me.

    Marijohn Wilkin and Kris Kristofferson sang One Day at a Time, Sweet Jesus, which goes, Im only human Help me believe in what I could be, and all that I am. Show me the stairway I have to climb. Lord for my sake, teach me to take one day at a time. I try not to think about the future too much. Tomorrow I go for my second bout of chemotherapy , thats enough for the present. Of course it was Cardinal Newman, who in his wonderful hymn wrote, Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see the distant scene; one step enough for me. Once more it is needles, tourniquets, plastic bags filled with chemotherapy, kindly nurses, blood pressure, blood sugar levels and, above all, answers to the many questions that crowd the mind.
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